Medieval Leaves at Monmouth University Library
Monmouth University Library possess a fine collection of leaves--from illuminated Books of Hours to handwritten and printed Bibles--used primarily for teaching purposes. A few are illustrated below, and expand when clicked. Online representations, however, pale in comparison to seeing them up close. To visit our special collections and see all of our leaves in their resplendency, please call 732.571.4401.
Antiphonal and Gradual Leaves
The antiphon and the gradual contained sung portions of the Catholic liturgy; while both were used by the church choir, the antiphon was intended for the Holy Office, while the gradual was designed for mass. Both are large in size because they were meant to be read from a distance. Although each contain musical notes and scales, antiphonals and graduals could also contain a great degree of decoration, such as depictions of saints or important events during the liturgical year. The antiphonal leaf on the left is from Spain, and the gradual leaf on the right is from Italy. Both are from the early 15th century.
Bible and Prayer Book Leaves and Scripts
"Bible" originates from the Greek word biblia, meaning book. Produced on animal skin (parchment or vellum), these medieval Bible leaves vary from plain to ornate, depending on their intended use.
The first Bible leaf pictured on the left is from the Book of Hosea, produced in 1200 in Paris by professional, for-hire scribes. It contains Gothic script. Fine illuminated leaves such as this one saw use on important holy days, while plainer ones saw use during ordinary time.
The second Bible leaf shows cluttered, illegible writing designed to be recognized by those strictly familiar with scripture (e.g., priests but no commoners). Reading aides, such as paragraphs and capital letters, were not a concern for trained clergy expert in Latin. In the third leaf, however, we see a more elegant style develop, known as the Carolingian. The Carolingian script became standardized in Europe so that the Latin alphabet could be easily recognized by the literate class from one region to another. It was used in the Holy Roman Empire between approximately 800 and 1200. This leaf is from Italy, and was produced in 1150.
On the far right is a beautiful Latin prayer book leaf from Hildeshiem, Germany, 1540, hand produced (in script) well after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. All representations were produced in Latin, the tongue of the learned.
Printed Bible Leaves
The first two leaves are detached from a King James Bible, produced on a printing press in 1611 by Robert Barker, printer to the Crown. The middle leaf is from a 1549 Tyndale Bible. These three leaves are extraordinarily important because they represent early Bible translations made into English.
At far right is a Vulgate Bible leaf, published in 1493 by the German printer Anton Koberger. The Vulgate Bible, translated by Saint Jerome and produced in the 4th Century AD, became the definitive and officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church, and remains so to this day.
Parchment and Vellum
Writing materials, such as parchment and vellum, were wholly organic. Parchment was produced from the skin of a sheep or goat, while vellum was produced solely from calfskin -- the finest originating from the uterine walls of a still-born calf. Close inspection of each reveals a hair side and a skin side, with skin imperfections such as blemishes and insect bites. Both parchment and vellum are renown for their superb archival qualities -- which means they last for centuries if well cared for.
The leaf pictured on the left is blank vellum, with double-columned scribe lines ready for use. Looking closely in the margin reveals the pinpricks that monks used to hold their material in place during production. The leaf on the right, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The White Ship, is parchment.
Books of Hours Leaves
Books of Hours were the "best sellers" of medieval Europe, renown for their beauty, private ownership, and their often well-preserved states. Each Book of Hours was divided into sections or monastic hours and were intended to be read at certain times of the day, although not as stringently as the monastic hours followed by monks in breviaries (a document precursor to the Book of Hours). A monk's typical day included arising for matins, beginning at 2 a.m, to lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and lastly, to compline, which brought the day to an end. By contrast, a Book of Hours may require its owner to rise at 6am for matins.
Each section may contain hymns, prayers, and psalms, but all were intended to help the devoted find salvation in private moments of contemplative study. All Books of Hours contain calendars which informed the reader to pray for specific saints on certain days. Calendars were a necessity due to the movable feasts on the Christian calendar; moreover, they were designated by the letters KL (see middle image, top row)
Highly decorated examples were in the possession of the laity, who often gave them as wedding gifts; plainer ones would have been obtained by those of lesser fortunes. Books of Hours also provide some of the finest examples of medieval art, and are typically well preserved because of their codex format. The fine examples below are from France, Italy, and the Netherlands; all were produced in the 14th and 15th centuries.
William Morris, a 19th-century English designer, social reformer and writer, founded the Kelmscott Press late in life. A phenomenal book artisan, Morris wanted to revive the beauty and skills of monks and scribes, which modern printing presses had made redundant.
Our leaf of The Wife of Bath's Tale, illustrated below, is from Morris's remarkable Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1896 by his Kelmscott Press. Although the typeset present here mimics a handwritten style, the lavishly intricate woodcut illustrations, including the borders, were created by Morris's close friend, Edward Burne-Jones, a celebrated Victorian painter.
The Psalter is a book that contains 150 biblical poems in a single volume. Each poem is known as a psalm, and each psalm is a fairly short lyrical written in the first person. Their mixed content and interchangeable themes often lend themselves for use in private and public prayer. Extremely popular in the Middle Ages, psalms could be sung and recited by most all in Western Christianity. However, Psalters were more popular among the commonality, who could sing them at home or in church. Psalters may also include canticles, other religious hymns, and even a calendar. Despite high levels of illiteracy in the Middle Ages, children practiced reading Psalters because the Latin they contained was simple and easily remembered.
The example below left, from England, survived King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, which was a systematic destruction of all things Catholic in the 16th century English. English Psalters produced during this period, as a consequence, are rarer than ones produced on continental Europe. The example center below is from Italy, and is also part breviary (1472). The example below right is from Brugges (1250).