Medieval books


Medieval Calendar thumbnail
Kalends, nones, ides—the medieval month took its three fixed points from ancient Rome. But what about red days?

The medieval calendar


Making Manuscripts (Getty video still)
From scraping skin and cutting quills to painting and bookbinding, making a manuscript is a long, complex process.

Making manuscripts





Boethius, De institutione arithmetica (detail)
This 1000-year-old math primer is nothing fancy, but it took months for a scribe to make.

A medieval textbook


Novgorod, Museum of History, birch bark strip 202, from pupil Onfim, dated 1240-1260
At medieval universities, students took notes on parchment scraps, sometimes bound together with cord.

Medieval notepads



Bookcases in Hereford Chained Library
From cupboard shelfmarks to bookcase inventories, medieval readers devised codes for locating precious volumes.

Finding books



A medieval revolving bookmark (sold at Sotheby’s, July 5, 2005, lot 16)
Lose your place? Not in a monastic library. Static or dynamic, “spider,” or wheel, these bookmarks stay put.

Smart bookmarks



Christine de Pisan in her study. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 9009-11
A carousel, a wheel, or a portable desk? Reading multiple books at once required ample space and custom furniture.

The medieval desktop






Leiden, University Library, BPL MS 2778 (photo: Giulio Menna)
Medieval libraries hid a forest in their shelves—wood boards, covered and clasped, protected precious parchment.

Binding the book


Outline drawings from a pattern book, Yale, Beinecke MS 553, 1400-1600
Decorators drew inspiration from design books, from enlarged capitals to elaborate figures in the margins.

Medieval supermodels



Gilding, Leiden, University Library, VLQ MS 4, 14th century (photo: Giulio Menna)
From penwork and gilding to one-letter stories, decorators offered a range of services to dazzle medieval readers.

Decorating the book




Into a letter P: St Paul at the desk with ruled quire, writing, Hamburg Bible, 1255, Denmark, The Royal Library, MS GKS 4 2°, vol. III, f. 125r
Long before ruled notebooks hit the shelves, medieval writers lined, laid out, and folded their own parchment.

The work of the scribe