Medieval Mondays: Illuminated Ideas


Medieval art comes to us in various forms, each chronicling in its own special way the history and ingenuity of the Middle Ages–paintings, sculptures, stained glass, reliquary boxes, altars, and even illuminated manuscripts.

Illuminated manuscripts were documents in which the text was highlighted by superb detailing. Traditionally done in the monasteries of Europe, the details on these documents could range from decorating only the borders of the pages to having miniature scenes embedded between the lines of text.

Some monasteries actually had entire rooms dedicated to copying and illustrating documents. In these Scriptoriums or “Places of Writing,” monks would spend entire days or weeks working on a single manuscript. Most often, these documents were religious in nature. The Gospels were illuminated. Entire Bibles sparkled brightly with margins done in silver and gold. Psalters, or books of Psalms, were illustrated in an exquisite manner. In later years, you see the use of illumination on secular texts, as well. Patrons would purchase illuminated versions of the newest literary, legal, and scientific concepts of their day.

Book of Kells 2

I was thinking about illuminated manuscripts today as I prepared to write this blog, and I made a mental connection that I have never made before.
What is the one thing that all these documents have in common? They all contain great ideas.

They contain life-changing, world-rocking, history-altering thoughts. Only these ideas were the ones preserved for posterity with breathtaking beauty and time consuming detail. Nothing less would do; only the greatest ideas remained.

But, isn’t that what illumination is really all about? When you look up the word, it simply means, “A source of light.”


The monks understood what we seem to have forgotten. Ideas, words, and knowledge are unstoppably powerful, but today, we treat them haphazardly and carelessly.

It comes down to this: Are we thinking or writing or saying anything worth remembering, worth illuminating?

Book of Kells


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