This illuminated manuscript is a Book of Hours. It held prayers for Christians to say at different times. (Public domain)

This illuminated manuscript is a Book of Hours. It held prayers for Christians to say at different times. (Public domain)

In the Middle Ages, people had to write out books by hand. Monks and nuns usually did this work. (123RF)

In the Middle Ages, people had to write out books by hand. Monks and nuns usually did this work. (123RF)

This illustration shows a hermit working on a book. He uses a penknife to steady his parchment. The penknife was also used for shaping feather pens. (Royal MS 14 E III, f. 6v/Public Domain)

This illustration shows a hermit working on a book. He uses a penknife to steady his parchment. The penknife was also used for shaping feather pens. (Royal MS 14 E III, f. 6v/Public Domain)

This is another Book of Hours. It is from France. It was probably made around 1440. (AP/Joe Frederick)

This is another Book of Hours. It is from France. It was probably made around 1440. (AP/Joe Frederick)

A man uses gold leaf to decorate a frame. Gold leaf makes illuminated manuscripts shine. (Public domain)

A man uses gold leaf to decorate a frame. Gold leaf makes illuminated manuscripts shine. (Public domain)

Books by Hand

Posted: November 1, 2022

Type: Clickety-clickety-click.

Print: Ch-ch-ch-swooo.

Staple: Splat. Splat. Splat.

You just made a little book using the computer. Easy-peasy!

But could you make one by hand? How about a big one with detailed drawings?

Illuminated manuscripts started back before the printing press was invented. Almost no one could afford to buy them.

Almost no one had time to make them either. The job mostly fell to monks and nuns. They did the quiet work of copying out the Bible. Not all illuminated manuscripts were copies of the Bible though. Many monks worked to make a Book of Hours. A Book of Hours holds written prayers for Christians to say at certain times of day. People also made illuminated manuscripts of epic poems.

Imagine copying the New Testament on lovely, thick paper. You’d use your very best penmanship, and then dip your quill into colorful ink, liquid silver, and gold leaf. Next, you’d decorate. You’d make the big letters starting a chapter colorful and fancy. You’d draw complicated designs in the margins. Once in a while, you’d fill a whole page with a drawing of a Bible character.

Illuminated manuscripts took a long time to make. When finished, they were portable. A missionary might tuck one into his or her bag and travel with it.

In many parts of the world today, copies of scripture exist all around—in homes, hotel rooms, book stores, and even thrift shops. Not so during the days of the illuminated manuscript. What would it be like to first see God’s words written out like this?

God’s words are true and alive. They’re worth bending over for hours and hours so someone else can have a copy.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. — Hebrews 4:12