The Last Page of the Medieval Book

By Erik Kwakkel (@erik_kwakkel)

I love the last page of the medieval book. Not because it means that my research of a particular manuscript is almost completed, but because the last page often provides information pertaining to the origins of the object – information not normally found elsewhere in the manuscript. This post, which discusses some of this information, is devoted to the last text page of a manuscript as well as the last physical page of the book – which are, perhaps surprisingly, not usually the same thing.

The Last Page of the Text
The last page of the text was a podium where the scribe could state information about himself and the circumstances of the book’s production. While few scribes seized this opportunity (about one in seven do say something), such added information, collected in what we call a “colophon”, can enrich our knowledge of a manuscript considerably. Some colophons provide a glance into the reality of the scriptorium or urban workshop, where a scribe toils over a piece of parchment. Well known are colophons that state such cries as “Please give me a drink!” or “Let my right hand be free from pain!” (see Fig. 1 and this MedievalFragments post).

Scribal colophon in Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, VLF 5 (pic Giulio Menna)

Fig. 1 – Scribal colophon in Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, VLF 5, 15th century (Photo: Giulio Menna)

More telling are colophons where a scribe lifts the veil and allows us to peek into his or her working space. The Paris artisan Herneis states on the last page of a book he copied: “If someone else would like such a handsome book, come and look me up in Paris, across from the Notre Dame cathedral” (see Fig. 2 and this MedievalFragments post). There are other cases where a commercial scribe advertises his work. One from mid-fifteenth-century Holland copied the same book up to eight times (the historical books of the Old Testament), showing that his labor is a commercial enterprise. At the end of one of these he writes: “If there is somebody who would like a copy of the New Testament, I would be happy to provide it for payment, because it is beautiful” (Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, MS 1006, fol. 455r).

Advertisement by Herneis le Romanceur, professional scribe in Paris (Giessen, UB, 945, 13th c)

Fig. 2 – Advertisement by Herneis le Romanceur, professional scribe in Paris (Giessen, UB, 945, 13th century)

While Herneis in Paris was spamming a general audience, telling them where to go for a good book, the anonymous scribe in Holland was likely addressing the individual for whom he just copied the Old Testament. When the reader got to the end of the last page, he stumbled into this not-so-subtle recommendation for more good stuff – not unlike what happens when you search for a good read on Amazon: “If you like that book, you will love this one!”

As exciting as these examples are, the really important colophons are those that read like a title page. The colophon in Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 2541 is an example of a particularly rich source of information about how the manuscript came to be. The colophon on the last page states: “Pray for the person who made this book, which was completed in 1484 in the city of Maaseik, where we were taking refuge after our convent had burned down” (Fig. 3). These few lines provide a wealth of information, most importantly when and where the book was made, but even something extra about the life (and suffering) of the scribe, who recently lost her home in a fire.

Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 2541, 15th century

Fig. 3 – Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 2541, 15th century (Photo: Erik Kwakkel)

The Last Page of the Book
The second kind of last page that this post highlights is the actual last page of the book. As you can see in Fig. 3, the end of the last page sometimes coincides with the end of the book, or at least with the original medieval part of it. What also happens, quite frequently, in fact, is that the last text page is followed by one or more medieval flyleaves. These are often the remaining blank leaves of a last quire, which were left in place as an extra layer of protection. Flyleaves could also be added, usually in the form of a bifolium that was fixed in between the last quire and the board, to which half of the bifolium was appended as a pastedown.

The empty flyleaf – the actual last page of the medieval book – is usually a feast to look at. It was the ideal location to test your pen, to doodle on, or to add informal notes. Some librarians favoured putting the title of the book on the last page, as in Fig. 4, where the librarian wrote “Paterius de opusculis sancta Gregorii” in a book filled with excerpts from works by Gregory the Great.

St Gall, Stifsbibliothek, MS 241, p. 180 (note on contents, 13th century)

Fig. 4 – St Gall, Stifsbibliothek, MS 241, p. 180 (note on contents, 13th century)

Far more entertaining (for us) are, of course, the famous doodles that were frequently placed on flyleaves. Testing the pen was a common occurrence, given that the quill had to be cut several times per day. Scribes turned to the last page of a nearby book to jot short sentences of doodle little drawings to see if the nib’s cut was in order. Interestingly, some of these trials seem to combine testing the pen and trying out decorative elements. A good example of this is the page shown in Fig. 5.

Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 111 I (14th-century doodles)

Fig. 5 – Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 111 I, 14th-century doodles (Photo: Erik Kwakkel)

While testing his pen, the scribe of these lovely doodles actually produced shapes that would not be out of place on an actual text page as decoration. It is almost as if he was refining a skill while also dealing with the nib of his pen. After all, a nib could be tested with just a few squiggly lines. Thus the last page of the book becomes a test ground for artistic creations: it makes for an attractive last thing to glance at before closing the book.

Note – This is my last contribution to this blog, which is winding down and will come to an end next week with a final post. The present post is also a new beginning in that it is the gateway, as it were, to my new blog, medieval books.nl, which is live as of today (22 August, 2014). Hope to see you all there! Note that the first entry of my new blog features a companion post on “The First Page of the Medieval Book” (read it here).

Posted in Erik Kwakkel | Tagged , , , ,

Lapidaries Rock: Medieval Books on Gems, Stones, and Minerals

By Julie Somers

The medieval lapidary is essentially a book about stones, both precious and semi-precious gems and minerals as well as mythical stones that may never have existed. Closely linked to the bestiary, which has been discussed in previous project blog posts, the medieval lapidary tradition can be traced back to antiquity with the text on Natural History by Roman historian Pliny the Elder (ca. 23-79 CE). Pliny’s account of the properties of various stones and gems, which he categorized by color, durability, and origin, became the basis for knowledge about rocks and minerals throughout the Middle Ages. As legends grew regarding the hidden, magical properties of various gemstones, Christian writers added an allegorical, divine meaning to this system of classification. As such, the pearl is often a seen as a representation of Mary.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 14429, Folio 117v

Bestiary. The Pearl. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 14429, Folio 117v

Perhaps the most widely distributed medieval lapidary was composed in c.1090 by Marbod of Rennes. His Book of Stones, or Liber lapidum, describes in verse the various qualities of sixty gems and minerals. Marbod listed the medicinal qualities of many stones including diamond, topaz, sapphire or lapis lazuli, and coral. According to Marbod, emerald or smargardus increases wealth, coral protects against lightning or tempests, while diamonds can drive away nightmares and cure insanity.

Gemstones

Gemstones

Another well-known patron of the medieval lapidary tradition was Alfonso X the Wise, King of Castille and Leon (c.1250 – 1284). He influenced the organization of stones according to the signs of the zodiac.

Lapidario del rey D. Alfonso X; codice original. Madrid, Impr. de la Iberia, á cargo de J. Blasco, 1881 PN682.L3 A38 Special Collections oversized

Lapidario del rey D. Alfonso X; codice original. Madrid, Impr. de la Iberia, á cargo de J. Blasco, 1881
PN682.L3 A38 Special Collections oversized

Other works can also be considered lapidaries, though not in the strict sense. For example, Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies discusses the qualities and potential applications of stones such as jasper, while Hildegard of Bingen writes about the medicinal usefulness of stones as healing charms in her work, Physica. The thirteenth-century work by Matthew Paris gives an account of the gemstones held in the abbey of St. Albans. His Liber Additamentorum provides images of the gems in addition to recording their qualities.

 Matthew Paris

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

The production and use of the medieval lapidary was important to the understanding of the symbolic as well as the natural properties of gems and stones and thus influenced a variety of medieval artistic endeavours. The decoration of prized objects such as Bibles or Gospels with precious gems and stones, as discussed in a previous blog post, represented not only the wealth and piety of the patron, but carried with it many levels of meaning.

Gospel Book (so-called Small Bernward Gospel) Front cover: German (Hildesheim), second half of 12th century. Gilded copper, rock crystal, paint on parchment under horn on oak; Byzantine ivory plaque. Dom-Museum Hildesheim (DS 13) Photograph by Erika Dufour, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gospel Book (so-called Small Bernward Gospel) Front cover: German (Hildesheim), second half of 12th century. Gilded copper, rock crystal, paint on parchment under horn on oak; Byzantine ivory plaque. Dom-Museum Hildesheim (DS 13) Photograph by Erika Dufour, courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

There are many other lapidaries that support the medieval interest in the symbolism of gems, rocks and minerals, such as the eleventh century Damigeron lapidary, the Nautical lapidary, the German vernacular Das Steinbuch which lists thirty-eight stones, and The Book of Minerals by Albertus Magnus. Large collections of rocks, gems and minerals along with an interest in their natural and hidden properties can be traced to Greek and Roman origins. The medieval lapidary book tradition was a continuation of this interest and a popular resource for making sense of the natural and mystical properties of stones.

