The Parish Churches of Ranworth with Panxworth,
South Walsham, Upton and Woodbastwick

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The Ranworth Antiphoner: our illuminated manuscript

The medieval church had seven times of prayer each day said or sung from a book of psalms and prayers that were said alternately, ‘antiphonally’, between the priest and the choir. Ranworth Church still has one of its two medieval Latin antiphoners; the other earlier and smaller one is in the British Library. The book dates from the 1400s and has 285 vellum pages illuminated with gleaming colour and gold leaf burnished with agate. In 1549 though when services were first published in English in the Book of Common Prayer, antiphoners were banned. Ranworth’s somehow survived, reappearing in the reign of Mary Tudor when changes were made to its calendar (e.g. the feast of Thomas a Becket, which had been scratched out during Henry VIII’s time, was reinstated). The Holdych family whose family dates appear in the margins of the calendar probably hid the book during Elizabethan times. The antiphoner eventually became part of a collection offered for sale at the beginning of the 20th century. Its link to Ranworth was soon traced and the Parish raised the money to buy it. The book is now on show inside a unique security case made by the inmates of Norwich Prison. Unfortunately, we cannot open the case on request but the pages are turned occasionally to display the illuminations and the plainchant music that our choir sometimes sings.

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