The Art of Reading in the Middle Ages (ARMA)

(ARMA) Ever wondered about reading culture during the Middle Ages?


Carving (crucifixion scene)/Ivory/17th century AD/The Hunt Collection/PD

Ever wondered who read books in the Middle Ages? And what types of books did people read? Do we know if different books were read in different settings or by different groups of people such as monks, the aristocracy or the public? And what influence did the development of reading culture have on Europe?

Since October 2020 The Hunt Museum has been collaborating with libraries from across Europe on a project that will try to  answer these questions. Collaborating institutions involved in The Art of Reading in the Middle Ages project (ARMA) will digitise medieval manuscripts and medieval objects and sharing these with rich descriptions on Europeana, a European repository for European digital cultural heritage. Digital manuscripts and objects will be shared with IIIF manifests a novel tool for sharing images that will enrich learning and research opportunities. Over 50 will be digitised in 3D further enhancing the possibilities of our objects.

The project will use its rich medieval collection to give context to the theme of medieval reading culture. Using museum objects such as inkwells, mortars and seals, we can illustrate how manuscripts were made. Many objects are inscribed with a medieval script or indicate reading in different settings such as monasteries, courts or universities, others are rich in symbolism which aided understanding for those with low levels of literacy.

As well as publishing a collection of objects on Europeana, the Hunt Museum will create editorials such as blogs and galleries. The museum will also create and share learning resources for primary and secondary students learning about calligraphy, inks, dyes & gold, the making of medieval manuscripts and reading through the ages and so through videos, games and interactive PDFs.

A Calligraphy learning resource for primary schools pupils created under the ARMA projects available here

More information on the project and the project partners are available on the project

Zoom- In! Find out more about a manuscript fragment in our collection

Part of the ARMA project is to use IIIF technology in educational resources, it allows high-quality images to be shared with an agreed format so they can be easily used in such tools as Exhibit. Using this tool you can deep zoom into the details on this captivating fragment and learn more about its origins and significance through text annotations.

Brother Joel, a Benedictine Monk sings the Gospel Reading for Passion Sunday at Glenstal Abbey.

Luxury vs. functionality

During the Middle Ages, books were read in different settings such as monasteries or royal courts. Book decorations, miniatures and illuminations adorned precious manuscripts, some religious manuscripts had panels on the binding like this cover from our collection.

A selection of medieval objects from the Hunt Museum digitised as part of the ARMA project

Stained-glass (1 of 4 panels)/Glass (stained/painted)/13th or 14th century AD/The Hunt Collection/PD

Container (possibly inkwell)/Stone/5th to 15th Century, Europe/The Hunt Collection/PD

Limoges bronze enamelled plaque/Metal,Copper Alloy,Bronze, Glass,Enamel/13th century AD/The Hunt Collection/PD

Mount (for bag or purse)/Metal,Copper Alloy/14th century AD/The Hunt Collection/PD

Staff-head (possibly)/Pipe-clay/15th century AD/The Hunt Collection/PD


Page (manuscript)/Vellum/12th century AD/The Hunt Collection/PD

Project Partners

‘The Art of Reading in the Middle Ages’ is a collaborative project with European partners:

  • National and University Library of Slovenia
  • Leiden University Libraries
  • Brugge Public Library
  • Stichting Europeana
  • Bibliotheque nationale de France
  • Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
  • National Library of the Czech Republic

The project is co-financed by the EU (CEF programme).

Funded with thanks by:

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