Medieval manuscripts

Medieval manuscripts are written by hand; in Western Europe, they are usually written on the prepared skins of cows, goats, or sheep. Earlier Romans like the Egyptians used papyrus. First, manuscripts were rolled and are referred to as scrolls. Later, most Medieval manuscripts were produced on roughly rectangular pieces of prepared animal skins that were then stacked and bound on one side, much like the familiar printed book. This kind of binding is referred to as a codex.

By the first century BC there existed at Rome notebooks made of leaves of parchment, used for rough copy, first drafts, and notes. By the first century AD such manuals were used for commercial copies of classical literature. The Christians adopted this parchment manual format for the Scriptures used in their liturgy because a codex is easier to handle than a scroll and because one can write on both sides of a parchment but on only one side of a papyrus scroll. By the early second century all Scripture was reproduced in codex form. In traditional Christian iconography, therefore, the Hebrew prophets are represented holding scrolls and the Evangelists holding codices (AHDs.v. codex).
Manuscripts may be subdivided into various classes or kinds. There are illuminated manuscripts, carefully illustrated with drawings and colored ink embellishments, including gold leaf. There are large, ornate display Gospels, containing the first four books of the New Testament like The Book of Lindisfarne and The Books of Kells. There are also elaborate personal prayer books known as Books of Hours, and many other kinds of manuscripts.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    December from Walters W. 425

        December calendar images typically feature a pig slaughter, a common labor for December. In the case of the fragmentary prayer book from The Walters museum, Walters W. 425, a pig being butchered was the image for November. December calendar images, when they don’t feature a hog being butchered, often feature a boar hunt. Sometimes December calendar images feature a winter scene, or, sometimes, bread baking. The December calendar image from Walters W. 425 f. 12r has a medallion in the margin featuring the astrological sign of Capricorn, the horned ram, and below it, a winter scene featuring a snowball fight, with a rickety windmill (yes, this is Flemish) in…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    November from Walters W. 425

    The November calendar page from The Walters Walters W. 425 features gold scrolling leaves in the margin, with a small Sagittarius astrological sign in a medallion in the margin. The November calendar has a very conventional scene depicting the labor of the month; Walters W. 425 f. 11r shows a man and a woman slaughtering a pig, very much in the spirit of the Middle English lyric about the labors of the months: At Martynesmasse I kylle my swine The typical labor for November in books of hours shows the swine being fattened on acorns, while is hog butchering is often featured as the labor for December. This November scene is very…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    October from Walters W. 425

    Walters W. 425 calendar pages for October, f. 9v and the primary image for the labor of October, Walters W. 425 f. 10r, both have greenery in their marginalia, though f. 9v also includes some striking blossoms, including a Heart’s Ease or Pansy, and  a flower that looks very much like a Chrysanthemum, and one that might be a Zinnia. There’s also a surprising realistic moth at the bottom right. There’s a blue Pansy on the left, something that looks a bit like a Zinnia or possibly another Chrsyanthemum, and the moth. Notice the shadows under the orange flower petals, and under the moth, making them both look three dimensional. The October…

  • Medieval manuscripts

    More on the Bristol Vulgate Cycle fragments about Merlin

    Fragments of a medieval Merlin manuscript in Old French discovered two years ago in a Bristol’s central library have been more thoroughly examined. The fragments, found in a binding, are from the Old French Vulgate Cycle or Lancelot-Grail Cycle. While the Vulgate Cycle was composed circa 1220-1225, the fragments are dated to 1250–1275 via paleographic analysis, with a provenance in northern, possibly north-eastern, France. Professor Leah Tether, medieval historian and manuscript specialist Dr Benjamin Pohl and medievalist Dr Laura Chuhan Campbell, after digital processing images of the fragments, realized that the Bristol fragments offer previously unknown variants of the texts. Dr Laura Chuhan Campbell: “In most manuscripts of the better known [version],…

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  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    September from Walters W. 425

    This September calendar image from the fragmentary prayer book The Walters museum MS. W. 425 f. 9r is a fairly typical labor for September in colder climates. A man is walking behind a two-horse plow. The marginalia includes a rondel with scales,  the astrological symbol for Libra, more flowers, and a bird. I confess I am a little puzzled by the cloth on the back of the horses; it’s a piece of tack that I do not recognize.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    August from Walters W.425

    This August image from the fragmentary Walters Museum prayer book Walters W. 425 f. 8r features the astrological symbol for Virgo, the virgin, in the roundel on the top right, more flowers, and a very typical labor for August, threshing grain. The barn is open, allowing the chaff from the dried grain, which looks like wheat, to blow away, and to prevent the workers choking in the dust from the chaff. The flails look to the the sort where the actual flail is joined to the shaft of the handle with chain, allowing it to flex and thus be far more effective at removing the chaff without crushing the grain.…

  • Medieval manuscripts

    July from Walters W.425

    The two most common labors for July depicted in the calendar images of Books of Hours (and in psalters and prayerbooks like W.425), are mowing hay, and harvesting wheat with a scythe. This image from f. 7r of Walters Museum prayer book fragment W.425 shows a fairly typical scene of two men in a field reaping the wheat with scythes. The margin shows a medallion featuring a lion, the zodiac sign for Leo. I have no idea why there appears to be grid; the lines don’t appear thick enough to be stacks of mown hay. This is another month with flowers in the border, and again, they are close to…

  • Medieval manuscripts

    The British Library on Medieval Killer Rabbits

    From the British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog: Vengeful, merciless and brutally violent… yes that’s right, we’re talking about medieval bunnies. Rabbits can often be found innocently frolicking in the decorated borders or illuminations of medieval manuscripts, but sometimes, for reasons unknown, these adorable fluffy creatures turn into stone-cold killers. These darkly humorous images of medieval killer bunnies still strike a chord with modern viewers, always proving a hit on social media and popularised by Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Beast of Caerbannog, ‘the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!’.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    June from Walters W.425

    Typical labors for June include sheep-shearing and hay-mowing, (or scything) and raking the dried hay into small piles. Despite what The Walters Museum says about this June calendar image from Walters W.425, “Three figures farming,” they are in fact  two figures scything hay. The two men in the front are mowing or cutting the grass, which once it dries, magically becomes hay. They men are both using scythes mounted on a long shaft called a snath. The snath has an extra handle which makes the two-handed swinging motion of mowing the hay more efficient. As they mow they create small piles of drying hay. Once the hay is dried, it is…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    May from Walters W.425

    This May calendar page from the Walters Museum prayer book fragment W.425 is a very typical May image. The astrological medallion, looking a little worn but centered in the middle of the border on the right margin, shows the Gemini twins. The calendar image shows a very typical May scene of a lady on horseback, using a side saddle and  accompanied by two youths, all of them wearing aristocratic clothing. The man in the front on the left, and the lady, both bear branches of greenery, attesting to their errand to “bring in the May.” This is another border that features naturalistic flower images. The image on the top right…