31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts is a series I wrote in October 2015 as part of my participation in a 31-day bogging challenge. Participants were encouraged to select a specific topic to focus on during the challenge, and I chose medieval manuscripts – a topic I love and studied extensively in college. Every day, I featured selections from one or more manuscripts and also briefly discussed relevant aspects of manuscript history. These posts have proved popular long after the end of the challenge, so throughout October 2023, I am refreshing and updating each post with new images and better information. After all, I’ve learned a lot more about both writing and manuscripts in the past eight years.
Below are the links to each day’s post. I will continue to update as the month progresses, so that the post associated with each day is ready by the time that day occurs but not necessarily before that. Enjoy!
The Office of the Dead (f.99) from the Belles Heures of Jean de Berry. French, c. 1405-9. The Cloisters Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (CC0 1.0) Today is the last installment of 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts. I hope everyone has enjoyed seeing and reading about all these beautiful books over the past…Keep reading
I’m just going to carry on with this Halloween theme. Apocalypse manuscripts contain St. John the Divine’s writings in the Book of Revelation, including supposed details about the end of the world. Remember that the saved and the damned are supposed to have very different experiences in the end, so Apocalypse manuscripts frequently have some pretty extreme…Keep reading
In preparation for Halloween, I decided that today’s post should have something to do with something magical(ish) and eventually settled on alchemy. Alchemy is probably more of pseudo science than it is magic, but it was in Harry Potter, so I’ll let this slide. Alchemical treatises and illustrations were common in manuscripts of the Western and…Keep reading
As the month of October is winding down, so is 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts. While my posts about medieval manuscripts may be slowing down – I’ll continue to write about them, just not every single day – I hope that your interest in the subject will remain. In that spirit, today’s post is going to be about…Keep reading
The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is a fifteenth-century Dutch book of hours that was owned by a controversial duchess of Guelders. According to the Morgan Library and agreed upon by pretty much every other source I read, the manuscript is “the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript in the world” (Morgan Library website). The Morgan’s description…Keep reading
I couldn’t wrap up thirty-one days of medieval manuscripts without featuring at least one Bible! The Morgan Library’s Crusader Bible (MS M.638) was made in Paris in the 1240s. It presents the Old Testament completely in pictures; there’s very little text, none of which is original to the book. The manuscript is famous for the…Keep reading
I have wanted to write about lapidaries for most of the past month, but I lacked a good source article until now. What are lapidaries, you ask? Unfortunately, they’re not books about rabbits, which I briefly believed as a college freshman, due to the similarity of the French word for rabbit, lapin. Lapidaries are, in fact, books about gemstones…Keep reading
Following day twenty-three’s post about cordiform manuscripts, I’ve started looking into other uniquely-shaped manuscripts. Manuscript historian extraordinaire Erik Kwakkel wrote a great post, “Strange Medieval Manuscripts” on this topic last year. I can’t discuss this topic nearly as well as Kwakkel did, but here are some of my favorites from his article and in general:…Keep reading
I found this heart-shaped book of hours on pinterest and was immediately intrigued, so I’ve started researching heart-shaped (or more technically called “cordiform”) manuscripts in general. So far, I’ve found a few, but none are accompanied by an abundance of information. So far, I’ve found four thanks to this post, which has some great photos,…Keep reading
I always get excited when I find a great new (or at least new-to-me) website about medieval manuscripts, and today, I just discovered litteravisigothica.com, which is dedicated to the study of Visigothic script. Visigothic script a form of writing used in Hispania, specifically the Iberian Peninsula area, roughly between the 8th and 12th centuries A.D. (source). It is…Keep reading
I found a medieval pattern book while browsing the inventory of Les Enluminures, an international art gallery specializing in medieval manuscripts and related works of art. I loved learning that such things exist, so I set out to find more of them. The one shown above is owned by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library…Keep reading
I’m starting to realize that I prefer older (pre-10th century) medieval manuscripts to later ones. I think I’m attracted to older manuscripts’ inherent mysteries – we simply don’t know as much about their makers or original owners. Accordingly, today’s feature is the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a seventh-century English gospel book now owned by the British…Keep reading
Those of you who follow my Gargoyle of the Day feature should be well aware by now that I’m a big fan of finding elements we typically associate with the art of the European Middle Ages in non-European settings. Well, what is true about my love of non-European gargoyles also holds true in the world…Keep reading
One of the things that I love about illuminated manuscripts is their frequent capacity for complete and inexplicable weirdness. Amidst the beautiful decoration, perfect lettering, and pious illustrations that fill many manuscripts’ pages, you can also find grotesque or fantastical creatures, anthropomorphized animals, and figures carrying out a variety of bizarre or even vulgar behaviors.…Keep reading
