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Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent

If only we could start over again …

monkscriptorium

One of the iconic images of medieval times is that of a monk sitting in a scriptorium, copying old manuscripts, because the printing press hadn’t yet been invented. Monks were required to devote at least several hours of every day to prayer and the study of scripture, so each monastery had to have its own collection of books, and the only way to gain them was to copy them.

A head librarian was in charge of holdings, both religious and secular, and he doled out the tools and supplies for the monks engaged in copying. While animal skins were plentiful, quality varied, and the worst might require a novice to scrape off fur with a sharp blade to create a smooth writing surface.

One of the more-valued sources was good vellum from calves, some of the finest of which came from older manuscripts. This parchment could be reused after the original writing had been removed. These were called palimpsests (from the Greek, “scraped again”). This recycling explains why monasteries kept manuscripts of ancient secular Latin texts that we treasure today—works such as those by Cicero, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, and Seneca, just waiting to be reused.

During this Lenten season as we review our lives and faith in preparation for Easter, some of us would love to be able to scrape off parts of our past, start anew with a clean sheet, and be reused. And as Christians, that is exactly the promise we’ve been given.

Powell Hutton

Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 30:1-6, 11-13, John 4:43-54

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