Medieval Manuscripts in the University Library, by Molly Robinson

Innovative Learning Week took me into the high security part of the Library to have a look at some of its collection of Medieval manuscripts. On display was everything from intricately illuminated 11th Century gospels, to 14th Century law textbooks and a 15th Century copy of the works of Virgil. I had the opportunity to learn about and leaf through some of the most interesting and beautiful books and manuscripts I have ever set eyes on. If you’re interested in old books, then the library has got their hands (and their white gloves) on some real gems.

After a brief introduction to the seventeen manuscripts we were going to interact with, we were given the opportunity to look at and touch the books. Academics, as well as the Head of Rare Books and Manuscripts, were dotted about the room to show us details of the books and fragments, read the unfamiliar language to us and wonder about unexplained abnormalities along with us.

Some of the books were breathtakingly stunning, with gold leaf gleaming off the page at you. Some were plainer, but no less interesting, containing letters between Kings, and the history of England up until that point. One illustrator’s half goat, half snail caught my eye, and an amateur writer’s obsession with drawing scrolls was evident in his wobbly pocket book. Scribbles, ink tests, and an amusing but obscene proverb written in the back of one book by a woman called Elizabeth Monk humanised these old manuscripts and really illustrated the history of the collection.

If you ever get a chance to view some of the Library’s manuscripts then I recommend you seize it, I learned so much about the history of books in such a short space of time. We are lucky to attend an institution that offers us the chance to get up close and personal with treasures such as these.


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