We are extremely grateful for a recent grant from DCMS Wolfson which among other things has enabled us to digitise a small number of our medieval treasures. We will be producing facsimiles of these manuscripts for library visitors to handle once we reopen. The originals are fragile and easily damaged by handling, but the high quality facsimiles will enable visitors to get as close as possible to the experience of reading these remarkable volumes. You will be able to take a seat in the alcove in our Reading Room and turn the pages of a Latin chronicle written between the thirteenth and fourteenth century, or sit in quiet prayer and contemplation with an exquisite fifteenth century Book of Hours.
High resolution photography by Michael Pollard enables us to look very closely at the many small details within the books, both the text and the decoration and images; a new opportunity for manuscript scholars to resolve problems the naked eye or magnifying glasses struggle to deal with, all while protecting the originals from over-use and strain on bindings.
These pages will be a work in progress, so please return from time to time to see more as we are able to add new images and texts.
The Flores Historiarum, the ‘Flowers of Histories’, is a favourite with Library staff and arguably the most significant medieval manuscript in the Library’s possession. Like the majority of chronicles written in western Europe in the medieval period, it is in Latin and was largely compiled and written by the historian Matthew Paris at the royal abbey of St Albans. It is famous for its sequence of images of coronations of kings of England, but also carries an important text of the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, written during its ‘second life’ when continued at another great Benedictine house, Westminster Abbey. Read our introduction to this remarkable work here.
Books of Hours have been described as “medieval best-sellers”, and were in general use in western Europe from the thirteenth until the sixteenth century. They contained a series of eight short services, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to be recited at different times of the day and night. The services are modelled on the services said daily by the clergy and they share the same names: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Books of Hours are usually illuminated and frequently contain miniatures to mark each important textual division.
The Library has three examples of these pocket-sized books of devotion and we have chosen to create facsimiles of two of them.
Let our virtual display guide you through the hours of private prayer of the medieval day.
Musical notation accompanies the text of these hymns, the text of many of which goes back to the early centuries of Christianity in western Europe.