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