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

    February from the Hours of Henry VIII

    This calendar page for February from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII (Morgan MS. H.8 f1v) features a typical scene in terms of the the labors of February featured in books of hours; the master of the house is standing in front of the hearth, warming himself by the fire. He’s wearing expensive clothing, indicated in particular by the fur trimming on his hat and overcoat, as well as the visible purse he wears. The gentleman is standing in front of a substantial fireplace, with his back to the fire, and his is lifting the hem of his overcoat to warm his backside; a more delicate version of a similar…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    January from the Hours of Henry VIII

      The calendar page for January from the Hours of Henry VIII (Morgan Library MS. H.8 f.1) features feasting in front of the fire, a typical labor for the month of January as depicted in books of hours. This illustration is an example of the “cutaway” scenes that featured in books of hours, with three panels.[1]See for instance the February calendar image in the Très Riches Heures. On the far left the image shows the outside of the house. It’s clearly a snowy winter day. It’s snowing, and the ample wood pile is partially obscured by the falling snow. The next vignette shows someone bringing in wood, while the central…

  • Medieval manuscripts

    Hooking Up: 12th Annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

    This year’s symposium explores the connections between historic and current approaches to data linkage in regard to manuscripts and manuscript research. Hooking Up addresses the topic from a variety of angles and considers how the manuscript book operates as a vehicle for information retrieval and dissemination from the technology of the page and the textual apparatus of a book, to the library, and finally, the internet. We will also consider such questions as how medieval practices of memory shaped information retrieval and gathering, how did the technology of the manuscripts book—in all its many forms—facilitate or hinder information processing, how can medieval solutions inform modern technologies, and how do modern technologies illuminate medieval…

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  • Medieval manuscripts

    Irish MS. Fragment Translates Medical Text by Avicenna

    A family in Cornwall with Irish connections discovered an early printed book printed in London in 1534/1536 that had been owned by the family the sixteenth century. The small pocket-sized book is Latin manual regarding administration. At some point in the past a 15th century Irish manuscript on parchment was cut up, and a section was used to reinforce the binding of the printed book, a fairly common practice as bookbinders recycled medieval manuscripts. Pádraig Ó Macháin, a University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish was alerted to the existence of the MS. fragment and contacted the owner. Professor Ó Macháin is one of the founders of Irish Scripts…

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  • Medieval manuscripts

    Merlin Tale MS. Fragments Discovered

    Seven fragments of parchment written in Old French have been discovered inside an unrelated 15th century work, in the archives of the Bristol Central Library in the UK. The fragments seem to be from a version of the Estoire de Merlin, one that is slightly different from the standard text. The fragments are from a section about the Battle of Trèbes, and include Merlin addressing Arthur’s troops with a stirring speech and, oddly, leading the attack carrying Sir Kay’s dragon standard, which includes a dragon that breathes actual fire. There are some images of the text in the Guardian.

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    December from the Da Costa Hours

    We often think of December as the entry to winter and to Christmas. In the middle ages, typically, winter featured much more dramatically than Christmas. The calendar pages in Books of Hours showing the labors of December most often feature an image of hog butchering, a boar roast, or a boar hunt (sometimes they feature an image of St. John boiling in oil, or the baking of bread) as December labors of the month. This wintery scene is a detail from the December calendar page from the Da Costa Hours (Belgium, Bruges, c. 1515) now in The Morgan Library. (MS M.399, f. 13v). The landscape is snowy, and the people…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    November from the Da Costa Hours

    The traditional labors of November are knocking down acorns for swine to feed, or hog butchering. This November calendar image from The Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours MS M.399, fol. 12v shows neither. Instead, it shows a farmyard and people preparing flax (though there are some pigs grazing in the background). Flax is a fiberus plant grown for both the seeds (for food for people and animals) but more importantly, for the fibers, used to make linen. While wool was the most common fabric in the Middle ages in Europe, linen was also used for clothing and household textiles since it made durable light-weight cloth that was particularly suited for…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    October from the Da Costa Hours

    Sometimes the calendar images in a book of hours departs from the more common labors of the month. This is the case with the Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours image for October. The more common labors for October in books of hours include ploughing and sowing in colder climates, transferring the new wine into casks and barrels for aging in warmer wine-growing areas, or even, a late harvest of grapes in the warmer Mediterranean climates, which is one of the labors in this image from the Morgan Library’s MS M.399, fol. 11v, the October calendar image from the Da Costa Hours. The Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours calendar image for October…

  • Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

    September from the Da Costa Hours

    The traditional labors of September shown in books of hours are harvesting and treading grapes in warmer regions and ploughing and sowing (and sometimes, threshing) in colder climates. In this detail of the September calendar image from the Morgan Library’s Da Costa Hours (MS M.399, fol. 10v), in the foreground a man ploughs with the aid of two horses. Behind him another man is sowing seeds by casting. The seeds are probably winter wheat, and there are more of them in the basket of grain resting on the ground. Behind him and to the left, a man with a stick is knocking down nuts for the swine below the trees;…

  • Labors of September

    The most common image for the labors of the month for September is the grape harvest in warmer climates and sowing seed and/or plowing in cooler climates. September is also a month that in cooler grain-growing climates might be the time to finish or start serious grain-threshing in areas where August is still too wet for threshing, or the harvest is later. The anonymous Middle English lyric describing the labors of the months for September has: With my flayll I erne my brede; The flail of course is the tool used to beat or thresh the dry stalks of wheat, rye, oats or barley to loosen the grain. With threshing…