The first volume in the Special Collections small selection of Medieval Manuscripts is entitled Saints Lives. I would love to give an overview of this manuscript however my skills in Medieval Latin are somewhat lacking.
I was presented with a book backed in wonderful red velvet now worn at the edges. I then immediately proceeded to have heart palpations when I opened the book and the cover fell away from the spine. Not to worry, this just explained why the volume had been tied shut with a length of string.
It felt incredible just to turn the old pages. A few seemed to be made of a thick hide, many pages were precariously brittle and objected to being turned, while others had grown soft and fuzzy with age.
The first thing I noticed was the writing. Impossibly neat black handwriting filled every page in two columns. Each word was made so precisely and from what I could tell there were no mistakes or crossings-out, not a letter was out of place. I challenge any of us to accomplish this. I soon realised that in the background of all the pages was a faint grid featuring rows of guidelines. This was how the writer had achieved such uniformity in his work.
“I was struck by just how much the writer must have cared”
The first letter of each paragraph was emboldened by the use of either red or blue ink. The letter flowed into the margin and each one was accentuated with thin lines that looped around the letter and up and down in the margin. If the letter was red then the decorative lines were made in blue and vice versa. I could almost sense the writer’s frustration when a new paragraph fell into the second column on the page and he was left with a much smaller margin that constricted his repetitive, yet elegant, drawings.
Perhaps at the beginning of a new chapter (again I apologise for my lack of Latin) the first letter was transformed into something marvellous. The letter was at least twice in length as the others and considerably thicker. The blue and red ink had been placed side-by-side. In one instance red was used to create the foundation of the letter ‘P’ then the blue was used to build the surrounds to the letter. It was then I realised that the two inks never touched and not just in this design but throughout the entire manuscript.
“Impossibly neat black handwriting filled every page in two columns”
The inside of the letter ‘P’ was completely filled with blue ink to contrast the surrounding red. The symmetrical design featured four curving lines spinning out from a central point. Each curve ended in the same frilly half-circles that were also used to decorate the first paragraph letter. These bigger letters all had variations of this internal design.
Throughout my examination of this text I was struck by just how much the writer must have cared about this perfectly crafted manuscript and how much time and love had been put into creating it.