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Student work on the Notarial Registry of Bernard de La Turade

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Will Black, a student in Dr. Rabia Gregory's History of Christianity class, chose to write this personal reflection on his work with the fourteenth-century notarial registry in Special Collections. We're sharing his thoughts and images with his permission. – KH

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On Thursday, October 29th, I walked into the Special Collections room in Ellis Library. I requested to see a notarial registry kept by Bernard de La Turade during the late fourteenth century. La Turade was a French notary, which meant he handled the wills, marriages contracts, sales, etc. for his town. It was a rather important position, considering it was the only form of recording that sort of information in the town during his day. People would come to La Turade for all different purposes, and it’s the surviving artifacts of common life that gives researchers a glimpse into the daily life of what France might have been like during the middle ages. It displayed prices of goods, legal documents, ages at which people were married, and all sorts of other little facts that expand upon the picture of daily life that ultimately end up completing the picture of history.

Upon first glance, the registry was unimpressive. It was roughly the size of my hand, slightly bigger. I’d estimate it was eight inches high, five inches across, and an inch and half thick. There were two volumes, the first of which had been aggressively chewed through by mice on the top left hand corner. Both books were a dark tan color, with the color and texture of the book resembling that of a pig ear treat one might give to their dog. According to Dr. Barabtarlo's lecture, the cover was likely animal skin for its protection and durability. Scrawled on the cover of Vol. 1 “1393”, the date of publishing by La Turade. According to a booklet on various binding methods put together by the special collections department at Yale University, the notary had a binding that was considered Gothic. The Gothic method closely resembles modern books of the day, with loose-leaf paper bound to a cover made of thicker parchment or skin. This method of binding was popular from the early fourteenth century until the end of the seventeenth century.

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When I opened the first volume, it was in poor condition. Mice had eaten through the spine on the top left portion of the book, meaning the first 36 pages of the book had to be handled more delicately due to the lack of binding. There was plenty of water damage on the first pages of the book, but this faded about a third of a way through the notary. This book may have been face up in a damp or humid environment and years of water resting on its cover seeped through to the parchment. Before paper became easy to make, parchment was the choice for writing books. Parchment is made out of sheep’s skin and was chosen because it was super durable. During Medieval times, there was no way to have climate controlled rooms and traveling was harsh, so books were required to stand the test of the elements. On blank spaces between entries, one can see the watermarks from the making of the paper. This particular parchment maker had his frame set up so that lines supporting the paper were about two centimeters apart from each other.

By looking at the pages, it’s easy to tell that this book was used quite a bit. The fact that there are two volumes is telling in the fact that there were quite a bit of entries. The pages in both books were well smudged on the margins, resulting from the flipping of pages back and forth to find certain entries. There were also several pieces of scrap paper that had been added to pages via glue or other sticky substances. There were also many, many comments in the margins, entries crossed out, and various other edits to previous entries. This means that this book was used quite a bit over an extended period of time. Another indication that this book had extensive use comes from the fact that the ink recipe changes multiple times in the book. During my time examining the book, I asked Dr. Barabtarlo about the ink changes, and she said the ink recipe the author used a recipes alternating between being heavy in rust or lampblack.

More important than the book itself is the author and his uses for the book. Clearly, as a notary, Bernard de La Turade’s job was to simply be a record keeper. The local lord or other authority in the area likely employed him in the castle or other official building. According to the National Notary Association, notaries in the middle ages/medieval times could have had a role in the clergy. This would make sense considering a notary had to be of high moral character, but there’s no way to know if La Turade was a member or not. This becomes even more confusing as La Turade lived during the period when the clergy started to separate themselves and the role as notaries. Prior to his lifetime, notaries were exclusively clergymen, and after his lifetime it had become a secular business. La Turade was caught between these two eras. La Turade may or may not have been a clergyman, but we do know he was someone who was held in high moral regard. We can say though, that there’s a good chance La Turade got at least some part of his education from a person involved with the clergy in some way, considering they were the main teachers in the middle ages.

