Fascinating stuff, from The Catholic Review in Baltimore:
More than eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi and two companions randomly opened a prayer book three times inside their parish church of St. Nicolò.
Hoping God would send them a message, the wealthy young men prayerfully consulted the manuscript once for each person of the Holy Trinity.
Remarkably, each of the three Gospel passages they landed on contained the exact same command: give up worldly possessions and follow Christ.
Taking the words to heart, St. Francis established a rule of life governing what would become his Order of Friars Minor. The Franciscans embraced radical poverty to draw closer to Christ while also evangelizing others.
The same book that inspired St. Francis in 1208 is expected to inspire thousands of others as the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore places it on public display for the first time in 40 years Feb. 1 through May 31.
The Latin missal, which contains Gospel readings and prayers used at Mass, underwent a painstaking two-year conservation effort aimed at repairing centuries of wear and tear.
The missal, especially beloved by Catholics, isn’t just a historic artifact. Because it was touched by a saint, it is also considered by many to be a religious relic.
“This is our most-requested manuscript,” said Lynley Herbert, curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Walters.
Herbert noted that Franciscans from around the world have visited the Walters over the decades to catch a glimpse of the richly illuminated book. Because of its significance to the Franciscan community, the Walters has let them view it even when the manuscript’s fragile condition kept it from public display.
“We’ve become a site of pilgrimage,” Herbert explained. “I’m contacted probably monthly, if not weekly, with requests to see this book.”