From 24 July, visitors to the National Trust's Lyme Park in Cheshire will be able to turn the pages of a remarkable 15th century book using the latest digital technology. The book, entitled The Lyme Caxton Missal, is the sole surviving copy of an exceptionally early printed prayer book, the 'Sarum Missal', published by William Caxton in 1487.
Thanks to the generous assistance of The Heritage Lottery Fund, independent charity The Art Fund
(with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and many other organisations and individuals, the National Trust acquired the missal last year.
The Missal was used by priests for Mass and the orders of worship from daily prayers to wedding and funeral services. It was one of the first books to be printed in two colours, red and black, which was cutting-edge technology at the time, and the first to use Caxtons famous woodcut printers device.
In Lyme Parks spectacular library, visitors will be able to view the unique Missal, with its stunning hand-coloured illustrations and fascinating notes and annotations, alongside a cutting-edge digital version. This brings this amazing book to life using the latest version of the British Librarys award-winning Turning Pages technology.
James Rothwell, National Trust Curator for Lyme Park said:
The Missal was very much a working book in daily use the internet of its day for priests - and gives us a fascinating window across 500 years of English history. However, its not only a religious prayer book, but contains many handwritten annotations in the margins of its pages which give us more intimate glimpses of the thoughts and aspirations of its owners, the Legh family of Lyme across the centuries.
Todays digital technology also means we can hear the 15th century through listening to specially recorded passages from the Missal text being sung. Music was an integral part of the Sarum rite, and the plainchant in the Missal would have been sung by a priest. The use of Missals such as these were banned in 1549, under Edward VI so to be able to hear today what people at Lyme would have heard over 500 years ago is a fantastically potent way of connecting with the past.
Sara Hilton, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said:
"As the earliest printed text that bears Caxtons trademark, the Lyme Sarum Missal represents an important historic record of the development of printing, whilst within its pages the revisions and annotations illustrate the huge impact the reformation had on people of the time. Thanks to our funding, the National Trust will be able to give more people the opportunity to explore and enjoy this wonderful heritage treasure - both now, and for many generations to come."
Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund said:
The Lyme Missal is a beautiful work of art and it gives us an extraordinary insight into religious life in 15th century Pre-Reformation England. The Art Fund is delighted to have helped return this remarkable book to its original home in Lyme Park.
To celebrate the return of the Missal to Lyme Park, and as part of an ongoing project to make rooms in its houses more accessible to visitors, the National Trust decided to recreate the 19th century décor of the library at Lyme Park as it would have been when the Missal was rediscovered and put on display. This has so far included the re-decoration of the librarys plaster ceiling to look like it is made of oak, and commissioning new gaufraged velvet for the upholstery and library curtains from a specialist textile company, LELIEVRE in France, which used specially commissioned rollers to produce the pattern on the fabric based on the original 1840s design in the library. Much of the work is being done in front of visitors to the house.
The final pieces in the restoration jigsaw will include the copying of original furniture for use by visitors and the re-papering of the library walls with authentic replica wallpaper based on original fragments discovered in the room, and from imprints of the earlier design left on the wall. This is planned to take place over the coming autumn/winter period and will be completed in time for the 2010 opening season.
David Morgan, General Manager of Lyme Park said: "Were delighted that the Missal can now be seen and enjoyed in the splendid setting of the library. The careful and painstaking work to restore the room to its 19th century appearance is still continuing and provides a fascinating insight into the Trusts work and the traditional techniques of its craftsmen. The library is already a really welcoming place where visitors can sit down and read a book and simply enjoy the room.
The return of the Missal to Lyme Park has not only re-united an historic book with its original setting - it has also ensured that both the book and the library are now accessible to the public in ways never before possible".
The Legh family of Lyme Park  owned the Missal from soon after it was printed in the late 15th century, but for many years the book was hidden away, only to be rediscovered by a visiting scholar to Lyme in the late 19th century, when the Missal was put on display in the library. It was removed from the house by the family in 1946, to return when the National Trust acquired it last year.
Lyme Park house is open Friday Tuesday, 11am 5pm until 1 November. The gardens and park are open daily.