Illuminated and Decorated Medieval Manuscripts

The Bible of Illuminated Letters

The Medieval Library.
By Ernest Cushing Richardson, Ph.D.
Librarian of Princeton University
from Harper's, 1905

There are few things which mark so vividly the contrast between matters medieval and modern as libraries; on the one hand manuscript. Vellum books, chained to desks, in a cloister, for the use of a privileged few and administered by monks; on the other, hundreds of thousands of printed, paper books, freely given out from a modern building to whoever will use, and nine times out of ten given out by a woman.

The historical beginning of both medieval and modern libraries is to be found in a little cupboardful of service books in the apse of the early Christian churches. Being for use in service, books were kept near the altar, and with them were kept such few other books as the church chances to own. When there were too many for the space, the cupboard naturally developed into a little alcove between apse and sacristy, or a row of cupboards in the cloister joust outside the church door, or sometimes even into a little detached building behind the apse. As the number of books grew and their use became more varied, some books were retained near the altar, others were removed to the neighborhood of the school or the quarters of the novices, others to the refectory for reading aloud to the monks during meal-time, and the

Interior of the Library of the University of Leyden

Interior of the Library of the University of Leyden
From a print by Jan Cornelius Woudanus, dated 1610


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