• by Philip Wilde, Information and Research, Central Library

cistercian 1

The book, Missale ad usum Cistercienci, is a liturgical book for the use of the Cistercian order of monks. Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds is a Cistercian monastery. Approved by the Order’s General Chapter in Citeaux, the Leeds book is one of three copies of the same edition known to have been in the North of England prior to the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Leeds Central Library acquired the Cistercian Missal from an auction at Sotheby’s in December 1901 for the sum of £5.

It has an extraordinary history. According to Thomas Wilson, (the same Wilson who owned and annotated our Ducatus Leodiensis) the book had ‘probably been preserved by William Cooke of Beeston when Kirkstall Abbey was dissolved’.

William Cooke was the father of Alexander Cooke, who was the Vicar of Leeds from 1615 until his death in 1632. Indeed, the book contains the signature of Alex Cooke possibly written when he was a young boy c. 1570s.

Signature of Alexander Cooke
Signature of Alexander Cooke

Again according to Thomas Wilson, the library of Alexander Cooke contained ‘printed books and manuscripts from Kirkstall Abbey.’ Upon the death of Alexander Cooke, his library was then acquired by the incoming vicar of Leeds, Henry Robinson, where it eventually passed to his son, also Henry Robinson, who was Minister of St John’s Church in Leeds and the Founder of Holy Trinity on Boar Lane.

This Henry Robinson lived until he was 90 and Thomas Wilson, being Master of the Leeds Charity School which was within the grounds of St John’s, was ‘intimate with him for the last seven years of his life’. Undoubtedly he would have been familiar with Robinson’s library and this would be how he came to hear the tale of how the Cooke’s acquired the Kirkstall Abbey books.

The copy contains the Mass of St Gregory’s Trental – popular in England towards the end of the Middle Ages –  handwritten in Latin using red and black ink in the practiced pre-Dissolution hand of an accomplished scribe. This writer also makes a number of insertions of unauthorised Saint’s names within the calendar, including that of St William of York. This, along with the provenance of the book being mainly Leeds based, suggests that it is highly possible, as Thomas Wilson suggests, that the book may have been in use at Kirkstall Abbey.

Reference to St William of York in the Calendar for June 8th
Reference to St William of York in the Calendar
for June 8th

To view the Cistercian Missal, please visit the Local and Family History department on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library. Two forms of ID (one with your name and another with your address) and at least 24-hours notice will be required to view items from the Treasures or Collections. Please call 0113 378 6982 for further details and to book an appointment.

You can now read more about the history of the Central Library’s Cistercian Missal in a longer article by Philip Wilde, reference copies of which are available from our Local and Family History department. Those readers interested in Thomas Wilson, will find further relevant material (not cited here or in the aforementioned article) at the Leeds branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service.