New Information about Medieval Manuscript

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A closeup view of one of the decorated initials depicted on a medieval manuscript at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library.

A decorated initial depicted on a medieval manuscript at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library.

Earlier this year, staff members at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library discovered two manuscript leaves from a medieval European work hidden in our collections. At the time we did not know much about the manuscripts and we had many questions. Where were they produced? When were they made? What is written on them?

Eric Ramirez-Weaver, a faculty member of the University of Virginia and an expert in Medieval European art, recently analyzed the lost manuscripts and answered these questions for us. According to Ramirez-Weaver, the pages were written in a form of Gothic script known as rotunda, which flourished in Italy around 1400 CE. One page contains an excerpt from St. Augustine of Hippo’s sermon on Martha and Mary written in Latin. The other page contains a theological work, again in Latin, attributed to an author who has been historically misidentified as St. Jerome.

It appears that the manuscript leaves were likely folios from a form of medieval anthology known as a compilatio, that was usually produced to encourage discussion about scientific, moral and ethical issues. Around 1550, many Europeans considered these anthologies to be antiquated and often destroyed or recycled them.

The two manuscripts in our collection were recycled by an Italian bookbinder in the 16th century. The bookbinder removed the leaves from their original book and pasted them to paper boards in the binding of a new collection of works by the ancient Roman physician Galen of Pergamum. This kind of recycling was common in 16th century Europe because parchment, the material on which the manuscripts are written, provided excellent support in book bindings.

For almost 500 years the manuscripts remained hidden in the binding of the collected works of Galen, but by accident, are now available again for study at the Health Sciences Library.

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