Clement of Llanthony : hunting for #medievalmanuscripts

As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project to restore the grounds and surviving buildings of Llanthony Secunda Priory, Gloucester, the plan is to digitally reunite the decentralised collection of manuscripts. It is the hunt for these manuscripts that led me to Clement, medieval monk and theologian, as well as fifth Prior of Llanthony (Wales) and third Prior of Llanthony Secunda – a dependent house of Llanthony situated in Gloucester.

Llanthony Secunda Priory is a ruined former Augustinian priory in Gloucester founded in 1136 as a retreat for the monks of Llanthony Priory Vale of Ewyas, Wales, from persistent attacks by the local population. The buildings and land of Llanthony Secunda Priory is currently undergoing restoration in order to not only conserve the archaeology and stonework, but also to preserve the historical and religious significance of the site in Gloucester.

medieval monks

A Prior is an ecclesiastical title for a superior (derived from the Latin for ‘earlier, first’).

The two houses had the same Priors from 1136 to 1205, with the Prior having authority over both houses. Clement first appears at Prior in a document dated 22 April 1152 and his last appearance dates to between 1167 and 1177. His time as Prior was not considered exemplary, but he did institute some changes to the customs and practices of the house. Clement’s cause of death is given as a stroke, but the year of his death is unknown.

It is speculated that he was a relative of Miles of Gloucester, the 1st Earl of Hereford (the founder of Llanthony in Gloucester) – certainly a kinsman of some aspect.  Clement was educated at Llanthony and his learning was praised by Gerald of Wales and Osbert de Clare. This is significant because of the provenance of Llanthony Secunda: Llanthony Secunda Priory was founded in 1136 by Miles de Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford, as a retreat for Augustinian monks of the mother Priory in Wales. Therefore, Clements’ written works are of great significance to the history of Llanthony both in Wales, and in the founding of our own Secunda Priory in Gloucester.


Clement’s best known manuscript Unum ex quattuour was a commentary on the four gospels, and was translated into Middle English (varieties of the English language spoken after the Norman Conquest of 1066 up until late 15th century) under the title Oon of Foure and was known to have been used by the Lollards (a religious movement initially led by John Wycliffe, a Roman Catholic theologian that existed from mid-14th century to the Reformation) in the 14th century.  Clements’ works were still being copied and disseminated in the 15th century.

A brief summary of the history of manuscripts

Most manuscripts were written on parchment (most commonly of calf, sheep, or goat skin), but manuscripts important enough to illuminate were written on the best quality of parchment, called vellum. Beginning in the late Middle Ages manuscripts began to be produced on paper. Circulation of written works was done by scrupulous copying of each work often taken a year or more for each book. Therefore the scribes were often monks dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity, and their Scriptorium was part of the values of their particular Order. This also meant that each manuscript is unique, penned in different hands, sometimes with additions or missing parts, and as the work was disseminated, the author’s original true script and/or his intentions could potentially have been lost or altered. This also explains the reason behind original authorship being attributed to different people. 

Some of the surviving English manuscripts of the De sexalis cherubin attribute the work to Clement, but the work has also been associated with Alain de Lille. There is no real conclusive evidence either way, and as with all medieval manuscripts, the penmanship and translation all have the potential to lead to confusion. As well as that, often the scribes were mistaken for the author and vice-versa.


The illustration shows a six-winged seraph which is the frontispiece of a manuscript called De sex alis cherubim held at Corpus Christi Cambridge  – MS 66, a late twelfth-century manuscript with an ownership inscription from Sawley Abbey, a Cistercian house on the border of Lancashire and Yorkshire – the inscription is attributed to Clement of Lanthony. Of course this doesn’t mean that it is the hand of Clement, only the authorship. However, this is significant to Llanthony Secunda Priory because of its rare quality and dissemination of the text.


“This popular text uses the six wings of the seraph as a scaffolding device for a treatise about various virtues. The first two wings folded across the body represent confession (right) and satisfaction (left), that is, making amends for one’s sins. The blue titles of the third and fourth wings have faded but are munditia carnis and puritas mentis, the cleanliness of body and mind, and the final pair of wings above the angel’s head represent dilectio proximi and dilectio dei, love for one’s neighbour and for God. Each wing consists of five feathers subdividing the virtue. For example, cleanliness of the body consists in propriety of sight, chastity of hearing, modesty of smell, temperance of taste or appetite, and sanctity of touch.

Diagrams like this were very popular in the middle ages as mnemonic devices.”

Another example of the use of the visual of the six-winged seraph is in the manuscripts MS Harley 3244 held at the British Library.

Eventually the heritage team at Llanthony Secunda Priory Trust will be hoping to bring our readers a photo of the hand of this rare manuscript at Cambridge, and will be exploring the potential of bringing ‘visiting’ manuscripts such as this to the restored Tithe Barn in its new capacity.


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