First appearing in Europe in the tenth century, missals are books containing the texts used in the service of the Mass throughout the year. The manuscript now in the Library's safekeeping is an especially beautiful example, illuminated throughout with burnished gold initials and containing many miniatures (the term used by medievalists for all book illustrations, irrespective of size). Charles de Neufchatel (1439-1498), Archbishop of Besancon in eastern France, commissioned it from a local workshop about 1471. Marks identifying it as his include processional crosses entwined with an initial C in the decorative borders framing the pages and occasional traces of the Neufchatel coat of arms. The Missal is one of only six books to have survived from the Archbishop's library after political upheavals forced his departure from Besancon in 1480. It has been described by eminent medieval scholar Christopher de Hamel as ‘a masterpiece of liturgical book illumination’.
The predominant form of handwriting used in Germany, England and France from the twelfth century to about 1500, with angular letters and an emphasis on straight lines, verticals and diagonals, is known as gothic script. The Missal is written on high-quality vellum (parchment made from animal skin) in a very fine gothic hand. Arranged in double columns, the main text is in dark brown ink, with rubrication (red ink) and ornamentation used to facilitate the location of specific Masses. The manuscript was a team effort. The main scribe probably had little, if any share, in the decorative tasks. At least two artists worked on the illustrations. The sixty-eight single-column miniatures mainly depict scenes from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The four full-page miniatures show the Crucifixion and the Throne of God. Extending to 571 leaves in total, the manuscript is divided into two volumes, bound in seventeenth-century French calf leather.
The Missal was one of thirty-seven items of exceptional antiquarian interest (the Rossdhu Book of Hours and Saint Birgitta's Revelationes were others) purchased by Sir George Grey from the 1863 catalogue of London booksellers Thomas and William Boone. It was among the first batch of rare and precious books that Grey donated to the Library in 1887.