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Doodles and Decorations

By Emma Laws, Cathedral Librarian

Work experience is a great way to get a feel for working in historic libraries and archives, whether for a young person trying on different careers to see what fits or for a seasoned professional looking for a career change.

The Heritage and Engagement Team offers annual work placements for year 10 and year 12 students during the first two weeks of July which provide just a taste of what’s involved in working with heritage. The students learn about cataloguing, conservation, marketing and public engagement, and they get to do some research and curate a small display.

If you are planning a visit to the Exeter Cathedral Library & Archives next week do take a look at the current display in the foyer which has been curated by students from Exeter College with an interest in how we embellished texts in the past. The students have juxtaposed precisely executed decorations with some rather more spontaneous (and illicit) doodles in a selection of books from the 14th to the 16th centuries. You can find out how they got on below:

Illuminated Bishops
By Alice

This 14th century manuscript is a collection of statutes (rules for the Cathedral) and lists of bishops, accounts, vestments and other records, beginning with a calendar of obits.

The capital H is a beautiful example of both an illuminated (i.e. painted with gold) and a historiated (i.e. has a scene with figures) initial. You can see a bishop (possibly Thomas de Brantingham, bishop from 1370 – 1394) with a mitre and crozier blessing a kneeling canon.

The Zodiac of Life
By Jamie

The Zodiacus Vitae – or ‘The Zodiac of Life’ – is a 16th century poem by Marcello Stellato that was often used as a textbook during Elizabethan times.

This particular copy has clearly had many different owners who have left their mark with marginalia in many different ways. Among a whole menagerie of names, notes, signatures and beasts, this strange heart-shaped creature appears in the margins of the index.

Scribe Doodles
By Elizabeth

This 15th century copy of a calendar guide of the Church of Exeter (Ordinale Ecclesiae Exoniensis) was commissioned by Exeter’s bishop John de Grandisson in 1337.

Both planned and unplanned decorations are on this page, with red and blue details lining the left border. Above the text on the left the scribe has doodled three faces. There are two faces that are clear to see, but the third sits in the loop above the largest, long-nosed face.