The Book of Durrow has always been fascinating to me, probably because it was the first medieval manuscript I studied in college. The Book of Durrow is stylistically related to the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels, both of which I’ve previously discussed, but the Book of Durrow pre-dates the other two. In fact, it is the earliest-known…Keep reading
Today’s post builds off my of most recent one. I want to talk about manuscripts containing vernacular literature, or popular stories written in the commonly-spoken language of a country (perhaps French or German), rather than in scholarly or sacred languages such as Latin. In this category were romances, epics, poems, adventure stories, legends, and other works of literature read for pleasure…Keep reading
The Roman de la Rose is a thirteenth-century French poem concerning an allegorical love story between a young man and a rose. Began by French writer Guillaume de Lorris and finished after his death by Jean de Meun, the poem was very popular in medieval France and was the subject of many richly-illustrated manuscripts. The story and its rich symbolism…Keep reading
Illuminations and illustrations are certainly beautiful and interesting, but we haven’t yet talked about the bindings in which medieval manuscripts were housed. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but considering how expensive and time-consuming as medieval manuscripts were to produce, it stands to reason that they would have elaborate and sturdy…Keep reading
I have October on the mind today, so I figured I would run with that. Medieval books of hours, much like today’s day planners (if anyone even uses those anymore), often included calendar pages for each month of the year. These weren’t the sort of calendars you might write down your appointments in, however. Instead, they…Keep reading
Herbals were exactly what they sound like – books about herbs. In the days before prescription or over-the-counter medicine, herbal remedies were common, and herbals illustrated and described the medicinal properties of various herbs. Not being too familiar with herbal medicine, I’m not sure how accurate these herbals were, but I certainly hope they were less…Keep reading
The term “marginalia” refers to the little illustrations or other markings in the margins of illuminated manuscripts. We’ve already seen marginalia in many of the manuscripts we’ve looked at during the past ten days, and in my opinion, marginal illustration is easily the most fascinating aspect of medieval manuscripts. The little people, animals, objects, plants, and other symbols…Keep reading
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped the notice of my readers, intelligent folks that you all are, that I’ve been a little behind on 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts for a few days now. Unfortunately, sometimes the need for actual sleep has to take priority over other things, particularly when one needs to wake up very…Keep reading
Bestiaries are among by favorite type of medieval manuscript. Simply put, bestiaries are books of beasts, with illustrations and descriptions of each creature. That might sound like a sort of thing a child or a student might read today, but you would probably be very unlikely to find much of the same content in any…Keep reading
It’s day eight, and I think it’s also high time that I start discussing some non-religious manuscripts. Books of hours, psalters, choir books, and Bibles get a lot of the attention because many are so rich in decoration, color, and subject matter ripe for illustration. However, it would be a huge oversight to suggest that…Keep reading
Instead of focusing on a manuscript or a component of one, I’ve chosen to write today about one of history’s most famous and prolific medieval collectors of manuscripts. Jean de Berry (1340-1416) was a French duke and the brother of King Charles V of France. An extremely wealthy and well-connected nobleman, Jean de Berry collected all sorts of…Keep reading
Initials – capital letters within manuscripts’ texts – are key venues for illustration and decoration. They also serve important practical functions in helping the reader navigate through the text. And they can be veritable works of art.Keep reading
Earlier today, I came across an article on medievalists.net entitled “Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts”, and I decided that today’s featured manuscript would be one of those ten. (I also felt validated to see that my day two pick, the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, made the expert’s list.) The Black Hours owned by the…Keep reading
Art historians and art lovers primarily see manuscripts as works of art, but we shouldn’t forget that the are books intended to convey texts. This post explores text in manuscripts and why it’s much more interesting than you might think.Keep reading
Today’s entry features a page from a 14th-century Italian choir book called an antiphonary.Keep reading
The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, an early-14th century book made for the future Queen of France, introduces us to the Book of Hours, surprising scale in manuscripts, and the wacky world of marginalia.Keep reading
It only seems appropriate to start off 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts with the Book of Kells, as it is arguably the world’s most iconic illuminated manuscript.Keep reading
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- Learn how medieval manuscripts were created: The British Library Guide to Manuscript Illumination: History and Techniques (University of Toronto Press, 2001) or Making Medieval Manuscripts (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2018).
- Sample the wide variety of manuscripts out there: A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (Phaidon, first published 1997).
- Fun reading about some of the world’s most treasured manuscripts: Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts (Penguin Press, 2017).