When bells fall silent

The pandemic has led to the closure in many countries of most public spaces, including all places of worship. The liturgical life of a faith community, based on worshipping and doing things together – the deep meaning of liturgy as leitourgia (public service) – has come to a halt. Liturgy is now, for lack of aContinue reading “When bells fall silent”

Open chronicles in cloistered times

There are many paradoxes out there, but they fall under our radar when we focus on the wrong points. Let me explain using a familiar example. Most chronicles written during the Middle Ages were done by monks. By chronicle I don’t mean any history book, but those long compositions starting from way, way back andContinue reading “Open chronicles in cloistered times”

Speed and writing

The history of writing is many things, but it is also a history of raising the speed bar. From stone and wood to paper and digital, writing went faster and faster. New writing technologies superseded old ones not only because they made records more permanent and reliable, but because they saved time. Parchment replaced papyrusContinue reading “Speed and writing”

Pre-print UX

Everything today is about user experience. The standard ISO definition of user experience has it as ‘a person’s perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service’. The earliest case of user experience has to do with books before the age of print. Readers’ engagement with manuscriptsContinue reading “Pre-print UX”

Circles and lines

The ancient and medieval idea of ‘old’ is very different from our own. Modern culture was the first to introduce the notion of historical distance in a way that was significant enough to bring a shift in our consciousness. For the premodern mind, old meant old in the way our grandparents are old. To getContinue reading “Circles and lines”

Classical anti-classicism

For the ancient Romans, the past was dominated by Greece and Greek classicism, just like the Renaissance and most of our modern period were dominated by classical antiquity. In fact, our modern love affair with the classical past and classical authors starts with the Paduan scholar and poet Lovato Lovati (1241–1309). He wrote: ‘Do you despiseContinue reading “Classical anti-classicism”

Ten medieval ways to hold a book

The good thing with illuminated manuscripts of books of the Old Testament is that there is great scope for depicting scribes, books, scrolls, pens, desks, and other elements of the medieval culture of writing and book-making. Manuscript Engelberg 76, produced in the mid 12th century at the Benedictine Abbey of Engelberg in Switzerland , oneContinue reading “Ten medieval ways to hold a book”

Authors policing the page

The hyper-literacy of medieval glossed books can sometimes achieve postmodernist levels. In a 12th century Psalter (Cambridge Trinity College B.5.4) that once belonged to the Anglo-Norman scholar Herbert of Bosham (active 1162-1189), the main text of the Psalms is glossed with commentaries from different patristic and early medieval sources (Augustine, Jerome, Cassiodorus, etc). The mainContinue reading “Authors policing the page”

How to write and publish in the Middle Ages: Eadmer and St Anselm

We moderns easily forget that the medieval texts we read in manuscript or in print are the result of a complex process of composition; that writers didn’t just ‘pen’ words and sentences as they came to them; that we are not the only ones to struggle on the agonising road from ‘idea’ to ‘final draft’.Continue reading “How to write and publish in the Middle Ages: Eadmer and St Anselm”

Everything is code, everything is number. And the medievals knew this, of course.

Modern biology has been telling us that all living matter may be reduced to code stored in the DNA. Physics may be reduced to mathematical formulae, which in turn can be distilled down to numbers, the most elusive of all our objects of thought. This sounds advanced and modern enough, but, as a classical scholarContinue reading “Everything is code, everything is number. And the medievals knew this, of course.”