Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tradition and culture

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see sections of the Einsiedeln Abbey Library, which as librarian Fr. Odo remarks in an English brochure, is a treasure trove of “tradition and culture.” Housed here are many thousands of invaluable books, manuscripts, missals, codices, and prints covering many centuries. Included are works dealing with Einsiedeln history and culture, Benedictine monasticism, theology, liturgy, biblical studies, and spiritual and devotional literature.

Although I was not able to see it, one of the library’s most prized possessions is a transcription of the Rule of St. Benedict brought here by St. Meinrad over 1,000 years ago.

Reading and writing have always been important aspects of Benedictine tradition and culture. In his Rule, St. Benedict specifies that monks devote daily periods to spiritual reading. For many centuries, students were educated by monks, and before the invention of the printing press, monks were largely responsible for preserving and passing on the written word in Western culture. For centuries, Bibles and missals, among other works of literature, were transcribed by hand (and quite artistically) by monks. According to Fr. Odo, of the 117 choral manuscripts dating from the 9th to 12th centuries that are in the library, 64 of them were transcribed at Einsiedeln. Just thinking about it gives me writers’ cramp—no laptops, spell-check programs, or even electrical light to work by.

Pictured is a block book on the Life of St. Meinrad from the 15th century. The artwork depicts the holy martyr’s death. Notice the ravens, which are part of the insignia for Einsiedeln—and Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

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