Medieval monks preserved the literary history of the West. Some worked in scriptoriums, such as the one in the Abbey of Fontenay, below. They copied Jerome's Latin Vulgate Bible and the commentaries and letters of early Church Fathers for missionary purposes and for use within the monastery. The products of the scriptorium provided a valuable medium of exchange. Within the scriptorium, there was typically a division of labor between the monks who readied the parchment for copying by smoothing and chalking the surface, those who ruled the parchment and copied the text, and those who illuminated the text. Their work was supervised, yet they were able to make notes and images in the margins of the manuscripts. Below (right) are some comments written by monks.

fontenay monks
Scriptorium at Fontenay Abbey, near Montbard, France; one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe. Founded in 1118 by St Bernard.                                                                                        "Oh, my hand."

 "I am very cold."

"As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe."

Now I have written the whole thing; for Christ's sake give me a drink."

One recurring theme in marginalia has been dubbed "knight versus snail". No one knows for sure what it means, so there are all sorts of guesses. The British Library says that the scene could represent the Resurrection, or it could be a stand in for the Lombards, “a group vilified in the early middle ages for treasonous behavior, the sin of usury, and ‘non-chivalrous comportment in general.'" About the best guess is that it is a joke to which we are not privy. But the joke does seem to be on the knight.


mvs  Instead of slaying a dragon, this knight attacks a elevated snail. 
This one rides a dragon to attack flying snails. mvs


A switch on the snail theme, with a rabbit defeating a knight. (see image at the bottom of the page) fd












yu  This one seems to have surrendered to the snail. 
And here the snail is on the attack. ytd

The images do bring to mind a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Enough said.