Meeting the Manuscript

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After spending several months at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), the prayer book has returned, stabilized and ready to be studied. I visited the prayer book last Tuesday at its home in the basement of Northeastern’s Snell Library. At the NEDCC, a small box was made to encase and protect the prayer book.

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Protective case for the prayer book

Once removed from its box, the prayer book was propped up on either side with foam blocks, which supported its bindings. Being left alone with the prayer book was both exhilarating and terrifying– the book is incredibly small and delicate, yet somehow it has survived for over 500 years. While working with the book, I thought of all of the people who may have also handled it, the scribes who created each page, and the book’s past owners (who for now remain unknown). I spent a little over an hour with the prayer book, studying the front and back cover, paging through the book, and photographing the pages I wanted to study further. When studying the vellum pages, I looked for missing pages, pages with holes, and for anything which stood out from the rest of the book. Soon after turning the first few pages, I was shocked to find that the third page had been removed.

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The original third page found missing

Then, a few pages further into the prayer book, I found a small vellum page, which rested atop one of the other pages, and seemed separate from the other prayers. The writing on this loose page was in a different hand and a completely different style.

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A loose piece of vellum found between two pages

This page, like the rest of the prayer book, raises so many questions about the history,  methods of creation, and ownership of the Dragon Prayer Book. And, now that the digital images of the prayer book are in Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service (DRS), we’ll be able to continue studying and transcribing the prayer book wherever there’s internet access.

Laura

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Methods of the Manuscript

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In the past few weeks, as we have continued our study of the Dragon Prayer Book, we have begun learning about transcription. Although the prayer book is still at the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), we have several photographs of the first page, which Lexi, Anna, and I have each tried to transcribe. Since much of the first page contains scribal abbreviations in Latin, we know that whoever wrote the first page was adept at understanding and making use of the many available abbreviations, and the original owner of the prayer book likely was as well. As a first year English major, I have very little experience with scribal abbreviations. So, before I could begin to transcribe the text, I had to understand the methods used by the scribe(s) when creating the prayer book. Professor Boeckeler likens medieval scribes to “professional texters,” for their tendency to frequently abbreviate common words and phrases. Today, people who text often abbreviate for convenience or because of character limits, and these abbreviations have become a part of our language, which leads me to wonder about the effects scribal abbreviations had on language and culture in the 15th century. Did scribes abbreviate for the same reasons as modern day texters? Documenting and working to understand our scribe’s (or scribes’) methods has been a key part of this project for me, as I think it will continue to be, especially once the prayer book returns to Northeastern’s Archives and Special Collections and we are able to interact with the entire text. To better understand our first scribe, I’ve begun compiling an alphabet with screenshots of the letters on the first page of the prayer book,  which has helped with deciphering individual letters (see: ManuscriptAlphabet). As we continue to study the prayer book, I hope to learn more about our scribe (or scribes), as well as the book’s history and the methods used to create both the book and the calligraphy within.

Laura