Medieval history lecture sheds light on handwritten manuscripts

UT students and faculty members alike listened came Thursday night to the Lindsay Young Auditorium as Catherine Brown delivered the 10th Annual Riggsby Lecture on Medieval Mediterranean History and Culture.  The annual lecture is funded by UT’s former College of Arts and Sciences dean Stuart Riggsby and coordinated by UT’s Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

“I am a literary person, and we like stories,” Brown, the Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, said. “We tend to think stories are just as meaning rich as facts.”


Brown’s lecture, entitled “Translations of Manuscript in the Early Medieval Mediterranean,” described the significance of the handwritten illuminated manuscripts of the 10th and 11th centuries in the Mediterranean areas of Medieval Europe. These well-renown writings and drawings were written by monks and other religious figures during a time when literary works were transcribed and copied by hand. Researchers like Brown locate and study these medieval manuscripts that feature both colorful drawings of religious imagery and specific religious passages or texts.

The process of creating an illuminated manuscript required an incredible amount of time and money, revealing the patience and dedication of the artists and authors that produced them. Most of the documents were bound in gold or silver, usually at the request of a wealthy citizen that provided the necessary funds needed to make such an exquisite piece of artistic literature.

The manuscripts display a variety of styles that coincide with the different groups that inhabited the Mediterranean at the time, as Brown describes, “We study the physicality of individual manuscripts, and this transaction leads to insights into the various cultures that produce them.”


Muslims occupied parts of Western Europe during this time, so many of the illuminated manuscripts produced by Christian monks display a strong Islamic influence in regards to artistic patterns and designs.

Brown went on to describe the large technological gap that exists between the medieval time period and present day. She explained how one would even go about obtaining a book back then, in rather frank terms, “Either it had to come to you, or you had to go to it.”  Copies of a particular book were extremely limited, so a person would have to either travel to the book or pay to have the book copied and sent to them.

Edited by Zach Dennis