Monday, 18 June 2012

'Worcester's Medieval Treasures' Exhibition

The Cathedral Library re-enters the Blogosphere this week after a rather lengthy absence!

We have been very busy over the last month putting together our summer exhibition on ‘Worcester’s Medieval Treasures’.  The exhibition includes over a hundred photographs, which show off some of our most colourful and quirky manuscripts.  Alongside these images it tells the story of how medieval manuscripts were put together, how inks were made, and how modern conservation techniques are preserving these unique records of life in the Middle Ages.  It officially opened on Monday 16th and will run until Friday 29th June in the Dean’s Chapel, Worcester Cathedral.

Worcester's Medieval Treasures
Image is  © The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

Now that we have dusted ourselves off from our exertions, we thought we should share some of the images (especially for those who cannot make it to Worcester to see them), and talk a little about the process of putting together the exhibition.

The Cathedral Library staff and volunteers have been thinking about ‘Worcester’s Medieval Treasures’ since February, when the previous display was taken down.  We knew we wanted to do something big and colourful for the summer, which would tie in with Worcester’s Literary Festival.  Medieval manuscripts are perfect subjects for exhibitions.  They are not only visually appealing but they also have fascinating histories.  Even the plainest-looking books contain hidden secrets, such as pen and ink sketches, grotesque faces, pen trials or unusual repairs.  I wanted the exhibition to show how each and every manuscript deserves to be recognised as a ‘treasure’.

A Peasant Digging with a Spade, from MS. F100, f. 173
Image is  © The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

The photography took over a week to complete.  Every manuscript had to be taken out of the store individually, supported on foam wedges and weighted with snakes.  Sunny days gave us the best light in which to work, but these were (predictably) few and far between, it being the English summertime.

A Woman Kneels before Death, from a Fourteenth-Century Book of hours
Image is  © The Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral

Finally, a colossal amount of research went into producing the text panels for the exhibition.  I was fortunate enough to be aided by a lovely team of Library volunteers, who researched topics as diverse as ink-making, twelfth-century manuscripts, medieval archives and conservation.  Our Librarian and Conservator then cast their expert eyes over the finished text, and we were ready to go.  The task remained to fill up the 14 exhibition boards, and add the finishing touches of flyers, a comment book, and an area in which people are invited to draw their own medieval beasts.  It has been a lot of hard work, but the positive responses we have received from visitors and Cathedral staff have made it all worthwhile.

Next week I will posting a selection of my favourite medieval beasts submitted by visitors to the exhibition, so watch this space!

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