A Fantasy Tip from History: Book Shrines

Nicholas C. Rossis

The Irish cumdach | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books The Stowe Missal cumdach (8th/9th century). Photo: Dublin, Royal, Irish Academy via medievalbooks.nl

In a recent post, I described the many ways Medieval scribes and readers would transport their treasured books. There was one kind of book in particular that demanded its own post. Enter the Irish cumdach or ‘book shrine’.

As Erik Kwakkel of Leiden University explains, the cumdach is a kind of box designed to hold a small manuscript. The Stowe Missal for which the cumdach on the right was made measures only 150×120 mm, which is a little higher than the iPhone 6. The book is very snug inside the box, but the small size matches the object’s anticipated use in battle. You see, Irish cumdachs were not meant to be read. Instead, they were carried around the neck of a monk, who would run up and down in front of the troops right…

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