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.

  • 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

    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…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    April from Walters W.425

    This April calendar image from the Walters W.425 prayer book fragment is another calendar page featuring a naturalistic border, like the March calendar page from Walters W.425. The calendar proper includes the feast of Saint Euphemia on April 7. Taurus, the astrological symbol for April, is a recognizable bull, set off by a medallion. Above and below the astrological medallion naturalistic pink and white flowers add a decorative spring-time touch. I don’t know what the flowers are; I suspect, given the detail, that a Flemish gardener of the 15th century would be able to identify them as popular spring time blossoms. There are, I think, three types of flowers in…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    March from Walters Museum W.425

    Walters Museum W.425 is a fragmentary prayer book. Fortunately, all the calendar images are extant. In the astrological medallion in the border on the left, Aries, the sign of the ram, is featured. The astrological symbol is, again, particularly worn, and I wonder if that’s because someone holding the prayer book open  had a thumb resting there. This March image is the first to feature a “naturalistic” border in the calendar images. On the right is a strawberry, and just below the strawberry, a strawberry blossom. The strawberry, because of the three-lobed leaves was associated with the Trinity, and the white blossoms with purity. The labors of March typically show…

  • Medieval manuscripts

    February from Walters MS. W.425

    This image from the Walters Art museum fragmentary prayer book MS. 425 f. 2r shows the February calendar with a short list of the saint’s days in February, and in the border on the right, a roundel that the Walter’s description says is Pisces, which is exactly what one would expect, but the image is very worn, suggesting that the ms. was actually used. The February calendar image in Walters MS. W.425 shows a typical labor for February; an outdoor scene of two men cutting wood, a common labor for the month in colder climates. One of the men on the right is using a wedge in a log that…

  • Medieval manuscripts,  Uncategorized

    January from Walters MS. W.425

    This leaf from the Walters Museum prayer book fragment, Walters MS. W.425 f. 1r shows the calendar page for January, with a partial list of saints days in the month. In the border on the right of the page is a small roundel featuring an image of Aquarius, the water-bearer, in the form of a small naked figure (male?) carrying a jug of water in each The calendar image shows a fairly conventional labor for the month of January. The scene is indoors. A well dressed man is seated at a table, with his back to a fire. The man wears a fur-trimmed robe; the scene looks domestic, suggesting…