Monthly Archives: September 2012

Siri versus the Medieval Perpetual Calendar

Initals "KL," for Kalends, decorated with arabesques. This twelfth-century English calendar comes from our Fragmenta Manuscripta collection.Are you tired of your Moleskine planner?  Do Siri’s annoying reminders tax your nerves? Consider trying a medieval perpetual calendar and discover a more streamlined approach to managing your affairs.

Among their many virtues is longevity: the same calendar can be used year in, year out, all the way up to the Second Coming. How is this possible?  As our forebears knew, parchment is a durable medium that can withstand the insults of time and use. It is also well suited to accommodating the changing winds of orthodoxy. Should it be necessary to remove a feast from the calendar, simply scrape the pigment off, and no one will suspect your error. Should a new saint arrive on the scene, simply pencil in the feast day as someone has done for Saint Wulfstan using brown pigment in the calendar above from twelfth-century England.
Julian Calendar, from Twelfth-Century English CalendarPerpetual calendars are imminently portable. Tuck yours inside your Chart of dominical letters, from 12th-century English calendarbreviary, where it be within reach at all times. Rise in your co-workers esteem by scheduling meetings according to the Julian calendar (left). Your coworkers will be impressed by your willingness to master a more complicated scheme of keeping track of dates, and you will soon have everyone trying to count the days forwards and backwards from Kalends, Ides and Nones.

You will be the life of the party on New Year’s Eve, when, with a furtive glance, you can determine the dominical letter, for the upcoming year (right). Dominical letters are useful for determining the date of Easter, a service for which your friends and relations will no doubt be grateful.

Be the envy of everyone with your attractive, vintage planner. You might think the colors are there merely to delight the eye, but look again. Differentiate feast days of high-status saints from those of middling status. Color code astronomical events from those of a more cosmic nature. They serve the practical purpose of differentiating different kinds of events, as well as ranking them in importance. In the calendar we’ve been looking at, the feast of the Ascension, the feast day of Saint Barnabus, the sun’s entrance into cancer, the feast day of St. Aethelthryth, and a commemoration of Saint Paul the apostle are all given special distinction. Most astronomical information is recorded in green pigment.

Attractive, convenient, and durable, medieval perpetual calendars allow you to honor the past as you plan the future. They sit quietly inside your psalter or breviary without interrupting your classes. Get yours today!Calendar from a book of hours, France, 16th centuryThe verso of the same 12th-century calendar we have looked at aboveWell loved 14th-century Irish calendar

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Teacher Spotlight: September 2012 Edition – Dr. Rabia Gregory

Dr. Rabia Gregory, an assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at the University of Missouri, is the focus of the first Teacher Spotlight of the new school year.  Her primary interest is in medieval women’s religious literature, and she can often be found teaching courses at Mizzou on Historical Christianity, and Women and Religions.  Dr. Gregory is a frequent visitor to Special Collections and has often brought her classes to learn about the primary sources we have here.  We were pleased to get a chance to talk to her at the beginning of the semester.

SC: How have you incorporated Special Collections into your teaching?

Gregory: I initially only took upper-level and graduate seminars to Special Collections and designed the visits to help students learn to work with sources in the original. Last spring I attempted to bring a large introductory lecture course to Special Collections.  I designed a new assignment asking the undergraduates to spend time with a manuscript or an early printed book and then write about it as if they were, themselves, professional historians.

SC: What sort of outcomes or effects on your students have you observed after visiting the Special Collections department?

Gregory: I noticed a variety of responses, particularly with the large lecture class. Some students were so excited that they snapped photos of manuscripts to share with old teachers or with family members. Others came back to visit with friends and classmates. And some were completely disinterested, trying to sneak out of the room even before class was over. Learning how books were made and used really changed the ways that my class responded to primary sources in translation. They less frequently asked "why" different sources offered competing versions of history or why miracles were recorded. Instead they were interested in why those versions of history had been considered important enough to put into something so expensive and time-consuming as a manuscript.

SC: What advice would you give to faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

Gregory: Plan ahead, make sure that the visit has a clear pedagogic purpose for your class and that the students have a way of finding meaning from the objects they will (most likely) not be able to read. Do talk with the Special Collections staff and get their input on the assignments, a semester in advance if you can! And make sure that you explain clearly to your students and teaching assistants the purpose of the assignment.

