Pet Book Report #1: The Dragon Prayer Book

Pet Book Report #1: The Dragon Prayer Book

I have chosen the Dragon Prayer Book, housed in Northeastern University’s Special Collections, for my pet book project. Much of this book’s history is unknown, however Special Collections estimates that the book was created “ca.  1461-” because the prayer book contains a mention of Saint Catherine of Sienna, who was canonized in 1461. The prayers inside the book were written on the vellum pages by a German scribe (or scribes) of the Dominican Order in red and black ink. It follows then that the prayer book was likely created in Germany for a person also of the Dominican Order. There is no illumination in this prayer book, but there are many rubricated notations in red and blue ink, and on the first page there is a small illustration of what seems to be a dragon, a flower, and a wing. There is also some marginalia in the prayer book which seems to be written in at least three different hands (or styles). The prayer book is small, but thick (over 600 pages), which makes me think that the prayer book was designed to be portable. It is clear that the book has been rebound and that the pages have been cut to fit this binding. Tabs were added after the pages were cut, but when these tabs were added is unknown. Along with tabs, end papers made of parchment were added, likely when the book was rebound. The front and back cover are constructed of leather-covered wood, which has been stamped with flowers and what looks to be a stamping of the crucifixion. Some of the leather on the cover has worn away to show the wood underneath. The wood used in the binding is also unknown, but I would like to study the binding further to figure out what kind of wood was used. Attached to the binding are two clasps (somewhat broken, both missing a strap), used to hold together the front and back cover, which effectively helped the vellum pages lay flat.

When I shone a light on the prayer book’s pages, I found a watermark on several of the parchment pages at the start and end of the prayer book. Only half of the watermark was visible on the page, but by taking photographs of both halves of the watermark and connecting these images digitally, I was able to see a near-complete image of the watermark. At the top of the watermark, which is shaped like an oval, there is a capital “R,” and in the middle of this oval there are two detached crossed keys, with heart-shaped griffons. I believe that this “R” stands for the Arms of Ratisbon/Regensburg.  

I have been working with this prayer book for several months, and have found that there is still so much to learn about it, which is why I chose it for this project. There’s nothing about the prayer book that doesn’t interest me, and I am amazed that Northeastern has this book, but no documentation of where it came from. Although the Dragon Prayer Book is now at the McMullen Museum at Boston College, where it will remain on display until mid-December, I have access to images of every page of the book, as well as images of the binding and the work that was done at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC).

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