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From what we know about social structures in Medieval France, where La Turade is from, he likely lived somewhere in the middle of the social ladder. La Turade could read, write, and do simple arithmetic, so he was obviously an educated man. This would save him from having to do hard labor in fields for the entirety of his life. La Turade also interacted with people in important positions, such as governors, lords, dukes, or even kings. His interactions with these people likely moved him up the ladder a couple of rungs. Even though La Turade did hold a position of importance within the town and he likely made a living better than other folk, he never would be confused with someone who would have been in the highest tax bracket. Books were still expensive during this time period, and were a labor to produce. Even though this book contained no writing or artistry when La Turade bought it, the parchment maker still had to skin a sheep, dry the skin, scrape it, and go through the whole tedious process of making usable parchment. The fact that La Turade was able to purchase this book says something about his wage, considering the price of books of the era.

The reality of this book is beautifully underwhelming. This was a simple notary written by a nondescript Frenchman in the late 1300’s. However, it gives insight into the daily life of the people of La Turade’s region. The documentation this book provides is the sole reason historians have jobs. The notarial registry also sheds light on the writing practices of the region and time period. Often these varied from place to place and era-to-era, and the book offers yet another link in the long chain of history. From a mice-bitten, water-damaged book, one infer as to how people of a completely era and culture survived.

– Will Black

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Posted in Learning through Special Collections, Rare Book Collection, Teaching with rare books

The Menaion for the month of June

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Last week we published a mysterious inscription from this manuscript on Tumblr.  In response to requests for more information, we’re also sharing these excerpts from a recently prepared book history.

Written in the Raifa Monastery, near Kazan’ (Russia) in October 1624 (1623?) by the Elder Barsonophius.

Description.

Manuscript on paper 15.3 x 20.7 cm, 4to in 8s, 228 leaves; all quires intact.

Written in Church Slavonic in a single hand on a medium weight paper. Original ms. side notes, contemporary ms. record of date, scribe name and place. Light water stains, occasional spots of wax, a few edges a little frayed, tiny ink holes in two leaves, small worm trail at gutter in lower blank margins of one gathering. A very good clean copy with its original wide margins.

Bound in high quality Russian morocco over thick wooden boards. Metal bosses and centerpieces lost, remains of original brass clasps.

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Contents

The Menaion (from Greek, μην, “month”, Church Slavonic minea) is the name of several liturgical books in the Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Georgian, Serbian, etc.) Church.

The Christian calendar comprises two series of offices. There are movable feasts, falling on the days of the ecclesiastical year dependent on Easter (which is determined by the Jewish, i.e. Lunar calendar); and immovable, set to certain days of the month by the solar calendar, such as the feasts of our Lord: His Nativity (Christmas) Transfiguration, Theophany (Epiphany); of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints. The offices for these “fixed” feasts are contained in the menaia (pl. for menaion). In the Roman breviary it corresponds to the Proprium Sanctorum.

A menaion, one for every month, contains the offices for immovable feasts, according to the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church.

Audiences

The Menaia are used by clergy for daily services. This particular menaion is of specific interest because it antedates the extensive reform by Nikon (1605-1681), the seventh Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, c.1654, revising all service books according to the Greek liturgical tradition, a fateful event that led to a deep schism in the Russian Church.

After this reform many of the pre-existing copies were discarded or burned as redundant.

All Russian service books antedating 1624, whether printed or written, are extremely rare and valuable.

Text:

The text has, sometimes substantial and important, variant readings from the standard Menaion for June. Grammatical mistakes signify that the Menaion was read aloud to the scribe rather than copied from another manuscript.

Foliation.

 The ms. contains 29 gatherings, 228 leaves. All gatherings contain 4 bifolia (8 leaves), except the first and last quire, which have 7 and 5 leaves respectively; apparently, first blank leaf of the first quire is used as paste-down, and two blank leaves at the end – one is cut out, the other is used as paste-down.

All quires are numbered in Church Slavonic numbers, apparently by the scribe.

Leaf numbering made in a different ink, by a different (19th cent.?) hand in Arabic numerals at the top right corner.

Script. 