Posted in Julie Somers

Games of Thrones? Popular Medieval Board Games

By Jenneka Janzen

Living without modern entertainment luxuries, what did medieval people do for fun? Surely it wasn’t all farm labour, praying, or jousting (to play into common misconceptions)? Believe it or not, several of our favourite board games originated in the Middle Ages.

How do we know what medieval game enthusiasts were playing? Well, they occasionally wrote down their game rules in manuscripts, including pictures of plays and boards, and illustrated themselves playing games. We know that game-playing was the mark of gentility at princely courts and also a pastime for gamblers, that games were invented by clerics and played by saints, and that soldiers had whiled away their time with games since Ancient Roman and Greek times. As is the case today, in the Middle Ages games were probably enjoyed by anyone with a bit of leisure time and knowledge of the rules.

Chess

Chess was likely invented in India sometime between 250 and 550 CE.  It became popular in Islamic Persia in the mid-7th century, and moved north into 10th-century Europe via Muslim-Christian contact in the Iberian Peninsula. Known in the Arab world as shatranj, southern European players modified the game around 1200. It reached today’s form (more or less) in about 1475, and with the growing popularity of chess rule books, became increasingly standardized in the Western world.

Our best testament to medieval chess is the Libro de los Juegos (Book of Games), commissioned in 1283 in Toledo by Alphonso  X of Castile. It contains 150 miniatures (notably showing women, men, royalty, peasants, Christian monks and nuns, Muslims, Jews, young, and old) and instructions for playing three games: one of skill (chess), one of chance (dice), and one of both skill and chance (backgammon). It also approaches the games from astrological, astronomical, and allegorical perspectives.

The Libro de los Juegos contains descriptions of over 100 chess problems and plays, as well as different variants (including a 4-player version). Here, an Andalusian Muslim woman plays chess with a blonde Christian woman. Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, f. 54r

The Libro de los Juegos contains descriptions of over 100 chess problems and plays, as well as different variants (including a 4-player version). Here, an Andalusian Muslim woman plays chess with a blonde Christian woman. Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, f. 54r

The Manesse Codex, a Middle-High German song and poetry book containing the works of about 135 Minnesingers (writers of German Minnesang), was written in Zurich, c. 1304-1340. Created for the wealthy Manesse family, its illustrations often feature noble men and women at leisurely play, including games of both chess and backgammon.

Here Margrave Otto IV of Brandenburg plays chess with his lady. Manasse Codex, Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, f. 13r. Heidelberg University Library, http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848/0021

Here Margrave Otto IV of Brandenburg plays chess with his lady. Manasse Codex, Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, f. 13r. Heidelberg University Library.

Backgammon

A bored-looking French couple plays a particularly dull game of backgammon in the margins of a Book of Hours, c. 1460. Walters Art Gallery, Ms W 269

A bored-looking French couple plays a particularly dull game of backgammon in the bottom margin of a Book of Hours, c. 1460. Walters Art Gallery, Ms W 269, f. 16r.

Variations of backgammon are even older than those of chess! Excavations at Shahr-e Sukhteh in Iran have unearthed a backgammon set from 3000 BCE, although the earliest rule book dates from the 6th-century CE Sasanian court. It pops up in Ancient Rome as Ludus duodecim scriptorum (Game of Twelve Lines), and again in Byzantium at the late-5th-century court of Emperor Zeno. It also enjoyed early medieval popularity in China and Japan.

In the medieval west, backgammon-type games called Jeux de tables (Games of Tables) became popular gambling vehicles in 11th-century France. Given this ‘roguish’ reputation, (Saint) Louis IX prohibited table games among his court and subjects. No matter –  backgammon caught on in 12th-century Germany, and even reached Iceland over the next hundred years.  As mentioned above, Alfonso X’s 13th-century Libro de los Juegos discusses it as a game of both skill and chance, alongside chess and dice games.

The Carmina Burana is a collection of songs, often satirical, likely composed by rebellious Goliards [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliard]. It contains Latin, German, and French, in two hands writing c. 1230. Here, accompanying a song about an imaginary order of lazy, gluttonous, game-playing clerics, a group of men play a backgammon-type game. Chess is also depicted.

