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National Library of Wales helps unite historic Cornish language manuscripts

The National Library of Wales

The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth is contributing to an exhibition which will see four historic play scripts in the Cornish language brought together under one roof for the first time this summer.

The National Library has loaned The Life of St Meriadoc and The Life of St Kea to theexhibition, Mes a’n Kemmyn/Out of the Ordinary, at Kresen Kernow, a state-of-the-art archive centre in Redruth.

The exhibition, which explores medieval outdoor theatre tradition, unites the two manuscripts with The Cornish Ordinalia and The Creation of the World, which are being loaned from the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford.

Tickets for the exhibition, which runs from June 22 to September 25, are free but need to be booked in advance.

Written in Cornish to spread Christian teachings and stories, the manuscripts feature well-known Bible stories – including Noah’s flood and the Passion of Christ – as well as more obscure and forgotten tales, such as the life of St Meriadoc, Camborne’s patron saint.

The Cornish Ordinalia, which dates from the 1400s, contains possibly Britain’s earliest full play scripts, pre-dating Shakespeare by 200 years. It also contains what may be the world’s earliest stage diagrams and is the oldest complete text in the Cornish language.

The Bodleian manuscripts have been part of the University of Oxford Libraries’ collection for more than 400 years and this is the first time they have returned to Cornwall.

The Life of St Meriadoc is recorded in Wales in the 1650s as part of a Welsh library collection, while The Life of St Kea caused a stir when it was discovered only 20 years ago in the papers of a then-recently deceased academic.

Pedr ap Llwyd, the National Library of Wales’ chief executive and librarian, said

‘I’m delighted that the National Library of Wales is able to support this much anticipated and rare opportunity to see such important historic Cornish manuscripts brought together and celebrated for the first time under one roof.

“It is also fitting that this will be happening at the heart of Cornwall itself. The four manuscripts provide a rich corpus of Middle Cornish literature and will encourage a renewed awareness of the language itself and of the rich outdoor theatre tradition upheld across Cornwall many centuries ago.”

The exhibition is funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as part of the £11.7m grant which built Kresen Kernow, Cornwall’s state-of-the-art archive centre, which opened in 2019.

This summer’s celebrations include a wide range of events and activities, including a range of online talks, a symposium, school activities, creative workshops and summer holiday family learning.