Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

18 August 2016

Explore our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

When we started this blog, back in the distant past (2010 to be precise, though sometimes it seems longer), we never anticipated how many people would take an interest in the beautiful world of medieval manuscripts. Who ever knew that unicorn cookbooks, knights fighting snails, magical swords and cats in submarines would inspire so many people worldwide. (And no, we never expected to discover we have readers in Antarctica and Greenland either!)


A cat, a rat and a mouse, from a 13th-century miscellany (Harley MS 3244)

Some of our readers, of course, study manuscripts and ancient documents for their profession, being art historians, palaeographers and papyrologists, to name but a few. But we do appreciate that others may have less technical expertise; and for that reason we wanted to remind everyone of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. This is a free online resource, supplying selected images of some of our greatest treasures alongside other useful information for the specialist and non-specialist alike.

The Nativity, from our introduction to Bible manuscripts 

Here are some of the key features of our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts:

a search function by keyword, with the ability to select a specific date range

a search function by manuscript number

an advanced search function, with fields including scribe, artist, language, illumination and script

a number of virtual exhibitions, including An introduction to liturgical manuscripts, Arthurian manuscripts and the medieval bestiary

illustrated glossaries of terms, including Hebrew terms

guidance notes on access and re-use


A zoo-anthropomorphic initial, from our online glossary

We hope that as many of you as possible find our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts as useful as possible. Go on, give it a try. You might find out the difference between channeling (ooh, painful) and rinceaux (bless you). And you might just discover the manuscript that will change your life ...






This is a wonderful resource. Whilst I don't use it for academic purposes, it is great as a member of the public to be able to have access to the manuscripts and explore the beauty found in them. It's also a bonus for those of us unable to travel to the library, we can still visit it virtually. Thanks for making this widely available.

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