Durham Inspired: Live in Lockdown
Shining Light on Medieval Manuscripts

Thursday 28 January 2021, 6pm (GMT)

Durham is a place where people from different fields can come together and inspire each other to do something extraordinary. Chemists and historians have been working together since 2013 to illuminate medieval manuscripts.

Using optical spectroscopy – shining light – on the pages they can identify the materials used by the artists. They have examined over 300 manuscripts, dating from the 5th to the 15th centuries, and have revealed for the first time the materials used in different scriptoria and book-production centers.

Professor Andy Beeby of the Department of Chemistry talks to us about the amazing discoveries the team has made, how the scribes and artists created the vibrant and creative illuminations in these manuscripts, and how the team work with these books – taking samples or using methods that preserve the original materials.


The picture above is a photograph of a page from the book Libellus de Exordio, owned by the University of Durham (Cosin V.II.6). The monk Symeon who had come to Durham with the Normans and the new Bishops of Durham wrote this book around 1105. He was charged with the task of compiling and recording the history of the church of Durham, writing the history as told by the former monks of Durham and their ancestors who fled Lindisfarne as the Vikings plundered the land in the ninth century.

Team Pigment has identified the pigments used by Symeon and other scribes. They have found that Symeon’s illuminated ‘T’ contains pigments from across Europe and as far away as Afghanistan. They were astonished to find a piece of the Hindu Kush brought here to Durham in 1105!

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28 January 2021 at 18:00
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