The Carmina Burana is a collection of songs, often satirical, likely composed by rebellious Goliards. It contains Latin, German, and French, in two hands writing c. 1230. Here, accompanying a song about an imaginary order of lazy, gluttonous, game-playing clerics, a group of men play a backgammon-type game. Chess is also depicted.

Here, again in the Manesse Codex, a Herr Goeli of Baden plays backgammon. Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, f. 262v.

Here, again in the Manesse Codex, a certain Herr Goeli of Baden plays backgammon. Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, f. 262v. Heidelberg University Library.

Tafl

Have you ever played “Breakthru“? It’s based on a popular family of ‘table’ or board games, Tafl (hnefatafl in Old Norse), similar to today’s chess. Tafl was a two-player game with pieces representing kings and their men, the goal being, of course, to capture your opponent’s men and eventually his king. Tafl variants were played throughout Germanic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian lands since at least 400 CE, until overtaken by chess around 1200. According to the Orkeyinga saga, Rögnvald Kali Kolsson (aka St Ronald of Orkney, d. 1158) was a top-notch hnefatafl player.

Alea evangelii (Game of the Gospels) was described and pictured in Oxford, CCC MS 122 (f. 5v pictured). This 11th c. Irish manuscript suggests that this version of Tafl was created at King Æthelstan’s court by an unknown scholar named Frank, and Israel the Grammarian. The diagram contains a mix of Latin and Old Irish captions.

Alea evangelii (Game of the Gospels) is described and pictured in Oxford, CCC MS 122 (f. 5v pictured). This 11th-century Irish manuscript suggests that this version of Tafl was created at King Æthelstan’s court by an unknown scholar named Frank and Israel the Grammarian. The diagram contains a mix of Latin and Old Irish captions.

Close-up of the replica of the Ockelbo Runestone, Sweden. In this image from the Sigurd legends, two men play hnefatafl.  10th? Century, destroyed by a church fire in 1904.

Close-up and enhancement of the replica of the Ockelbo Runestone, Sweden. In this scene from the Sigurd legends, two men play hnefatafl. 10th? century, destroyed by a church fire in 1904.

For more on medieval games, take a look through the new Walters Art Gallery Exhibition ‘Checkmate!’.  If board games aren’t your thing, the medieval roots of other pastimes, like golf, football (soccer), and hurling might be up your alley. Technology aside, many of the simple, social ways we have fun appealed to medieval people, and like us, they wrote books about it.

Posted in Jenneka Janzen | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Size Matters (Part 2): Giant Medieval Manuscripts!

By Jenny Weston

In last week’s blogpost, Irene O’Daly explored the world of portable books — manuscripts that are small enough (and light enough) to be carried around by the user. In today’s post we shift our attention to the opposite end of the ‘size-spectrum’ and examine some of the largest manuscripts ever produced in the Middle Ages.

Book1

Late-Medieval Choir Books

While most medieval manuscripts are of a size that could be easily picked up and carried, there are some books that are so large and so heavy that it would take two (or more) people to move them.

Among these are volumes known as ‘Giant Bibles’. These books typically contain a complete collection of the Old and New Testaments and present huge dimensions. One particularly famous large-format Bible is an early thirteenth-century pandect known as the Codex Gigas, which measures (a whopping) 890 x 490 mm and weighs over 165 pounds. In addition to the Old and New Testament, the Codex Gigas also contains two texts by Flavius Josephus, Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae, and a collection of medical treatises.

Codex Gigas

The Codex Gigas

The manuscript is also commonly referred to as the ‘Devil’s Bible’ because of a large full-page miniature of the Devil on fol. 290r, as well as a myth surrounding the book’s creation.

Codex Gigas

Codex Gigas

It is said that a monk named ‘Herman the Recluse’, broke his vows and was sentenced to be buried alive in the walls of the monastery. His sentence would be commuted, however, if he could copy a book containing all human and divine knowledge in a single night.

Despite Herman’s best efforts, around midnight he realized he could not complete the task, and was forced to call in a favour from the Devil, who finished the manuscript in exchange for the monk’s soul. The miniature was painted in homage to the Devil.

(A digital copy of the entire manuscript is available here.)

BYS4a6412_codex_gigas

Facsimile of the Codex Gigas

It was not just Christian Bibles that were made in large-format in the Middle Ages, however. There are also some late-medieval copies of the Qur’an that feature similarly impressive dimensions, such as this 500-year old manuscript, currently held at the John Rylands Library at Manchester University:

Manchester University, John Rylands

Rylands Arabic MS 42 [704], Manchester University, John Rylands Library

Because the manuscript has been deemed too fragile to be put on display, the John Rylands Library has opted to photograph the book and make it available for study via their digital collections. (More about this digitization project can be found here.)

