Manuscripts

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

Book of Kells, Christ Enthroned
Christ Enthroned in the Book of Kells (folio 32v), c. 800 CE. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. I got this book for Christmas, and it took me well over a month to finish it. It’s an enjoyable read, but not a particularly easy one. There’s a lot to read and absorb here (632 pages of it, to be exact), so critical to go slow and reread sections as necessary.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts was written by Christoper de Hamel, one of the world’s foremost experts on medieval manuscripts. When I studied the subject in college, de Hamel wrote most of my textbooks. It’s a good thing de Hamel is so important in the field, since he definitely needed all that clout to get face time with some of these manuscripts – among the most important in the whole world.

Book of Kells Evangelists
The four Evangelists in the Book of Kells (folio 27v), c. 800 CE. Photo via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

In the book, de Hamel picks twelve manuscripts (very different from each other except they’re all European and medieval) goes to see them, and recounts his experiences in great detail. Everything is included – from the feeling of the parchment to tangential details about their histories to the layouts of the libraries that currently own them. As a result of this, I learned a lot. I don’t think it’s so much that de Hamel intended to teach his readers all these facts about the world of manuscripts. It’s more that he included everything he found relevant, and the reader can pick up a lot because of that. In his introduction, he says that he wants to present each manuscript as though it were an important person he was meeting and interviewing. It’s a cool idea, and I think it works really well here.

I really enjoyed this book so much, but I think I’m going to have to read it several more times to really get as much as I can out of it. During my next reading, I will make sure that I’m not also working on any other books at the same time. I’ll also set aside big chunks of time to read pages and pages at once. Usually, I like finding small scraps of time to read whenever I can, but I don’t think that was the best way to enjoy this particular book. This one deserves my undivided attention.

If you like medieval manuscripts, you might enjoy my 31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts series from a few years ago.

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