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The Auchinleck Manuscript and Fourteenth-Century Lay Piety

Abstract

The Auchinleck Manuscript, compiled in the early fourteenth century, is one of the first manuscripts written primarily in English. Its slightly damaged codex currently contains 44 poems, of which 23 are unique copies or unique versions of stories. Scholars have predominately studied the Auchinleck to analyze either individual stories, many of which, if not unique, are the first extant copies, or the manuscript itself to explore early English bookmaking techniques. I, along with a few scholars, have attempted to analyze the Auchinleck holistically. Though crusade romances make up the bulk of the codex in the amount of folios, the passio, hagiography and hagiographic romances, various prayers, exempla-esque stories, and such shorter religious poems are replete throughout the Auchinleck. The continual appearance of such poems indicates a preoccupation not just with religion, but with the unique, visual, and almost physical aspect of spiritual practices of a laity that was becoming more involved in their religious practices and beliefs. The Auchinleck indicates not only political and linguistic changes, but also the evolution of a religious culture into a ‘popular’ culture that is participated in, reconfigured, and recreated by an enthusiastic and increasingly knowledgeable laity.

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