From Manuscript to Print: the Evolution of the Medieval Book

Appetite for Destruction
horizontal rule
For every medieval manuscript that has survived into modern times, many others have been destroyed. We know this partly from the numerous fragments that survive, representing books that were once whole. The causes of destruction were various. Fires engulfed libraries and obliterated untold numbers of books. Political upheavals, such as the French Revolution, which sought to blot out all vestiges of the hated era of "feudalism," carried away many others. Thieves and collectors have mutilated decorative manuscripts by removing the artwork. Yet perhaps most manuscripts were lost to less dramatic causes, such as neglect and poor storage conditions, which exposed books to damp, rot, and insects. Renaissance humanists in search of rare classical texts describe visits to monasteries where they found heaps of books moldering away, utterly abandoned. One other cause of destruction was recycling. Since parchment was expensive, an old book might be scrapped and its writing erased so that a new book might be written on its parchment, or it might be cut up for use in bindings.

continue to Manuscript Facsimiles

the Sacred Word
Private Prayer
Leather and Chains
Medieval Music
How the Classics Survived
Manuscripts in the Age of Print
Evolution of the Book
Appetite for Destruction
Manuscript Facsimiles
Cornell's Medieval Books
Cornell University Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library

Copyright 2002 Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections
2B Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14853
Phone Number: (607) 255-3530. Fax Number: (607) 255-9524

For reference questions, send mail to:
If you have questions or comments about the site, send mail to: webmaster.