Windows on a medieval world: medieval piety as reflected in the lapidary literature of the Middle Ages

Windows on a medieval world: medieval piety as reflected in the lapidary literature of the Middle Ages

By Richard A. Beinert

Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2003

Abstract: The lapidary literature of the Middle Ages has been overlooked as a source for the study of medieval Christian piety. These stone-lists, which expounded the magical and medicinal powers of stones, enjoyed a broad circulation throughout Europe both as Latin scientific writings as well as popular vernacular medicinal and religious texts. Recent scholarship in medieval lapidary literature has tended to marginalize the texts, treating them either as naïve prolegomena to modern scientific studies or as examples of an undercurrent of fabulous or pagan folk life.

Investigations in the manuscript sources and distribution of the lapidary texts, however, show that the medieval lapidary was a popular, creative, and widely used genre of literature throughout European civilization. Scientific writers sought to explain the formation and various virtues of stones within the Aristotelian framework of medieval scholarship. Encyclopedic lapidaries were used in the university and royal court alike. Theological reflections within the literature claim divine authorship for the powers and virtues of stones as framed within the medieval doctrine of exemplarism. The vernacular language lapidary texts also give indication of the contours and characteristics of the popular piety of the unlettered masses.

Given this broad spectrum of medieval society which is reflected within the lapidary texts, the lapidary literature of the Middle Ages is a veritable ‘treasure chest’ for the student of medieval religious life, offering a panoramic view of the religious piety ‒ both scholarly and popular ‒ of medieval European civilization.

Click here to read this thesis from Memorial University of Newfoundland

Top Image: Lapidary measuring gemstones – Florentine Codex Book IX fol. 56 

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