With the Book Against the Bosom

Manuscript page
A rubric from Anne Brades prayer book describing, among others, how the prayer could be copied and carried and the body. Notice that the image that originally accompanied the prayer has been cut out. Thott 553, 4, fol. 9r. The Royal Danish Library. Photo by author.

Lecture by Laura Katrine Skinnebach (Aarhus University)

From medieval primers and prayer books, we get an impression of the complexity of medieval devotional practice. Devotion was distinctly multimodal and multi-sensory, involving, for example, wax candles, small portable figurines, images (in the book or elsewhere), prayer beads and nuts, and a series of bodily movements. Sometimes rubrics describe in great detail how a prayer text, an image or both should be carried on the body like protective amulets rather than read or looked at. Images and words had power.

During the Middle Ages, a host of technologies were developed that supported the haptic function of devotional amulets. One could sew an amulet into one’s clothes, carry the prayer around the neck written on a scrap of parchment, or carefully seal it off from the one’s eyes in an ampoule or keep the entire prayerbook close to the body in a pouch or girdle binding, to mention a selection.

This presentation will focus on amulets with texts and/or images in medieval devotional practice as described in a selection of especially Danish prayer books.