Behind the Text: Making Illuminated Manuscripts

Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Illuminated manuscripts thrived in the Middle Ages, before Gutenberg and his movable type printing. They were handmade and handwritten by craftsmen and monks around Europe, gorgeously illustrated with vibrantly colored inks and oftentimes, gold leaf. The majority of illuminated manuscripts were created for religious purposes—many were copies of the Bible or gospel books—however some also included stories of King Arthur and his knights. And while demand for the manuscripts was high in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they became virtually obsolete with the rise of the printing press.

There’s an incomparable sense of satisfaction that comes with creating something, anything, with our own bare hands.  In a day and age where everything is prepackaged and pre-made by some machine far away, even the act of putting together a small side table from Ikea can give us an inflated sense of self-pride. So when watching this video of the illuminated manuscript’s step-by-step process, we at GLIMPSE find ourselves pretty amazed. It’s fascinating to see the work, dedication, and skill that went into creating a single book. To witness a piece of the vast history of books, type, and the spreading of ideas is humbling. And as you plug your way through your summer reading list on a lazy afternoon, take a second to remind yourself how that book was made and where it came from. It might just make you enjoy the words on the page a little more.

Allison Nonko


One thought on “Behind the Text: Making Illuminated Manuscripts

  1. The American Bible Society made a video for their television show “American Bible Society Presents” on my work in making an illuminated manuscript of the Bible. I do not use computers, it is made the old fashioned way. I love sites like this where I can see a page presented, I like the style of the script, very nice and clean and readable. My work was on display at the Biblical Arts Museum in Dallas and my website for The Pepper Bible is which includes the video and also links to videos by CBS and the United Methodist News Service. The video features 40 illuminated pages and overall I have written about 1500 finished pages of the Bible in a New Testament, a separate set of Gospels and various books of the Old Testament. It is an ongoing project and yes I have illuminated the Gospels twice!

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