The St. Francis Missal—a legendary 12th-century manuscript and relic of touch of St. Francis of Assisi—will have its first dedicated exhibition at the Walters Art Museum in more than 40 years.
The St. Francis Missal is an intimate exhibition that features approximately 17 objects, including manuscripts, paintings, ivories, ceramics, and documentation of the Missal’s recent two-year conservation funded by the Mellon Foundation.
In 1208, St. Francis of Assisi and two followers were debating what God’s plan for them might be. Unable to agree, they sought answers at the church of San Nicolò in Assisi, where Francis often attended. They opened the Missal, which sat on the altar, three times at random and in every case, the text on the page urged renouncing earthly goods. This pivotal moment laid the foundation for the Franciscan order. Due to this possible contact with the saint, Franciscans worldwide consider the book now known as the St. Francis Missal to be a relic of touch, and many make pilgrimages to Baltimore to see it.
Decades of use took a toll on the book’s fragile binding, and in 2017, the Walters conservation staff began a two-year restoration project. The Missal has since been repaired and stabilized, and will soon be digitized for the Walters’ manuscript website Ex Libris.
The exhibition draws upon the Walters world-renowned rare books and manuscripts collection that spans more than 1000 years and contains over 900 manuscripts, 1300 of the earliest printed books, and 2000 rare later editions from across the globe.