Illuminated Manuscripts - SECULAR SCENES

The Roman de la Rose manuscript—a 14th-century illumination on parchment now a part of The National Library of Wales—contains one of the most popular romantic French poems of its time. It also includes this image of a scribe working at his writing desk. Online via The National Library of Wales and Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image for a better view.


Although many illuminations are based on Bible stories or Biblical commentaries, miniatures of secular scenes are as beautiful as their scriptural counterparts.

  • Hundreds of years had passed between the Battle of Hastings (when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II in 1066) and the creation of the Life of King St. Edward (in the 13th century). One of the St. Edward illustrations gives us a good picture of the types of arms used at that time. (University Library, Cambridge)

  • King Louis IX of France (also known as St. Louis) commissioned many works and collected others, thereby creating a library of manuscripts. Although the names of his illustrators are no longer known, Master Honoré worked for one of the king’s grandsons. His workshop created pictures for La Somme le Roy. An illumination depicts Humility, Pride (note the fall), the Sinner and the Hypocrite. (British Library, London)

  • A story in The Songs of Alfonso the Wise is about the life of sea-going merchants. The book (Cantigas de Alfonso el Sabio in Spanish) contains a total of 1,255 scenes. (Biblioteca del Escorial, Madrid)

  • Avicenna (an influential Persian philosopher/physician from the early 11th century) believed the human brain had five ventricles: common sense, imagination, judgment, image creation and memory. Those components are reflected in a Cambridge University diagram of the brain created in about 1300. (University Library, Cambridge)

  • A different text, owned by the Bodleian Library in Oxford, includes an anatomical illustration of human veins. The drawing reflects 13th century medical knowledge.

  • In the 12th century, people looked to more than medicine for help following a rabid-dog bite. They also relied on omens. A chicken with a healthy appetite, for example, meant recovery was likely. (Bodleian Library, Oxford)

  • The Feast of St. Nicolas, on December 6th, is still celebrated in some European countries. The Breviary of Chertsey Abbey, produced in England during the first quarter of the 14th century (but after 1307), portrays the legend that St. Nicholas restored three boys to life after an innkeeper chopped them up and pickled them (scroll down 40%) in a brine tub. (Bodleian Library, Oxford)

  • In the 14th century, children learned about the lives of saints and legends from pictures. One such story, the “Legend of Saint Ladislas,” was originally included in the Anjou Legendarium.  Fragments of that collection are held by the Vatican, the Hermitage (in St. Petersburg, Russia) and the Morgan Library (in New York City). (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican)

  • The Manesse Song Collection (Mannesische Liederhandschrift) represents an extensive collection of early 14th century German songs assembled by two brothers, Rüdiger and Johannes Manesse. Of the many pictures in the collection, one depicts a knight kneeling at the feet of a beautiful woman. (University Library, Heidelberg)

Because richly illustrated books and manuscripts were expensive during the Middle Ages, many treasures which survive today were originally owned by royalty. Let’s take a look at some of them.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2001

Updated Last Revision: Jul 09, 2019

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"SECULAR SCENES" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2001. Feb 27, 2020.
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