31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts

Lapidaries – Day Twenty-Five of Medieval Manuscripts

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 and other minerals. (The word “lapidary” in a more general sense refers to an artisan who works with gemstones.)

Liber Additamentorum (British Library, MS Cotton Nero D. I, ff. 146-146v, c. 1250-1254 ). Photo via medievalfragments.wordpress.com.

Lapidary manuscripts are related to bestiaries in many ways, which probably explains why I thought animals were involved. Like bestiaries, lapidaries illustrated various examples of their subjects and described them in symbolic, moral, and theological terms. Lapidaries and bestiaries were often included in the same manuscript, and I also found lapidary texts alongside herbals, philosophical treatises, and books on various modes of fortune telling. Gemstones and divination were thought to be related in medieval times, and a magnificent lapidary owned by King Alfonso X of Castile related gemstones to signs of the zodiac. (See this page for more about King Alfonso’s lapidary)  Our modern-day idea of birthstones is descended from this. Lapidaries would have been connected to philosophical and theological texts through their supposed symbolic properties and to herbals through their similar use in the healing arts.

Page from a bestiary and lapidary owned by the British Library (MS Royal 12 F XIII, f.3). England, S. E. (possibly Rochester); 2nd quarter of the 13th century.


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3 thoughts on “Lapidaries – Day Twenty-Five of Medieval Manuscripts

  1. This makes me wonder if there are any handy guides to the bestiaries and their ancient sources, like the translation of a bestiary which Dover reprints and bestiary.ca. Looking at stones and gems and hearing curious stories about them can be fun too, and many of the ancient sources are by writers like Pliny the Elder and Isidore of Seville who are not too hard to read.

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