Recording Medieval Lives, Harlaxton Medieval Studies No.17 (Shaun Tyas, 2009)
Introduction: Manuale Sacerdotis, the priest’s handbook, is a five-part Latin text of between twelve and twenty chapters in each part, written probably at the end of the four-teenth or beginning of the fifteenth century by John Mirk, who was by then prior of the house of Austin canons at Lilleshall in Shropshire.
Mirk’s choice of Latin as the medium for the Manuale explains why it has been overshadowed by his two other works, the Festial and the Instructions for Parish Priests. Both these vernacular texts have been published, but Mirk’s third work, the Manuale, has not been printed, although it has been edited twice as doctoral theses. The most detailed treatment in print is that of Alan Fletcher on the manuscripts and the Manuale‘s place in the tradition of pastoralia. The recognition that the Manuale has been previously accorded is not, however, commensurate with its interest, as it is hoped that this article will demonstrate, and an edition incorporating a translation with en face Latin text is currently in preparation by the present author in collaboration with James Girsch, on whose critical edition this article is dependent and to whose kindness and scholarship I am indebted.
The base-text of the edition will be that of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 632,from which all quotations in this article are taken. Thirteen Manuale manuscripts are extant, all of which date from the second half of the fifteenth-century, and all of which may have been in the hands of secular priests or regulars, judging by inscriptions and the other contents of the manuscripts. Mirk himself was an Austin canon at Lilleshall abbey in Shropshire from at least the 1380s. In the Preface to the Manuale Mirk calls himself prior, whereas the colophon to the Festial text in London, British Library MS Cotton Claudius A.II. calls him canon, which may suggest that the Manuale was a work of later life.