repaired 1962 altar Missal open at Canon of the Mass

1962 altar Missal

1962 Roman Missal...for a hermit!

Fr. John has been a dear friend for many years, and when he eventually retired, he decided he wanted to learn to say the Traditional Latin Mass. He was retiring to a property he’d been left by an aunt, and which he was converting into what can only be described as a hermitage. And what a hermitage! It would take too long to explain his (and my) close connection to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic tradition, but as a result of that, he’s inherited an incredible series of icons and had an iconostasis made for his chapel. With all this beauty on display, he actually wanted his Missale Romanum to be decidedly simple and ‘Roman’ – no gold tooling, not even the title on the spine!

Iconostasis with Theotokos Transfiguration and Royal doors open

As you can see, the book was given to me in a sorry state. The spine had completely come off, and the bookbinders’ ancient enemy, Cellotape, had been used liberally. Most of the ribbons had frayed or come loose, and the once-bright colour on the page edges was very faded. As you can probably gather, Fr. John works by the principle that “Our Lord deserves the best”, and so for anything relating to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, no expense was to be spared acquiring fine (and preferably natural) materials so this Roman Missal would be right at home in this little heavenly chapel of his.

Fortunately, the textblock itself was in good condition, though there were a few slightly torn pages. I suspect it languished at the back of a sacristy cupboard for decades, and so was surprisingly well kept.

The first challenge was getting rid of the old leather tabs, used for turning the pages of the Canon. I used lighter fluid (a staple ingredient in binderies, actually) to disolve the old, hardened glue. It worked a treat, and it evaporates without leaving any stains as well.  Then the real work could begin…

Still, all of this was just preparation for the main event…covering the Missal in its new crimson Moroccan leather. I don’t mind admitting how nervous I was about doing this – it was by far the biggest book I’d worked on, and any ‘lessons learned’ at this moment would certainly have been expensive ones! After a few hours of patiently paring the leather to the desired thickness around the edges and the spine, I felt comfortable moving on to my favourite part of working with leather – ‘bringing up the bands’. This is the process of forming the leather over the 5 raised bands on the spine, at first with band nippers (at the bottom of the picture), then tying it up in the finishing press to make sure the pasted/glued leather really adheres to the shape of those bands. I think it’s something about the interlocking triangles formed by the string which I find satisfying, not sure why. Then it was left overnight to really set in place.

Once the Missal was covered, the finishing touch was the endpapers. This was another first for me – having papers marbled specifically for a project! After some back-and-forth about the effect I wanted to achieve, Rachel Maiden of Maiden Marbling did an exquisite job. She took the colours from the Crucifixion image at the start of the Canon (the featured image at the top of this post), and created the mesmerising ‘fern’ pattern I asked for. These colours then informed my choices for the endbands, so every part of the book was in visual harmony. The sky blue she chose is particularly beautiful in contrast to the crimson.

Oh, and I couldn’t resist just one little bit of gold tooling! I thought a tiny Greek cross in gold on the first replacement Missal tab for the start of the Canon Romanum would be just right. Happily, Fr. John agreed! Finally, I made a clamshell box so he could transport it safely to its new home, lining the box with the remainder of the endpapers.

This was truly a mammoth undertaking, and I’m so happy it worked out the way it did. Fr. John was thrilled too, and I know he’s receiving a lot of spiritual consolation from using this Missale Romanum at this time.  Looking at the before-and-after (below), I genuinely hope this will get passed on to some young priest when Fr. John no longer needs a Missal to worship God in Spirit and in truth (many years from now, hopefully), and that it’ll see many more decades of service before the next bookbinder has to take a look at it. 

If you’ve got a Missal or a Lectionary, a Breviary or even a beloved old dictionary that needs some love and attention to bring it back to life, please do let me know and I’ll be delighted to see what I can do!

An old Roman Missal with a missing spine, and the same edition after a book repairs on a 1962 Roman Missal with a clamshel box

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