But why, exactly, were these books made so large? 

There are a number of potential explanations on offer. In the first place, size tends to reflect importance. Because large-format manuscripts often contain the Word of God, it is very possible that some bookmakers wished to reflect the importance of the text with a suitably impressive material format. Alternatively (or perhaps additionally), some have suggested that these books were meant to reflect the power and prestige of the donors who paid for their commission — a wealthy bishop or nobleman perhaps, who wished to memorialize his name in the production of a massive and showy pandect. Others have provided more pragmatic reasoning, suggesting that these books were designed big in order to rest on a lectern for public reading — their large size making it easier for readers in a church to see the page.

Indeed, the collective reading of large-format books stationed on lecterns has been recorded in a number of medieval illuminations and paintings, such as the image below (though these singers look like they might be engaging in a pub sing-a-long, rather than performing the psalms…):

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In most cases, it is likely a combination of these factors that motivated some bookmakers to create gigantic manuscript volumes.

The tradition of making large-format books did not stop in the Middle Ages, but continued straight through to the Renaissance, as scribes and printers opted to make even bigger, and more impressive copies than before. In the following image we see Glenn Holtzman at the Henry Charles Lea Library at the University of Pennsylvania with an absolutely gigantic choir manuscript from the Renaissance:

510833ac064b572d9351809ac6ea1953

University of Pennsylvania

The fascination with giant books continues today, and some particularly ambitious artisans have taken up the challenge to push the boundaries of book production to epic proportions. I leave you with this family project in Hungary, which has succeeded in creating, quite possibly, the largest book ever made. (How many souls were needed to complete this volume, I wonder?)

img_5019r2

Largest Book in the World?

Posted in Jenny Weston, Project News

Size Matters: Portable Medieval Manuscripts

By Irene O’Daly

Medieval books were often expensive to produce, and usually the property of institutions. But some manuscripts were copied specifically for individuals, and designed to be carried on the person. Portable manuscripts come in many different forms and each is a witness to a different context of use – a valuable insight into medieval culture. Size is a major factor influencing the portability of an object, indeed, it can be a defining characteristic in evaluating the potential use-context of a manuscript, as discussed here in another blog entry. But size does not always tell the full story.

Take, for example, the production of one-volume Bibles in the thirteenth century. These Bibles (often termed ‘Paris Bibles’, as Paris was the major, though not only, centre of their production) represented a dramatic departure from previous practices. Bibles were traditionally large, often copied in separate volumes, but Paris Bibles were small and designed to accommodate all the books of the Bible. By the mid-thirteenth century, one-volume Bibles could be as small as 200mm high, and came to be known as ‘pocket Bibles’. The popularity of these Bibles seems to have been fostered in part by the success of the new preaching orders, particularly the Fransciscans and Dominicans, founded in the early thirteenth century. The Friars travelled, and in their fight against heresy were in need of a standardised text of scripture, of the type found in the Paris Bible. As preaching was their main mission, each Friar needed his own Bible (which conventionally was property of the order, rather than of the individual).

Harvard, Houghton Library, MS Typ 4, f. 3v - a tiny Bible measuring only 180mm tall

Harvard, Houghton Library, MS Typ 4, f. 3v – a tiny Bible measuring only 180mm tall

Not all medieval portable manuscripts were designed to be carried in one’s pocket. ‘Girdle books’ could be carried on a belt, and seem to have been designed for ‘on-the-move’ reading. The Yale ‘Girdle Book’ (Beinecke, MS 84), a copy of Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiae measuring only 100x80mm, was designed to be worn in this fashion and would have hung upside-down off a knot on the users belt, so that the text would be the right way up when lifted from the belt to be read.

Yale, Beinecke MS 84

Yale, Beinecke MS 84

Certain genres of manuscripts were frequently copied to be worn like this – for example, medical almanacs were often designed as folding manuals to be worn on the belt, allowing easy consultation by travelling doctors.

Wellcome Library, London, WI no. C0096769. A particularly deluxe fifteenth century folding almanac, opened here to show the Zodiac Man, a table to show under what signs of the zodiac bloodletting could take place.

