Illuminated Manuscripts - Preface

Illuminated Manuscripts (Illustration) Social Studies Philosophy History World History Visual Arts Medieval Times

Photograph of an illuminated manuscript, "The opening of the Sixth Seal," from the Morgan Beatus, 10th Century.  Maintained by the Morgan Library and Museum, New York.  Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 


The work of writing makes one lose his sight,
it hunches his back, it breaks ribs and bothers
the stomach, it pains the kidneys and causes
aches throughout the body. Therefore, you the
reader, turn the pages carefully and keep your
fingers from the letters, because just as hail
destroys the fields, the useless reader erases
the text and destroys the book.

Munnio and Dominico
Monastery at Silos
April 18, 1091
On completing a copy of the "Silos Apocalypse"


As the 8th century approached its close, people thought the end of the world was near. Those fears prompted Beatus of Liébana to compile a Commentary on the Apocalypse.

In the centuries which followed, monks created many illustrations to accompany Beatus’ words, originally written at the Monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, in the northern Spanish province of Burgos. About 32 manuscripts and fragments remain, spanning the 9th to the 13th centuries.

One of those illustrations - from a 12th century copy of the commentary - is "The Seventh Angel of the Apocalypse Proclaiming the Reign of the Lord." In that same commentary, illustrated in approximately 1150, we also find "Locusts Come upon the Earth." (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

When one considers how long it has been since monks illuminated manuscripts, it is nearly impossible to believe that thousands of stunning illustrations (often referred to as “miniatures”) survive.

Thanks to the generosity of universities, libraries and museums which have provided scans of these treasures (or their facsimiles) for on-line public review, we can examine artistic beauty from centuries past.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2001

Updated Last Revision: Jul 09, 2019

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