The Afterlife of Medieval Music Manuscripts

In addition to its collection of medieval manuscript volumes, Queens’ Old Library holds a collection of medieval music fragments. Commonly found in the bindings of early printed books, these survivals from the medieval past are an object of fascination in themselves. Of all the manuscript volumes produced in the middle ages only a fraction still survive. It is for this reason that waste fragments found in bindings of later books offer so precious a glimpse into the religious, political and cultural changes that transformed early modern England. Most of the medieval manuscripts that contained music were liturgical or devotional. Some manuscripts fell out of use as a result of religious change and evolving modes of worship. Others suffered damage or became obsolete with the introduction of print. Manufactured from expensive parchment – animal skin – manuscript volumes were recycled for a range of purposes. In a centre of learning such as Cambridge they were often snapped up by local bookbinders. By reusing full leaves or small strips as a means to cover or support binding structures, binders unwittingly bequeathed an invaluable resource for modern day historical research.

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