Wellcome Library, London, WI no. C0096769. A particularly deluxe fifteenth century folding almanac, opened here to show the Zodiac Man, a table to show the times of the year when bloodletting was advised and prohibited.

Some manuscripts were carried on the person because their proximity was considered talismanic. This is probably the case with British Library MS Stowe 956, a tiny copy of the psalms (40x30mm) bound to be worn on a belt. Its tiny size suggests it was intended to be worn as a devotional object, rather than to be read.

British Library, MS Stowe 956, f. 1v-2r. Copy of the psalms preceded by a miniature of Henry VIII.

British Library, MS Stowe 956, f. 1v-2r. Copy of the psalms preceded by a miniature of Henry VIII. This originally belonged to Anne Boleyn.

Another example of this kind are medieval prayer rolls. The Arma Christi, a religious poem in Middle English dating from the late thirteenth century, was frequently copied on to a small parchment roll to be carried on the person. Accompanied by images of the Passion of Christ (including ‘life-size’ renditions of the nails of the cross) these rolls were intended for contemplation and meditation. Only 63mm wide, this fifteenth-century example would have been easily held in a hand by a medieval reader.

Huntington Library, HM 26054 - a section of an illustrated Arma Christi roll.

Huntington Library, HM 26054 – a section of an illustrated Arma Christi roll.

One of my favourite ‘portable manuscripts’ is this illustrated almanac for peasants, dating from 1513. Each month is accompanied by a picture of a farmer doing the work best suited to that time of the year. The roll also contained an image of Christ crucified, again demonstrating the strong relationship drawn in medieval society between work and prayer. For me, this manuscript, despite its diminutive size and format, literally ‘speaks volumes’ about the Middle Ages.

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 901, 1513

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 901, 1513

Posted in Project News

Mark Their Words: Medieval Bookmarks

By Jenneka Janzen

When talking about manuscripts with the uninitiated, I usually mention how features that guide us through our modern books – running titles, subheadings, and indices, for example – originated in the Middle Ages. Yet, I tend to overlook bookmarks (despite my childhood collection of them) as a sort of ‘separate apparatus’. Bookmarks, however, also have an interesting medieval past!

Unlike today’s kitten-adorned cardboard versions, or the crocheted worm variety (my personal favourite), medieval bookmarks tended to be less decorative, but über practical. There are essentially three types of bookmark, most of them extant from the twelfth century onwards* and usually found in liturgical books (as the Mass celebrant had to locate various readings in several different books depending on the day).

1) Fore-edge Bookmarks

This type is arguably the ancestor of today’s binder or index tab. A tab made out of a bit of parchment (sometimes cut from the edge of the page itself), coloured leather, or even a sort of woven bead, was stitched onto or looped through a cut in the page at the height of the desired text. These may have also been used to mark the beginning of different texts in a composite manuscript, or different chapters.

Knotted tab in the left margin, Bruges City Library, MS 47, 1v-2r, c. 1200-1225. Photo Jenneka Janzen.

Knotted tab in the left margin, likely marking a new text in a formerly composite manuscript. Bruges City Library, MS 47, 1v-2r, 3rd quarter 12th c. Photo Jenneka Janzen.

Close-up of knotted tab, Bruges City Library, MS 105 front flyleaf, c. 1175-1200. Photo Jenneka Janzen

Close-up of knotted tab, Bruges City Library, MS 105 front flyleaf, c. 1175-1200. Photo Jenneka Janzen.

Tab made from the page itself, Oxford, Balliol College, MS 86, 14th c. Photo Balliol Archives conservationist blog.

Tab made from the page itself (recto and verso of same folio). Oxford, Balliol College, MS 86, 14th c. Photo Balliol Archives conservationist blog.

 

2) Register Bookmarks

Probably closest to modern bookmarks, the register bookmark comes in three smart versions. The simplest is similar to what you’d find in a nice edition today – a long strip of parchment, leather, string, or ribbon attached to the endband or spine of the book that could be draped between pages. There might be several ribbons, for the reader to mark several pages.

Manuscript endband with register bookmark and foot with trailing cords. Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.1588. Photo Alexandra Gillespie, from her blog Medieval Bookbindings.

Manuscript endband with register bookmark and foot with trailing cords. Auckland Libraries, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Med. MS S.1588. Photo Alexandra Gillespie, from her blog Medieval Bookbindings.