The text is written in elegant Cyrillic polu-ustav (semi-uncial, a minuscule) script, in a single hand, with characteristic overwriting, ligatures and abbreviations that are common in Cyrillic as well as Latin manuscripts, motivated mainly by two reasons : to distinguish sacred names and matters from ordinary ones, and to save space. Stresses are absent which is unusual for Slavonic service manuscripts. Small dots over the text suggest that it was chanted.

Colophon.

At the foot of the first ten leaves contemporary manuscript record of date, origin and scribe.

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The inscription could be translated as: In the year 7132 of our Lord, in the month of October in 22nd day [has finished writing] this book Menaion [for the] month of June, for the Glory of the most pure Theotokos (Mother of God), in the Raifa monastery, in this same monastery tonsure monk Elder Barsonophius.

This inscription clearly indicates not only the name and position of the scribe – Elder Barsonophius, but gives us the place –Raifa monastery, and the date – 1624 (1623?).

The Raifa monastery (about 450 miles East from Moscow) dedicated to the Mother of God was established in 1613 by hieromonk Philaret. This secluded, beautiful place on the lake Sumka was surrounded by deep woods populated by wild animals.

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Mystery

At the very end of the manuscript, at the bottom of the last page, there is a mysterious inscription in Cyrillic characters:
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The language is not Slavonic, and resists deciphering.

We assumed a possibility that our Fr. Barsonophius could have been a local man of Tatar or Cheremiss origin, and asked native speakers of those languages to look at the inscription. Alas, they failed to recognize anything familiar.

Any service book in the seventeenth century was regarded as a venerable, even sacred thing, thus the smallest mistake or a slip of the pen was considered a sin. It was customary for a scribe to finish a manuscript with a humble request to readers to correct mistakes if found. However it is only a conjecture. So far a language of this final inscription has remained an enigma for these researchers, who would be grateful for any clue.

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Posted in Rare Book Collection

“Lent approaches with a slow and weary step”

Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) recorded a tale about an uneducated priest who got his parish out of tempo with the rest of Christendom. The priest realized his mistake when he chanced upon some priests making the preparations for Palm Sunday while visiting a neighboring town. He hastened home and, summoning his flock, explained why fasting and penitence would be brief this year:

12th century manuscript leaf showing calendar for the month of June.

12th century manuscript leaf showing calendar for the month of June.

“Know this,” he explained. “Lent was slow this year due to the bad weather, and could not make the difficult journey over these mountains. Therefore, Lent approaches with a slow and weary step so that he brings now nothing more than a single week with him, with the remnants left along the road. In the limited time in which he will remain with you, confess all, and perform penitence.”

Golden NumbersIt is easy to sympathize with the priest when you look at one of the medieval calendars from our collections. They feature a complicated grid that coordinates four Interlocking cycles, enabling clerics to know when to celebrate the many moveable feasts of the liturgical year. On the far left in dark brown pigment there is a column of roman numerals running from i-xix. These are called the golden numbers, and indicate where a year falls the nineteen-year Metonic cycle. The cycle was named for the fifth-century  Greek astronomer who discovered that the solar cycle has the same relationship to the lunar cycle every nineteenth year. The phases of the moon would occur on the same days in years with the same golden number.  Incidentally, if you want to know the golden number for any year, all you do is divide the year by 19.  The remainder + 1 gives you a year’s golden number. (The reason you need to add 1 is because the years are calculated from 1 BC.) The second column, with letters A-G, is used to find the dominical letter.  The dominical letter was determined by the first Sunday of the new year. If it fell on January 1, the dominical letter for that year would be “A.” If it fell on January 2, it would be a “B.” on down to January 7. Since Sunday was on January 4 this year, the dominical letter for 2015 is “D.” Once you determined the golden number and the dominical letter, you could figure out the date of Easter, which occurred on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Dominical Letters

The next column is the Julian calendar, which the Middle Ages inherited from Rome.  The roman numerals in the 3rd column indicate how many days before Kalends, Nones, or Ides a day falls. This information was less functional, and may be merely a relic from Roman calendars that outlasted their usefulness. It could have been used for the sanctorale, or cycle of Saints’ days, which fell on fixed dates and were not reckoned from the date of Easter.

