The Legende named in Latyn Legenda aurea

Chrzanowski 1512jThe Golden Legend is a very large collection of saints’ lives written in the 13th century by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa. The stories have been arranged in order of their feast days on the liturgical calendar, which was convenient for priests using the stories in sermons and pious lay readers. Some one thousand manuscripts have survived and hundreds of editions were printed in Latin and most every Western European language by the time of the Reformation. Likely no other book in the Middle Ages was more widely read except the Bible. Due to its immense popularity, the Golden Legend exerted a wide influence on medieval culture and literature.

William Caxton completed his translation of the 600,000-word text, largely from Jean Vignay’s French version, on November 20, 1483. His Golden Legend is the first book in English to include portions of the Bible. He also translated five lives from the original Latin that Vignay had omitted and added a series of fourteen lives from the Old Testament. In addition, Caxton came in possession of an earlier English translation from which he drew twenty lives of English saints. The product was a 448-leaf folio. The fact that the present copy, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1512, is the seventh edition is indicative of the great popularity of the book in English. As other early editions, the book is profusely illustrated with prints from 58 different blocks.

The “Saints in Glory” full-page woodcut on the first leaf of this copy (repeated recto and verso) was used in Caxton’s first edition of the Golden Legend. It is a substitute for the usual first leaf; the copy is otherwise complete except for a missing interior blank (G8). This variant of the first leaf matches that in Mr. Douce’s copy of the 1512 de Worde edition as described in Thomas Dibden’s Typographical Antiquities. Whether the present copy belonged to Francis Douce (antiquary and book collector, 1757–1834) or there are multiple copies with this first leaf is not known.

The morocco bookplate of Countess Estelle Doheny (1875–1958), preeminent book collector and wife of California oilman Edward Laurence Doheny, is present in this copy. She purchased the book from A. S. W. Rosenbach on March 15, 1943, and donated it that year to Saint Mary’s of the Barrens, Perryville, Missouri. It was sold at Christie’s, New York, on December 14, 2001, for the benefit of the Vincentians’ missions in Kenya.

Chrzanowski 1512j *

STC 24879

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675