Unique Sarum Missal saved for the nation

The National Trust has acquired the sole surviving copy of the Sarum Missal published by William Caxton in 1487.

The Missal was printed in Paris for Caxton in 1487. It is the only copy of the earliest known edition of the Missal according to the Use of Sarum ­ the most popular version of the Mass in use in pre-Reformation England. The first book printed in Paris using two colours, and the first to bear Caxton's famous printer's device, it has been in the north-west of England since at least 1508 ­ and was at Lyme Park, in Cheshire, until 1946 in the ownership of the Legh family.

The National Trust bought the Missal from the Legh family with £316,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £100,000 from The Art Fund, and the remaining amount from The Foyle Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust, The Friends of the National Libraries, The Robert Gavron Charitable Trust, The Royal Oak Foundation, The Peak District National Trust Association and private individuals.

The Missal will be placed on display in the historic Library at Lyme Park from spring 2009 and will be joined by a digital facsimile using the British Library's award-winning 'Turning the Pages' technology.

Though its woodcuts are brilliantly coloured by hand, this was a working service book used to celebrate Mass. It carries obvious signs of wear and tear, and is covered in markings and alterations. These range from an English marriage service added in by hand against the printed Latin text, through to censoring the book at the time of the Reformation by crossing out of the name of St Thomas Becket and prayers for the Pope.

Mark Purcell, the National Trust's Libraries Curator said: "The acquisition of the Sarum Missal is hugely exciting and presents us with a wonderful opportunity to share this intriguing and historic book. It is one of only two Caxtons in the world which has remained in the ownership of a single family for 500 years. The Trust is grateful to the Legh family for giving us the opportunity to purchase the book, and to the Heritage Lottery Fund and many others whose generous support enabled the Trust to return the Missal to Lyme Park."

David Morgan, Property Manager at Lyme Park said: "We plan to have the Missal on display in the Library at Lyme during the 2009 season. We shall also be creating a digital copy of the book with interactive page-turning facility, so visitors will be able to see the real thing, and to browse the whole volume for themselves. This will be the first time the National Trust has used modern technology in this way, allowing visitors to get really close to such an ancient and fragile book. "

For more information see: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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