Ye Olde Fox ID

I Know What You Read Last Summer

Many medieval manuscripts —including most of those on display in this exhibition—make their way to American museums and libraries via the generosity of private book collectors. While some manuscripts arrive at their new repositories with complete and detailed histories of their origin and provenance, most show up without their ID cards so to speak. In order to figure out where and when and for what purpose a specific document was produced and used, scholars have to put on their detective hats. We know that the song displayed on these pages was the fifteenth-century equivalent of the Top 40 chart because of the condition and coloring of the parchment. Unlike other pages of the text (which are bone white) the yellow tint of this page is caused by frequent exposure to the elements…and to finger oil. In other words, this page of the book was touched, prodded and poked. A lot.

Book1

Olin Special Collections Library, Rollins College

 

Leaving Your Mark

One of the easiest ways to relieve boredom when a piece of paper sits in front of you is to doodle on it. College students are all too familiar with this plight—take a look at anyone’s textbook from their least favorite class and you will see similar marks. Just as the notes and pictures that we leave behind in our textbooks offer glimpses into our lives—or at least the hour we spend in Chemistry—many medieval books contain scribal residues left by their owner-user. The page below is from a larger book that was used during the early modern mass. If you look closely, you will see that the owner scribbled his name and date—July 12, 1593—in the left hand margin.

Book2Book3

Olin Library Special Collections, Rollins College

 

Identity Theft

Identity Theft

We put passwords on our cell phones to prevent other people from snooping in our emails, reading our text conversations or, in the worst case scenarios, hijacking our accounts and sending out unauthorized emails and texts. Identity theft was a big problem in the Middle Ages as well, especially for the likes of kings and popes. As the undisputed movers and shakers of the medieval world, the documents produced by these high rollers were constant targets for forgers and thieves. One of the strategies used to prevent unlawful tampering with the royal and papal mail included the use of personalized seals, which were affixed via hot wax to the seams of a folded document (the phrase ‘sealing the envelope’ derives from this practice). Just like each of us has a unique Facebook profile and Twitter feed that serves as our digital signature, each pope had his own personal seal that he used throughout his pontificate.

This is a papal bull (from Latin ‘bulla’ meaning ‘letter’ or ‘charter’) issued by Pope Innocent X (1644-1655). The signatures of other Roman curia are hidden beneath the vellum flap at the bottom of the document, but if you look closely, you can get a good look at the design of the lead seal, which is attached to the bull by silk threads.

Book4Book5

Olin Library Special Collections, Rollins College

 

Book6

Olin Library Special Collections, Rollins College

If the man of the hour looks a little shady in his official portrait, that’s because he was: In addition to picking fights with half of Europe, he also allegedly hooked up with his sister-in-law. Classy, we know.

Pope Innocent X

Pope Innocent X http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Innocent_X