Roman Calendar

Lastly the column on the far right records the records the feast day to be celebrated that day. Each phrase begins with a decorated initial, usually an “s” for sancti, meaning “of saint…” The color of the initial serves more than a decorative purpose. The common dark brown pigments was used for common feasts. Whereas red or blue indicated that the feast was to be accompanied by more fanfare. In the calendar below, from late twelfth-century England, you can see that the last day of the octave of Ascension, the feast day of Saint Barnabus, the apostle, the sun’s entrance into cancer, the feast day of St. Aethelthryth, and the commemoration of the Apostle Paul are all given special distinction. Most astronomical information is recorded in green pigment.

Feast Days

Feast Days

Book historians are particularly interested in this column because it can provide information about the community who made and/or used the book.  The addition or erasure of saints can also provide information about the dating of the manuscript.

The science of reckoning time, or computus, was a university subject in itself. Luckily for us, it resulted in some very attractive results. You can enjoy these calendar pages even if, like the hapless priest of Bracciolini’s story, you find computus all a bit of a bother.

 

A late 14th- or early 15th century calendar for the month of June

A late 14th- or early 15th century calendar for the month of June

 

Mid-15th century calendar with notes on calculating the date for Easter

Mid-15th century calendar with notes on calculating the date for Easter

 

14th century Irish calendar for the month of December

14th century Irish calendar for the month of December

 

Calendar for the month of may from an early 16th-century French book of hours

Calendar for the month of may from an early 16th-century French book of hours

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Posted in Special Collections

Polybius and the Pre-digital Brain

Today we are featuring a manuscript draft made by Friedrich Otto Hultsch as he was editing Polybius’s Historiae. Hultsch (1833-1906) was a philologist of classical languages who published numerous critical editions throughout his career. He made the works of ancient mathematicians available to the scholarly world for the first time. He also wrote a monograph on ancient metrology that focused on Babylonian and Egyptian systems of weights and measures.

Hultsch-stackPolybius was a Greek historian who wrote in the second century B.C.E. His work was lost in the west until the fifteenth century. His work has continued to be of interest ever since as a witness of of Hellenistic Greek history and political theory and of the koine dialect of Greek.

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To make the draft, Hultsch unbound the signatures of the previous edition of made by Emmanuel Bekker in 1844. He interleaved his own research notes, which included text from manuscripts not previously consulted. The draft is a monument to the resources of the human brain before computers.

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The published edition came out in 1867 and is available in the open stacks. We are still researching the provenance of the draft. Perhaps one of his students or descendants immigrated to the United States and had some connection with the University of Missouri.

 

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Posted in Special Collections

An Aztec Remedy for Mental Stupor

For Mental Stupor:

He whose mind is in this condition should drink the juice of the tlahtlocotic root crushed in warm water so that he will vomit.  A few days later both the bark and roots of the flowers yolloxochitl and cacauaxochitl are to be crushed in water; he is to drink the juice before lunch…His forehead, moreover, is to be anointed with the brain of a stag and the feathers of a dove, crushed and put in water, and human hair. On his neck he shall carry the stone found in the stomach of the swallow.

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Plate 98 (left) and Plate 98, detail (right)

This remedy appears in a very special manuscript known as the Badianus Manuscript (Codex Barberini, Latin 241), now housed at the Vatican library. This manuscript was created in 1552 by two individuals of Aztec descent. One, Martinus de la Cruz,  was a physician; the other, Badianus, rendered the former’s pharmacological knowledge into Latin. The manuscript, decorated with pigments made of native materials,  is not only astoundingly beautiful, but an important witness to Aztec medicine at the time of the conquest. Special Collections owns a facsimile, edited by  Emily Emmart.

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Plate 68

The Badianus Manuscript, Codex Barberini, Latin 241, Vatican Library: An Aztec Herbal of 1552

John Hopkins Press, 1940

Rare Folio RS169 .C7 1552a

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