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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Collection of medical tracts and recipes

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript is a compilation of remedies, healing instructions and diagrams with the common goal of healing a medieval person from illness and wounds. The text is illustrated at points with a table and diagrams – including a design for a plate to heal wounds, a Zodiac man and magical spheres – making it a significant example of design and material culture in addition to the content of the Middle English and Latin text. The Zodiac man and circular diagrams place this manuscript alongside many other examples that outline similar methodologies (for another example of a Zodiac man diagram, see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Cambridge, University Library, MS Add. 3303(3)</a>), however the inclusion of a diagram for a plate to heal a wound is more unusual. The combination of prayers, charms, incantations and actions blur the lines between religion, magic, astrology and medicine, revealing insights into the relationship between the medieval physician and patient, and complexities surrounding ritual and efficacy for the medieval body and mind.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The charms in this manuscript can be easily recognised as a short section of text, often interspersed with crosses. They will look and read similar to a prayer and borrow religious language. The text of a charm is recited verbally, memorised or meditated on. The crosses within the text indicate that the shape of the cross is to be made physically at that point. The performance of charms is also connected with the transformation of an object into a talisman or amulet, imbuing it with a believed efficacy and power to heal. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'> The inclusion on folio 94v of a square diagram with a cross in each corner and in the centre connects this manuscript to five others known to contain a similar diagram used to heal wounds. They are: <ul><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.14.51</a></li><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Add. MS 15236</a></li><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, Wellcome Library, MS 407</a></li><li><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>San Marino (CA), Huntington Library, MS HM 64</a></li><li>Stockholm, Kungliga biblioteket, MS X.90</li></ul> The five crosses, whilst a prompt for actions to be made and words to be said, also link the design and function to the cult of the five wounds. The design provides a template for the creation of a lamina, to be made with a more durable material such as lead and intended to be placed on the body for medical purposes. The text alongside the lamina instructs the user to make a plate to place on a wound. Both the making and then its medical use includes prayers to be said out loud and actions to be made, making this charm and its design an example of ritual performance used in medicine. The text instructs the reader to say the Pater Noster, the Lord’s prayer, when making any cross on the plate and when washing the wound. This is material evidence that ritual performance was thought to possess a transformative power, and was used to turn an object into a talisman or amulet. This manuscript can be studied as an example of sensory experience through its material code for the physical mimicry, performative reading, gesture and touching involved in performing this charm. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Both the text and the diagram have been censored by cross hatching lines of ink and watery brush marks. This highlights the fluidity of medieval magic and what was considered to be natural or demonic magic and acceptable or illicit. It suggests that such practices were acceptable at the time when they were copied, but that this changed at some later point. However, the legibility of the text, in spite of these deletions, implies that its practice may have continued.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In addition to its medical and performative interest, this manuscript contains plenty of physical evidence to be looked at through the lens of material culture and codicology. Trimmed folios, holes, books within books, ink changes and stitches hold clues to the life of this object. An ownership inscription, crossings out, workings out, names and signatures speak of a well-used and studied book. Delicate manicules, and a zodiac man with a great head of hair and delicate knees and ankles, stand in contrast to the rough workings-out of protective magic circles, and together represent the lasting signatures of the people who made and used this manuscript.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Rebecca J.S. Nice<br /></p>

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