The Wren Library houses around 1,250 medieval manuscripts. These range from our earliest, an 8th century copy of The Letters of St. Paul, to the spectacularly illuminated 13th century Trinity Apocalypse. The Western manuscripts were all catalogued by M.R.James between 1900 and 1905; the catalogue is now accessible online. In addition to these, the library has also a considerable number of Eastern manuscripts.
Manuscripts (also called codices), with their turning parchment pages protected by a leather or wooden cover (binding), gave birth to the concept of the book as we know it today. The copying of manuscripts allowed the diffusion of classical authors’ works, and of the knowledge of the ancient world, through the Middle Ages.
The academic disciplines revolving around manuscripts are numerous. Researchers today study manuscripts in order to gain insights on ancient languages (philology), book production (codicology), cultural transmission, medieval society and many other subjects. Illustrations and drawings, known as illuminations, are especially crucial when studying anthropological and sociological aspects of life in the Middle Ages by offering information on buildings, clothing, food, tools, traditions, religion and symbolism.