|from 'Ecclesiastical History of England'|
written by the "Venerable Saint Bede"
showing the first 'historiated' letter (with a picture)
In the early centuries of the dark ages, monks spent their lives copying books. Each manuscript took countless hours to complete. Over time these patient writers became artists, and their manuscripts became elaborately decorated masterpieces. Some illustrations were even lined with gold or silver: these were known as "illuminated" manuscripts. Today the term refers to any of the beautifully painted pages of medieval books.
| from the 'Vienna Genesis'|
showing scenes from the life of Jacob
|page from 'De Materia Medica'|
showing medicinal uses of the mandrake plant (or 'mandragora')
|from the Lindisfarne Gospels|
showing the beginning of the book of Matthew
|from the Book of Kells|
showing letters as an abbreviation of 'Christ'
|from the Aberdeen Bestiary|
showing Christ and animals at time of Creation
Bestiaries are particularly fun. They are like illustrated animal encyclopedias/animal storybooks. You can learn about them here. Click on the small arrow (bottom right of page) to click through the tutorial. To see a fantastic gallery of bestiary illustrations, click here. To begin the slideshow, click the green and blue squares on the bottom left of the page. The University of Wisconsin has a bestiary translation available here. Go to page 7 if you want to start right at chapter one. Lastly, you can view the famous Aberdeen bestiary page by page, with translation, here. Just click 'next' to turn the page.
|Book of Hours|
By the 15th century, illuminated manuscripts, like the Book of Hours shown above, were much more common. To walk through the process of making such a book, check out the interactive "Making of a Medieval Manuscript."
You'll find more manuscript images at the sites below.
University of Cambridge (has zoom-in views)
University of Lousiville (also has fantastic zoom-in views!)
Ball State University (great zoom-in views here, too!)
What interesting things did you learn about medieval manuscripts?
Would you have enjoyed creating these types of books?
Teachers may also be interested
in the following lesson plans: