Missal for Christmas Day

Fifteenth-century manuscript made for Alexander VI

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).


Each copy is numbered and certified by the Vatican Apostolic Library
Copies available | Price subject to private negotiation

An extraordinary artistic masterpiece of the

Pinturicchio's school

The Missal of the Nativity was composed in Rome for pope Alexander VI at the very beginning of his Pontificate. It was first used on 25 December, 1495 for the Solemn Papal Mass at the Old St. Peter’s Basilica.

It is the first of a group of three libelli missae papalis ordered for the papal celebrations of Christmas, Easter and Saints Peter and Paul, which were the only three celebrations in the liturgical year that the Pope used to officiate in person at the Old St. Peter’s Basilica.

Spared both from the fury of the lansquenets and, later, from the sack of the French soldiers who captured Rome in 1798, the Missal book is today preserved in the Vatican Apostolic Library.

The Mass for Christmas Day

Alexander VI’s Christmas Missal is still used by the Holy Father to celebrate the solemn Mass on Christmas Day.

The pictorial decoration of the Missal is of the highest artistic quality. Most likely it was the work of pupils of Pinturicchio’s; at that time, between 1492 and 1495, he was frescoing the rooms of the Borgia apartment in the Vatican.

The pages are illuminated with magnificent borders and splendid initials. The full-page miniature depicting the scene of the Crucifixion has been attributed to Antonio of Monza.

Technical characteristics

This Facsimile Codex is an exact replica of the 138-page manuscript in its original format (32.5 x 46 cm):

  • 136 initials, 29 decorated minor initials, 29 historiated initials and 2 full-page miniatures.
  • Printing in gold leaf.
  • Bound entirely in red calfskin, hand-tooled, with two shell-shaped metal clasps.
  • Press run:
    600 numbered and certified copies for distribution to collectors and libraries all over the world.

Reference: Borg. Lat. 425

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