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