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A 13th-century Bible manuscript from Flanders (ParisBibl. Mazarine, 23)

You don’t need an art historian or a medievalist to convince you that medieval manuscripts are cool. The arcane writing, the truer-than-life colours, the otherworldly miniatures of the preprinted book, make us stop and pause for a moment, staring at the curious artefact. The ever-receding familiarity of these books, always just beyond the edge of what we think we already know or think we know, turn medieval books into instances of otherness, dispatching bundles of awe and incredulity in a world devoid of both.

A medieval book is a multimedia device, speaking to us from beyond the frontier of a world which prides itself on making distinctions and separating genres. It speaks to us from beyond the literacy-dominant culture we inhabit, recovering the oral bedrock wrapped up in a culturally shattering script.

The medieval codex speaks volumes about our former selves, always seeking beauty and truth, art and knowledge, often at the same time.

The medieval book is a mind-boggling cultural product. It preserves the knowledge of the past cocooned in eternal beauty. Wherever we are, whoever we may be, we do not cease to be dazzled by those who sought to enshrine the known world in unvanquished brilliance.

The world needs the medieval book, not in library safes or museum cases, but in everyday life, as a reminder that the pursuit of humanity is indistinguishable from the pursuit of knowledge and beauty, which these books embody.

Whoever illuminated them may illuminate us.

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