Rabbits and Roman Law in St Andrews

Last week the travelling workshop was held at St Andrews.  Although the lack of local manuscripts had led me to amend the ‘show and tell’ part of the roadshow, I left the City with many questions and ideas.

Rabbits.  Robert Bartlett and Kathryn Rudy discussed the nature of the parchment used in Late Medieval Bibles.  Called ‘uterine vellum’, but without any proper grounding, this parchment is of exquisitely thin, parallel to a modern-day tissue paper but much more resilient.  It is also very clear and easily employed by scribes.  This ‘super-parchment’ befits the Late Medieval Bible perfectly, making possible the creation of a pocket book.  Its exact nature is still unknown, and suggestions have been made supporting the use of small animals, such as rabbits or even cats in its creation.  Thanks to Marlene Hennessy I now have a substantial bibliography on the topic (as well as on the joys of flaying), which I hope to cover soon.

Roman Law.  Looking at how the Bible was quoted I advocated the importance of the thirteenth century and the introduction of chapter numbers on biblical mnemonics.  The major exception is the Book of Psalms.  Psalms continued (for a very very long time) to be identified not by a numerical value, but rather by their opening line.  Robert and Chris Given-Wilson offered an interesting parallel from Roman law, in which textual elements were identified by incipit long after the introduction of numerical divisions.

This is just the tip of an iceberg of quotation practices in the Middle Ages.  It is also an indication to the rarely addressed similarity between liturgy and law – two complex fields, governed by trained professionals and a set of highly structured rituals.  Both are, likewise, all-but-inaccessible to the modern novice.

In the Mishna it is said that whoever brings a saying in the name of its speaker it is as if he brings salvation to the world.  I’ll be happy with accuracy.


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