Tour the Grandeur of Illuminated Manuscripts

Discover religious art: miniatures on the life of Christ, Islamic manuscripts, Christian pilgrimage routes, peculiar reddish color, visual ‘mirror of princes,’ and Jewish stories.

By UNESCO Memory of the World

Sample of the Book of Pericopes of Emperor Heinrich II, part 2. (11th century) by Monastery of ReichenauUNESCO Memory of the World

Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Significance

Illuminated Manuscripts used gold and silver to illuminate text and illustrations as a way to aggrandize ancient documents. Muslim artisans also used this technique to ornament their books, however the term “illuminated manuscripts” is typically used to refer to works produced in Europe on Christian themes. These illuminations aided the manuscripts preservation and provided informative value.

Initial O with Christ as ruler over the cosmos. Sample of the Commentary on Canticles (11th century) by Monastery of ReichenauUNESCO Memory of the World

Monastery of Reichenau Book Illustrations

The book illustrations created by monks at the Monastery of Reichenau epitomize when Germany achieved artistic pre-eminence in Europe for the first time during the Ottonian period in the 9th-10th centuries. The decline of the Carolingian Empire, political consolidation, church reform, and renewal of the idea of the empire all contributed this cultural rise.

The ascent of the blessed towards Christ. Sample of the Commentary on Canticles (11th century) by Monastery of ReichenauUNESCO Memory of the World

Miniatures on the Life of Christ

The Reichenau illustrations reflect the spirituality of the time and were influenced by paintings from Late Antiquity, the Carolingian period, and Byzantium. The intention of these illustrations was not imitation but creative new design. Their expansive cycles of miniatures on the life of Christ influenced art of subsequent centuries.

Gazi Husrev-Beg Library illuminated manuscript, page 11 (12th - 15th cenuries)UNESCO Memory of the World

Manuscripts from Centers of Islamic Learning

The manuscript collection of the Gazi Husrev-Beg Library in Bosnia and Herzegovina covers various fields originating in different parts of the Islamic world. Especially in important centers of learning such as Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Baghdad, and Istanbul. The oldest preserved manuscript was copied in 1105.

Gazi Husrev-Beg Library illuminated manuscript, page 4 (12th - 15th cenuries)UNESCO Memory of the World

Valuable Islamic Manuscripts

The Gazi Husrev-Beg collection, often distinguished by outstanding calligraphy and decoration, is the most valuable Islamic manuscript collections in the Balkans area, as similar ones had been mostly been destroyed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995).

Liber Sancti Jacobi 1 (1326)UNESCO Memory of the World

The Codex Calixtinus

The Codex Calixtinus, also known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi (Book of Saint James)  consists of five books compiled between 1138-1173 about apostle Saint James and the pilgrimage to his shrine in Compostela, northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s known as Codex Calixtinus, as it was attributed to Pope Calixtus II.

Apostolus Karolo Magno apparuit (Codex Calixtinus, Liber III) (12th century)UNESCO Memory of the World

Codex Calixtinus and Camino De Santiago

The Codex promoted the cult of Saint James and the Camino de Santiago in Spain as one of the greatest Christian pilgrimage routes. It documents the Iberian origins of the Jacobian tradition in Europe and is a source of knowledge for European medieval religiosity and culture.

Mark's portrait (5th - 6th centuries)UNESCO Memory of the World

Reddish Color of the Rossano Gospels

The Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, also known as the Rossano Gospels, is a manuscript from the 5th-6th centuries containing the gospels of Matthew and Mark and kept in the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art in Rossano. It’s known for the peculiar reddish color of its pages.

Canons title page (5th - 6th centuries)UNESCO Memory of the World

One of the Oldest Surviving Manuscripts of the New Testament

The Gospels contain illustrations of the life and teachings of Christ and is one of the oldest illuminated manuscripts of the New Testament. It’s a one-of-a-kind masterpiece and symbol of the Calabria region of Italy, which has always been a crossroad between east and west.

Beatus of King Ferdinand I and doña Sancha (1047) by Beatus of Liébana (730–785) and others.UNESCO Memory of the World

Commentary to the Apocalypse

The manuscripts known as Beatus are a series of codices and fragments that contain the copy of the Commentary to Apocalypse, attributed to the monk Beatus of Liebana, who lived in the North the Iberian Peninsula in the second half of the 8th century. 

Commentary to the Apocalypse, Portugal, page 4. (8th-13th centuries) by Beatus of Liébana (730–785) and others.UNESCO Memory of the World

The Beatus Effect

The Beatus’ are the most beautiful and original manuscripts in medieval western civilization and have inspired literary and artistic works. They’re proof of the transition from the Ancient World to Medieval times in art, literacy and thought in the Mediterranean and Europe.

Ms 32, fol. 59r, detail (9th century)UNESCO Memory of the World

Utrecht Psalter and Its Revolutionary, Dynamic Style

The Utrecht Psalter is a 9th century illuminated manuscript that’s famous for its rich palette of motifs, illustrations of the psalms and canticles, revolutionary and dynamic style, and visual messages about proper rulership. It’s a defining moment of Carolingian (750–887) culture.

Ms 32, fol. 06v-7r, Ps 11&12 (9th century)UNESCO Memory of the World

Visual Mirror of Princes

The Utrecht Psalter's illustrations reflect the violence and warfare of the time but are meant for moral instruction, apparently for a future king, and known as the first visual “mirror of princes.” It’s a key manuscript of Christian art, has had a profound artistic influence and legacy, and forms a crucial link between Late Roman art and its Carolingian translation.

The family at the Seder (14th century)UNESCO Memory of the World

Sarajevo Haggadah

The Sarajevo Haggadah manuscript is an exquisite example of Medieval Hebrew illuminated and decorative art. The Haggadah (story) is a Passover Haggadah read during the Jewish feast of Passover. It contains a collection of lyrical works from the “Golden Age” of Jewish-Arab culture from the 10th-13th centuries, prayers for the Passover feast and instructions for the evening prayer on Passover eve.

Exodus from Egypt (14th century)UNESCO Memory of the World

Trials and Tribulations

The Haggadah is one the first, perhaps only, illuminated Jewish manuscripts and has survived a range of trials and tribulations over the centuries. It evokes times when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in medieval Spain and offers testimony to the expulsion of Jews and Muslims lived together in medieval Spain and offers testimony to the expulsion of Jews from Spain.

Explore more
Related theme
UNESCO Memory of the World
UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction.
View theme
Google apps