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Calling All Instructors: Bring Your Class to Special Collections!

Student from Sean Franzel's class doing research in Special CollectionsAs part of a class session in Special Collections, your students will have hands-on access to the most inspiring and intriguing materials the Libraries have to offer. They will learn research skills that go beyond databases – the ability to track down sources, make connections among documents, and read the content of the page alongside physical evidence. Most importantly, they will discover an enthusiasm and engagement with their subject that will take their studies far beyond their textbooks.

What can we do for you?

  • Orientations to books, microforms, etc.
  • Course-specific presentations (your classroom or our reading room)
  • Individual research consultations (for you and your students!)
  • Help with assignment development

The collections are diverse, and we can accommodate a wide variety of disciplines.  In 2011-2012, class visits included groups ranging from Engineering to English.  Browse our spotlight to see the innovative ways your colleagues are taking advantage of our collections and services!

We’re here to help. Email or call (573) 882-0076 to schedule a session for your class.

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Non angli, sed angeli

Gregory the Great was consecrated to the papal office on this day in the year 590. He would have preferred to remain a monk. According to Gregory of Tours, “[h]e strove earnestly to avoid this high office for fear that a certain pride at attaining the honor might sweep him back into worldly vanities he had rejected.” Circumstances colluded to push him into public office,however, and he seems to have met with great success there. He was responsible for the conversion of the English, and is credited with the development of Gregorian chant. An eminent historian of the papacy calls him, if not the greatest pope, then the “greatest Christian” of all the popes.(1)

He was also very adept at puns, and the historical record preserves many of his zingers. When he learned that some soon-to-be-converts were from a province called Deira, he replied that this was only suitable, since they were soon to be rescued “de ira,” or “from wrath” (that is, of God). Another opportunity to exercise his skill came as he set off for the mission field with some fellow monks. When a locust landed on Gregory’s Bible he exclaimed, naturally enough, “Ecce, locusta,”  (Behold, a locust). Ever attuned to alternative meanings, however, Gregory soon realized that “locusta” could be broken into “ loco  sta,” meaning “stay in place.”  He quickly decided to stay put and sent his cohorts on to convert the heathen alone. The drum roll, however, is generally reserved for the following.  In the well-known account recorded Historia ecclesiastica, Bede tells of how Saint Gregory came upon some especially attractive slave-boys for sale in the Roman market. Gregory inquired after them and soon learned they were Angles, or members of the Germanic tribe occupying what is now England. “Not Angles, but angels,” he quipped.

The recto of Fragment #75, with the text of Gregory's Magna MoraliaGregory’s writings provide a synthesis of the orthodox thought of the Patristic era in the West; as such they remained very influential during the Middle Ages. This image comes from a 13th-century Italian copy of Gregory the Great’s Magna Moralia, a commentary on the Book of Job. This section comes from chapter 23 of book XIII, and comments on Job: 16:19-20, verses that the scribe underlined in red. (The scribe indicates the start of a scriptural verse drawn from outside of the Book of Job with green pigment.)

You can see the end of verse 19–“O earth, do not cover my blood; let my outcry find no resting-place”-at the top of the folio. In the commentary that follows, Gregory first equates the blood in question with Christ’s blood. More surprisingly, he also equates the outcry with the blood, bringing in support from Genesis (And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”) Gregory finds further application to human conduct: “We are bound to imitate that which we take,” i.e. the sacrament of wine representing the blood of Christ. “But that His cry may not lie hid in us, it remains that each one of us according to his small measure should make known to his neighbors the mystery of his own quickening.”(2)

Verse 20–“Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven,and he that vouches for me is on high” is about two-thirds of the way down. A three-line blue initial begins the commentary for this verse. Gregory interprets the “witness” to be God the Father. The verse thus contributes an orthodox understanding of the divine nature of Christ. The Christological debates of the Early Middle Ages, in which the dual nature of Christ was often contested, probably underlie this understanding.

Fragment 75, and others of Gregory’s manuscripts are available to be consulted during our regular opening  hours.

1. Erich Caspar, Geschichte des Papsttums, vol. II, p. 514

2. Translations from the Latin taken from the translation by John Henry Parker, et al.

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