Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pages from the Past: Highlights from USC's Collection of Medieval Manuscripts

7 October 2008
Targeted News Service

The University of South Carolina Upstate Campus issued the following news release:

Rare Books and Special Collections at USC's Thomas Cooper Library will be taking its medieval manuscripts on the road in a traveling exhibition called "Pages from the Past: Highlights from USC's Collection of Medieval Manuscripts." The exhibit will make a stop at the University of South Carolina Upstate on Tuesday, October 21. The exhibit will be open to the public beginning at 3:00 p.m. The exhibit, to be held in the Campus Life Center Ballroom, will feature a lecture and performance at 4:30 p.m. with a reception to follow.

Visitors at USC Upstate will be able to see a selection of 40 manuscripts, learn about the collection from an expert, and even hear medieval music sung right from the pages of USC's venerable Spanish choir book. Undergraduate music major Elizabeth Nyikos will lead members of the USC's ensemble Canticum Novum in a rare performance of medieval chant. The University Libraries conservation laboratory restored the gradual this summer in order for the very large volume to travel. The music contained has never been sung in modern times, not since the day this manuscript was retired from the church where it was housed, no doubt centuries ago. It should be noted that medieval choir books had to be large, so they could be read from a distance in candlelit churches.

Dr. Scott Gwara, professor of Medieval English at USC, is the curator of the traveling exhibition. "I've chosen the best items, a range of materials, including music, history, books of private prayer, bibles, liturgical manuscripts, and more. Many of these have stunning illuminations highlighted by pure gold. Nearly all have elaborate penwork decoration."

Featured manuscripts in the exhibition include the Towneley-Dyson Perrins manuscript of Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon layered in bright gold and colored paints, gorgeous prayer-books once owned by women, and a leaf from the Llangattock Breviary, commissioned for Duke Leonello d'Este of Ferrara around 1445.

"The Llangattock Breviary," Dr. Gwara explained, "is one of the most storied books of our time: thanks to the survival of the Este account books, we know its history, right down to the names of its illuminators." Dr. Gwara added that the exhibition will also include USC's Breslauer manuscript of medieval sermons, acquired last year by gift of the B. H. Breslauer Foundation in New York. "There's something for everyone in this exhibit, and it's all fabulous," Dr. Gwara stated.

To learn more about the exhibit, visit For further information on "Pages from the Past," please contact Frieda Davison, dean of the library at USC Upstate, at (864) 503-5610.