This Missal, one of the most important liturgical manuscripts, was made in the fifteenth century for pope Alexander VI, born Rodrigo de Borja y Doms (Valencia 1431 - Rome 1503).
The Borgia pope was a very controversial figure. His uncle, pope Calixtus III, had appointed him bishop of Valencia, cardinal (1456) and vice-chancellor of the Curia (1457), and in 1472-73 he served as legate in Spain. Upon being elected pope, he took the name Alexander. He implemented a dynastic policy by favoring the children he had with his mistress Vanozza de’ Cattanei, especially Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia.
By his 1493 bull Inter coetera, Alexander VI split the new lands of exploration and colonial conquest between Spain and Portugal. He promoted the Holy League (1495) whereby Milan, the Empire, Venice and Aragon joined forces against Charles VIII of France. Following his rapprochement to France, the pope eventually obtained from Louis XII the Valentinois title and dukedom for his son Cesare (1498). The pope then supported Cesare’s plans to conquer Romagna, thereby extending the territories belonging to the Papal State.
Accused of simony by the Dominican friar Savonarola, Alexander reacted by interdicting Florence and excommunicating Savonarola (1498). As regards the formal aspect of his tasks within the church, he was especially attached great importance to liturgical celebrations, and saw to it that the rules set out in the Caerimoniale romanum were followed strictly.
He attended regularly the solemn ceremonies held in St. Peter’s and in the chapel that later became known as the Sistine Chapel. It was said that the Masses he celebrated at Christmas, at Easter and at the holiday of Sts. Peter and Paul were particularly solemn and sumptuous.
The emphasis given to the maiestas papalis under Alexander VI also marked the papal functions in the reigns that followed his. The Renaissance popes’ interest in the lavish character of religious ceremonies soon led to a revision of the Roman ceremonial, which was still largely dominated by the medieval tradition. The costly calligraphy and the magnificent pictorial decoration of Alexander VI’s Christmas Missal flamboyantly reflect the exaltation of the maiestas papalis.
A Missal is a liturgical book that brings together the prayers and readings necessary for the celebration of the Mass, and indicates the rites to be performed. It took shape gradually, eventually reaching a precise structure between the tenth century and the twelfth. The Missal no longer includes the readings; as in the distant past, today they are included in the Lectionary, and are read out by specific ministers (lectors and deacons).