Penis trees and giant snails

Gorgeous Image: Paperblanks

Gorgeous Image: Paperblanks

I love an illuminated manuscript, the ornamentation, the fine details.

I like the Celtic influence that means you can have a picture of the easily led Eve plucking fruit for the equally easily led Adam, surrounded by knotwork of interlaced dragons – an Asian religion (sand, dates and fig trees) illustrated with pictures whose roots are in a frozen North (ice floes and lands of the midnight sun). That mixture appeals to me.

While we’re on the subject of Adam and Eve, can anyone tell me why Eve has been so long castigated for leading old Adam astray? Supposing the early Christian leaders were right and men were superior to women (women were after all, created from a man, right?) why is it that this superior individual, the first child of the Creator, takes no blame for man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden? If Adam was so amazing, why wasn’t he capable of saying

No, love. I think I’ll give that apple a miss, ta. There’s a melon over there with my name on it.

If Eve was a temptress, then we have to say that Adam was weak willed and none too bright.

I only ask, as the harsh judgement of Eve has impacted on women’s personal and legal rights, their rights to their own bodies, to their children, to education for … Ooh … A few thousand years and counting. Just a small thing but worth mentioning.

Back to manuscripts.

Apart from the skill, dedication and craftsmanship that manuscripts demonstrate in dead calf, iron and oak gall, they open a window into the Medieval mind in the form of marginalia. It seems that when monks were handed a book of the Bible to transcribe and illustrate, they had pretty much free reign. This meant they sometimes filled the margins with some very interesting doodles…

Rabbits firing crossbows, people relieving themselves in jugs (back and front), preaching dogs, snails with human heads, nuns picking penises out of a tree … Err, yeah, not quite sure what that’s about, but either vellum and goose quills are hallucenagens or monks channelled the creativity they might have used on more earthy pleasure into their artwork.

These rough, vulgar pictures appeal to me. They show that human minds really haven’t changed in a thousand years – give a man a margin and five minutes alone and he’ll draw a willy.

Something else that appeals to me is the book illustrated above. No, it’s not an illuminated manuscript, but a notebook* I found in W H Smiths yesterday. The cover design is based on the 8th century Lindau Gospels. To say I was tempted to buy it is an understatement.

You see, there’s a part of me that wants to pretend I’m an 8th century monk, sitting in his cell, offering up his time, his eyesight and the health of his spine to creating such a beautiful object.

I don’t think I’d be pepared to maintain a tonsure through judicious application of a pumice stone, but I might draw some creative marginalia – probably involving giant snails and a penis tree.


*The makers also produce notebooks featuring the works of Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Charlotte Bronte and F Scott Fitzgerald. Now, who could fail to be inspired by that?

This post is dedicated to Emma at Bluchickenninja and her love of stationery.