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Reading on the go, Medieval Style!

Over the last 18 months, Calliope has noted that the love of reading has been rekindled, some choosing to read with the aid of technology, and others with a copy of a book in hand. It is easy now to read on the go, but how were important, fragile, and rare books transported in the Middle Ages? Well, in 2018, the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries purchased what is now called the ‘Bodleian Book Coffer’, a rare French 15th Century artifact from the Middle Ages used to transport books, only around 100 have been discovered! The coffer is mostly a wooden box, a chest, covered in leather and reinforced with iron fittings, some hinges and, of course, a lock. To protect its contents, a lining of red canvas was added inside. On the inside of the lid, there is a beautiful, vividly coloured, woodcut print that depicts “God the Father in Majesty” and under the depiction of God, possibly intended to provide spiritual protection to the contents of the box, there is a prayer written in Latin which would have probably been chanted during special occasions, and feats. Unfortunately, the box was empty, leading to speculations of what it once held safely within its walls. The woodcut print, which date to the early days of printing in Europe. can offer us some clues as to its origin. Scholars believe the print is derived from a liturgical book, printed in Paris around 1491, by the Master of the "Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany". Others have suggested that the book coffer could have once held a Book of Hours, a popular Christian devotional book in the Middle Ages that was richly illuminated.

These boxes of great craftmanship show us that there has been a desire to carry books around, “mobile reading” has been around for hundreds of years, crossing cultures and sharing insights




Images: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. To read the full article, click here!

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