In language strikingly reminiscent of Jim Watts, Christopher de Hamel, medieval librarian at Cambridge University, discusses the ways books are, and are not, like relics.
Medieval illuminated manuscripts are the holy relics of our own time. They are often preserved, like sacred treasure of the middle ages, in special boxes in institutional strong-rooms and brought out only on special occasions for the edification of the public, displayed in the half-dark under layers of security glass. Unlike most works of art only small portions of any manuscript can be seen at once. What remains unseen merely adds to the mystery and the longing to turn the pages. As with most medieval relics, which are generally tiny fragments of something once much larger, engagement with illuminated manuscripts on public show usually requires great leaps of both imagination and faith.