Fingers, Lips and Parchment: How Medieval Users Handled their Manuscripts
Lecture by Kathryn M Rudy
Given at the University of St Andrews on October 30, 2019
Abstract: As literacy grew during the three centuries before the printing press, people learned not only how to read, but also how to handle their manuscripts. Certain physical gestures that readers enacted with illuminated manuscripts — including kissing or laying hands on certain images, and rubbing out the faces of others — imparted a ritual significance to books. Just as our twenty-first-century culture of ever-smaller screens has created a set of gestures and habits that had not previously existed (typing with two thumbs, scrolling, clicking, tapping), reading manuscripts, which were increasingly available in the late Middle Ages, also gave people a new set of physical gestures, several of which destroyed the images in their books.
In this talk Professor Rudy will consider the settings and circumstances by which readers learned to handle — and deface! — their manuscripts. She will argue that people in authority, including priests, teachers, parents and legal officials, touched books publicly to carry out rituals. In so doing, they inadvertently taught audiences how to handle books in highly physical ways. Cumulative wear in books testifies to how they were used and handled.
Top Image: Miniature of the Crucifixion, and full foliate border, facing the historiated initial ‘T'(e) with the Instruments of the Passion of Christ, at the beginning of the ‘Te igitur’ in a Missal. British Library MS Stowe 10 ff. 113v-114