Medieval Life

An Exhibition in the Dietrich Gallery

Fall 2020

800 years is a long time ago, but some questions are universal. Is it going to rain tomorrow? Can I afford that? What happens when I die?

The handwritten documents in this exhibition—called manuscripts, from the Latin manus, meaning “hand,” and scriptus, meaning “written”—were made during the medieval period, between 500 and 900 years ago, in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. While each manuscript has its own unique history, looking at so many medieval European manuscripts together can tell us something about what people were thinking and doing back then.

Hundreds of Philadelphia’s medieval manuscripts, dating from 1100 to 1600 CE, were first brought together as part of Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, a major regional digitization project, between 2016 and 2019. They are now archived online for the public to browse and explore. The objects gathered for this digital exhibition—including books, scrolls, single pages, cut fragments, and facsimile reproductions—are drawn from our own collection and those of other institutions in the Philadelphia area that participated in the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project.

This digital exhibition complements our physical exhibition. The items selected here are a sample of the larger physical exhibition, which has been postponed due to ongoing concerns related to coronavirus.

Topics such as our work, the natural world, religion, law and justice, and family, were on the mind of individuals then just as they occupy our minds today. We hope you will consider how medieval Europeans thought about their lives and their world—and how their concerns reflect our own.

Preview Medieval Life Exhibition


Support for Medieval Life is provided by

Independence Foundation

Curated by

Dot Porter
Curator, Digital Research Services
University of Pennsylvania

Drawn from the Collections of

  • Bryn Mawr College
  • College of Physicians of Philadelphia
  • Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Haverford College
  • Lehigh University
  • Library Company of Philadelphia
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art*
  • The Rosenbach, Science History Institute
  • Swarthmore College
  • Temple University
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Villanova University*
* facsimiles only

Thank You

Thanks to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries for their enduring support of special collections around the Philadelphia area. Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis was funded by a grant on the consortium’s behalf to Lehigh University from the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Enabling New Scholarship Through Increasing Access to Unique Materials initiative of the Council on Library and Information Resources, supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Support for the curation and organization of this exhibition was generously provided by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.