Origen, Commentary on the Song of Solomon f.30r
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
Medieval Christian theologians had to explain the Old Testament in terms of the church. Origen, who lived in 3rd-century Alexandria and Caesarea, accomplished Christian explanations of books of the Old Testament by discussing it as allegory--seeing the persons and events as symbols for Christian doctrine. The 'Song of Solomon' ('Cantica canticorum') presented challenges because it was a love poem. Origen explained it as an expression of love between the church ('Ecclesia') and her bridegroom (Christ). Later monks such as those at the Benedictine Abbey of the Blessed Virgin in Reading were able to read the Song of Solomon without problems.
A monk at Reading could locate particular parts of the Song in the manuscript by scanning the edges of its pages, where the beginning of each section was written. This page begins the second 'book' or section of Origen's commentary, on Song of Solomon 1:5 ("Dark I am yet lovely"). The apostrophe shapes in the right margin are citation marks, indicating citation of the biblical verses. Decorated with simple ornament in two colours, the first letter was designed in imitation of earlier Italian styles.