An illustrated aviary (or text about birds) appears in this manuscript, which was made in Northern France during the 13th century. The text was written by Hugh of Fouilloy (d. c. 1172), prior of St-Nicholas-de-Regny. It is made up of 23 chapters, each containing an illustrated account of a different bird.
The aviary is combined with an unusual type of bestiary, known as the Dicta Chrysostomi, which survives in relatively few manuscripts from this period. Although the full title of this text – The Words of John Chrysostom on the Nature of Beasts – suggests that its author was St John Chrysostom, who lived during the 4th century, it was actually written in France around the year 1000. The bestiary is illustrated with 24 representations of a variety of animals, both real and fantastical. One unusual image depicts a siren luring sailors from their ship, alongside a creature known as an onocentaur, which combines the body of a human with that of a donkey.
An illustration of the Virgin Mary, holding the Infant Christ, accompanied by a kneeling monk, appears towards the beginning of the manuscript (on f. 7r; image no. 3) and suggests that the book originally had a clerical readership.
- Article by:
- Alixe Bovey
Men with dogs’ heads, creatures with giant feet, griffins, sirens and hellish demons can all be found in the illustrated pages of medieval manuscripts. Dr Alixe Bovey delves into the symbolic meaning of a variety of monsters to understand what they can teach us about life and belief in the Middle Ages.