The Missing Illustration: A Portrait of the "Witches’ Sabbath"

Speaking of intriguing alterations, the Alberta manuscript is missing several leaves that have been removed at some point in history: fol. 1 (a lifted pastedown), fol. 2, fol. 9, fol. 24, and fol. 78. Fol. 78 appears to have been removed before a version of one of the earliest ownership inscriptions, which now appears under erasure, was written on fol. 77v; this inscription created an offset image on fol. 79r.

The most important of these excisions was the removal of most of fol. 9, which appears to have been torn out of the binding. All that remains is a small fragment of a luxury illustration. Remarkably, this illustration almost certainly depicted witches in flight over a stylized portrait of a sabbath, at which worshippers bore candles and paid homage to the Devil in the form of a goat. Because the Peel library’s manuscript is probably the oldest of the known copies, it may thus have contained the second-ever manuscript illustration of a witch in flight—the iconic image now replicated millions of times, all over the world, in books and store windows in late October.

We can make this hypothesis confidently because the other three luxury manuscripts all contain versions of this illustration (below).

Our hypothesis is supported by the fact that the small fragment of fol. 9 remaining in the Peel library’s copy is strikingly similar to that portion of both of manuscripts (Paris and Brussels) most closely related to it.