Illuminating the Middle Ages

The Library is home to a unique collection of around 450 medieval Latin manuscripts, spanning a period of 800 years. Until now, the catalogue has existed solely in hard copy but it has been taken from the shelves of the reading room and made globally accessible online through our Manuscripts and Archives online catalogue, available here. You can search specific manuscripts by title, reference number or any keyword relevant to your area of interest – or simply search for the phrase ‘medieval manuscripts’ to have a browse.

TCD MS 52, folio 32v

The most effective way to illustrate the scope of this project is to provide some insight into the array of items that come under the umbrella of Trinity’s Latin manuscript collection. Perhaps the most well-known group consists of seven Early Irish Christian manuscripts dating from Ireland’s golden age of faith and culture. Among the seven are the Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52) and the Book of Kells (TCD MS 58), which are among the most famous manuscripts in Ireland and, in the case of the latter, the world. All seven of these manuscripts have now been conserved, fully imaged and are available freely online through the Library’s Digital Collections.

The medieval collection includes luxuriously illuminated Books of Hours, confessors’ handbooks, psalters and bibles, to name but a few. The Book of Kells may be the most magnificently decorated Insular manuscript in existence but does it have a plate-spinning dog? No.

TCD MS 35, folio 17v

TCD MS 632 presents a kind of fifteenth-century classical handbook for medieval readers. Through articles, diagrams and maps, the book accounts for multiple aspects of classical study including mythology, geography and history. These small circular diagrams represent the rivers of the classical world. The larger infographic here relates to the length of time it takes individual planets to orbit the earth (the word terra is marked in the centre). The seven zones of the earth (including the arctic and temperate) are illustrated on folio 108r, identifying which zones are habitable and which are not. There is also a brief note beneath the diagram referring to the nine Muses of Greek mythology.

TCD MS 632, folios 107v-108r
TCD MS 10994, folio 1r

This charming fellow situated inside the large letter Q of TCD MS 10994, likely depicts Michael of Belluno in Italy; the named scribe of this manuscript. The text serves as a guide for confessors, a list of sins and omissions committed by society, including (but not limited to) boasting, dancing, fighting, superfluous drinking, cursing, gluttons who eat too quickly, men in curled wigs, women who indulge in cosmetics and listening to arousing music.

Other standout examples include the Ricemarch psalter, a Latin text of Welsh origin in an Irish style, and the Dublin Apocalypse (TCD MS 64, pictured below), a fourteenth-century manuscript depicting the Final Judgement in gold and vivid colour that is simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. This particular illustration is the horseman of war, identifiable by his fiery red horse and his big ol’ sword.

If you would like to learn more, here is a quick and shameless plug for our Illuminating the Middle Ages online exhibition which went live in January of this year, available at the following link.

TCD MS 64, folios 3v