Wednesday, November 23, 2016
All God's Creatures
Through the years of this blog I've written, from time to time, about medieval monasteries as centres for learning and the arts. While some paint the religious communities as places of privilege, we can't underestimate the contribution to the development of scholarship and medical advancement and creativity within these oases of enlightenment. Prosperity and with it a drift from gospel values often led to their downfall and movements for renewal.
The copying houses of monasteries were responsible for many of the exquisite illustrated works of scripture and other sacred texts described as "illuminated manuscripts." One has recently been shared with the world by the University of Aberdeen in digital form, and not surprisingly it is called the Aberdeen Bestiary. Bestiaries depict various creatures, sometimes imaginary but often real. This "book of beasts" once belonged to Henry VII but it dates back to the 12th century. And rather than being a treasure for the aristocracy it may have been used as a text book by monks, with portions intended to be read aloud. There are actually fingerprints and notes in the margins.
I appreciate that monasteries weren't so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good. Here is evidence that monks and the youth they educated also learned about the natural world and how it worked.
This is a sacred task for us today, it seems to me. These religious folk of another time didn't have nearly the impact on the environment as we do today. We have lost much of our sense of the natural world and any nudge to resacralize it is meaningful.