St Leonard’s most distinctive possession is a rare survival from the Middle Ages – a huge and vividly illuminated book of services.

Why did we need an antiphonal?

For the first few centuries at St Leonard’s the services were very elaborate and held several times each day. The priests would need instructions and the antiphonal set out the prayers and music for every day of the year. It is very large, so that it could be used by several people standing around it. It has more than 400 pages like this one

It was given to St Leonard’s in about 1460, but it had been produced some years earlier for another church. In the days before printing every book had to be written by hand and decorated with pictures and designs.

In less than a century the Reformation meant that services became much simpler and were held in English, not Latin. So service books like this became useless. Most were destroyed.

So what happened to this one?

It was taken from the church and kept in the library of the Willoughby family at Wollaton Hall. It remained there for the next four centuries until it was returned to the church in 1925. It was on display for many years, but is now kept securely by the University of Nottingham Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections which has nearly completed a lengthy conservation project.

What is so special about it?

Apart from the church building itself it is the only possession surviving from medieval times.

It is a very rare survival. Only about twenty such books still exist out of a total of some 20,000 in the Middle Ages.

It is one of only two that contain pictures.

It is a very high quality example. The leaves are of calfskin, not the usual sheepskin, and it was bound in Russia calf. It was obviously meant to impress.

Although it shows signs of wear, most of the colouring is still brilliant.