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16th June 2020

An extract from one of the first books to be printed in the English language, William Caxton’s The Golden Legend, has been discovered at the Hull Maritime Museum.

Dating back to 1498, The Golden Legend was a collection of hagiographies written by Jacobus de Varagine in c. 1290, widely read in late medieval Europe.

Considered to be the closest thing to an encyclopaedia of medieval saint lore that survives today; it is invaluable to art historians and medievalists who seek to identify saints depicted in art by their deeds and attributes.

The extract is double sided and shows ‘The Lyf of Saynt Brandon’ and ‘The Lyf of Saynt Dorothee’. St Brendan, also known as Brendan the Navigator, was a mariner and it is believed by some that he discovered America.

The note at the bottom reads: “This leaf of William Caxton’s Golden Legende (his translation of Jacobus de Voraginus Leganda aurea) was accomplyshed and fynyshed at Westmynster at Caxton’s own printing press by Wynlyn de Worde in 1498.”

It is believed to have been acquired around the 1930s or 1940s when Tom Sheppard was curator, and kept in files at the old Maritime Museum, in Pickering Park.

Robin Diaper, Curator of Maritime and Social History, said: “This is an example of work that has been discovered within our quality collection, as we continue to document the objects before they are moved into secure storage. Within museum collections there is always something new to learn and discover. All indications point to it being original, but without scientific tests it is not possible to be 100 per cent sure.

“This significant page is extremely fragile but a fine example of what we hold in store for research, loan or for temporary displays.”

Research has been undertaken comparing it to a detailed scan sent from the Incunabula section of the British Library who kindly provided a PDF scan of the full book that they have in their care. Contact has also been made with the University of Hull Library and the University of Manchester Library. It has also been assessed by a conservator at the Hull History Centre.

William Caxton set up a press in Westminster in 1476 and first started printing The Golden Legend in 1483. De Worde had taken over from Caxton by 1495. There were eight printed editions of the Golden Legend, printed in 1483, 1487, 1493, 1498, 1504, 1512, 1521 and 1527.

Preparations are underway to move the 50,000 objects in to temporary storage ahead of major refurbishment work to the Hull Maritime Museum.