From music to magic: Reading Abbey's most famous manuscript

You may well be familiar with the medieval song 'Sumer is icumen in'. Translating to 'Summer has arrived', this is one of the oldest songs in the English language, and has a special link with Reading. This is because the oldest surviving composition of the song was discovered in a manuscript from Reading Abbey (kept today at the British Library as MS Harley 978). If you have visited the Abbey Ruins, you might have seen the song displayed on a stone plaque in the chapter house.

Whilst this manuscript is most famous for 'Sumer is icumen in', it actually contains an extraordinary range of different texts: from poetry to politics, medicine to magic. This is because the manuscript is what's known as a miscellany; a collection of widely varying texts, which in this case will have been very useful for monks dealing with wealthy visitors to the abbey.

As we celebrate Reading Abbey's 900th anniversary in 2021, join us in this online exhibition as we explore the remarkable range of contents within Harley 978. Gain an overview of the abbey's history and the manuscripts' significance. Learn about how medieval scribes produced their texts. Explore the history and significance of 'Sumer is icumen in'. Read about medicine and magic and their application by medieval readers. And discover the work of Marie de France, the earliest known female poet writing in French.

With huge thanks to Professor Anne Lawrence-Mathers (Professor of Medieval History, University of Reading), Dr Cynthia Johnston (Lecturer in History of the Book, School of Advanced Studies, University of London), Dr Laura Cleaver (Senior Lecturer in Manuscript Studies, Institute of English Studies, University of London), and Dr Helen Deeming (Lecturer in Music, Royal Holloway, University of London) for their enormous contributions in making this online exhibition possible.