The Vatican Film Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Conference

Gregory A. Pass, PhD, MALS
Assistant Dean for Special Collections
Director, Vatican Film Library

This 14–15 October the Vatican Film Library will hold its 43rd Annual Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies—a two-day international gathering of medieval and Renaissance manuscript scholars and students who come together from around the US and abroad to talk about their research and current work. This conference focuses on all aspects of manuscript book production (as distinct from printed book production) of the pre-modern period up to about 1600 AD. Printing technology appeared in Western Europe in about 1454 and made possible the more rapid and less expensive mechanical production of books by means of the printing press. But it took a good century and more for the older tradition of books written and produced by hand (literally, manu-script) to be entirely replaced. In the ancient world, books had been written on papyrus scrolls, but in Western Europe and the Mediterranean between the second and fourth centuries AD a new book technology emerged in the form of the parchment codex—folded sheets of finely prepared animal skin, gathered and sewn together and bound between two covers: a convenient physical arrangement still very much in use today for our printed books, only substituting paper for animal skins. Books in the Middle Ages could be elaborately and brilliantly illuminated, written in a variety of scripts, produced in many different places by highly trained individuals for many purposes, and containing many different kinds of texts and images. It is both the object and culture of the pre-modern manuscript book that the Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies examines.

Papers at this year’s conference will address illumination and the working practices of illuminators, history and memory in manuscripts, provenance, codicology, books for travelers, and women book owners. This year’s guest speaker will be Professor Madeline H. Caviness (Mary Richardson Professor Emeritus, Tufts University), who will talk on “Medieval German Law and the Jews: The Sachsenspiegel Picture-Books. The guest lecture will be held at 4pm on Friday, 14 October, in Anheuser-Busch Auditorium of the John Cook School of Business. This lecture is free and open to the public, and is followed by a reception at Cupples House. All are welcome to attend the conference, which is open to the public but requires registration. For program and registration information, see SLU faculty, students, staff, and Saint Louis University Library Associates may attend free of charge.

The Vatican Film Library is a research collection for the study of medieval manuscripts. It is part of the Department of Special Collections in the Saint Louis University Libraries and is open Monday–Friday, 9am-5pm. Visit us onsite or online at

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