Archive for January 12th, 2015


by Sam Juliano

One of my own supreme favorite picture books of the entire year, Brother Hugo and the Bear, is set during the eleventh century in and around a monastery, and it immediately conjures up Chaucer’s “The Nun’s Priest Tale,” scenic and serene Benedictine cloisters, and more than a dash of Umberto Eco for good measure.  It whisks off its student readers to a time and a place where life is committed to a single purpose, and is governed by unwavering faith.  This is a time when religion renders all other activities as subservient, especially within the walls where books, manuscripts and the libraries they are housed in are places of sacred deliberation and sustained meditation.  The painstaking creation of  a book was seen to be a nonpareil way of serving God.  The book’s author Katy Beebe, a university history Professor, holds a doctorate in medieval history, and invested many hours studying the period’s manuscripts of the type that was featured in this ecclesiastical narrative.  The word manuscript, as attested to in a lovingly written historical afterward, is taken from manus, the Latin word for “hand” and scriptum, which is “something written.”  The words in these manuscripts were deemed holy, and were written with the most ornate calligraphic fanfare within the parameters of the era’s capabilities.  Beebe notes that the gold in the manuscripts would catch the light as readers turned the pages, giving  sway to the term “illuminated manuscripts.” (more…)

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