Another variation on this theme was the portable register, made by attaching a number of strings or strips to an anchor (a peg or square of parchment or leather), which rests at the top edge of the book.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 19.55.46

Removable register bookmark in Exeter Cathedral, MS 3515, 13th c.

The third version of the register bookmark is the most ingenious! A little rotating dial made of parchment is added to the bookmark string, usually with numbers one through four marked on it signifying the standard four columns of text at each opening (i.e. column A and B verso, and column A and B recto). When the reader wanted to mark his spot, he slid the dial up or down the string to line up with the spot he wanted to mark, and then indicated, using the wheel’s markings, the desired column.

Register bookmark with adjustable disk, Harvard University, Houghton MS Typ 277.

Register bookmark with adjustable dial set between column II and III (i.e. col. B verso and col. A recto[not pictured]). Harvard University, Houghton MS Typ 277, 12th c.

3) Found Object Bookmarks

The last type of bookmark is the most obvious: the found object, or essentially whatever-happens-to-be-at-hand bookmark. Much in the way we might re-purpose an old shopping list or photo, medieval readers used parchment scraps, bits of string, or pieces of plants to mark their spot. Turning Over a New Leaf project leader Erik Kwakkel found a lovely leaf bookmark in an incunabula in Zutphen.

Leaf bookmark found by Erik Kwakkel in an incunabula in Zutphen's chained library. Photo Erik Kwakkel.

Leaf bookmark found by Erik Kwakkel in an incunabula in Zutphen’s chained library. Photo Erik Kwakkel. See more on his Tumblr.

Auckland Libraries, MS G. 185

Auckland Libraries, MS G. 185, Photo Alexandra Gillespie, from her blog Medieval Bookbindings.

Despite their attraction, medieval bookmarks are often left unmentioned in special collections catalogues, making them interesting little surprises for manuscript scholars. Want more on bookmarks? Stay tuned to upcoming Turning Over a New Leaf blog entries!

*According to Szirmai (1999) there is a cord bookmark attached to the endband of St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 95, although it isn’t visible in the e-codices images.

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Fireworks, Baseball and the Dog Days of Medieval Summer

By Julie Somers

Since today is Independence Day in the States and many of my friends and family will be enjoying celebrations, today’s blog post takes a look at fireworks used as spectacle in the Middle Ages.

First invented in China during the early twelfth century, fireworks came to Western Europe by way of merchant trade routes. By the late fourteenth century, small pyrotechnic displays were being used to enhance Christian mystery plays, where the ‘whole Church was filled with sparks’. Over the next centuries, fireworks became a part of festivities at royal courts, religious dramas, and even summer markets.

‘On summer days, great wooden and papier-mache wheels covered in painted human and animal figures were raised up over the town square on ropes and filled with a variety of simple rockets…fireworks burst forth from the wheel…’ [1]

Drawing of 'Fiery Dragon' firework display c. 1658 (John White, "The School of Artificial Fire-Works," A Rich Cabinet (1658).

Drawing of ‘Fiery Dragon’ firework display c. 1658 (John White, “The School of Artificial Fire-Works,” A Rich Cabinet (1658).

A popular firework display was the ‘fiery dragon’ that would move across the sky sending fireworks all around. Another popular type was a spinning wheel of sparks or girandola. We know of these early displays from a book about fireworks from 1594 by Friedrich Meyer. Also in this book we come across a spectacular drawing of ‘the spark of life’ theory popular in the sixteenth century. This image is connected to the idea that an essential part of fireworks corresponded to an essential part of human nature.

Büchsenmeister und Feuerwerksbuch - (BSB Cgm 8143) c.1594

Büchsenmeister und Feuerwerksbuch – (BSB Cgm 8143) c.1594

Perhaps during the summer, the medieval person came across the opportunity to see these displays of drama and performance.

Artilleriebuch by Walther Litzelmann, 1582.

Artilleriebuch by Walther Litzelmann, 1582.

Or perhaps they were enjoying summer games.

A Game of Ball? (MS Bodl. 264) c.1400

A Game of Ball? (MS Bodl. 264) c.1400

However, these festivites were generally over by August, when the Dog Days of Summer arrived. Usually from late July into mid-September when the rising of the dog star, Sirius, signaled the months with the hotest temperatures, and were believed to be unhealthy for many activities.

Although the first sparklers may have been made from goose quills, we all enjoy summer just the same.

[1] Simon Werrett, Fireworks: Pyrotechnic Arts and Sciences in European History. (University of Chicago Press, 2010) p. 17.

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