I was fascinated by this article on the BBC website recently. Apparently, scientists have been measuring the dirt on the pages of medieval manuscripts, and can therefore deduce which pages were read most! Furthermore, as the majority of these ancient tomes were religious works, they can see which prayers were perhaps more important for the readers.
Some intriguing extracts from the article…
One of the dirtiest pages in a selection of European religious books was a prayer to St Sebastian, who was often prayed to because his arrow-wounds - the cause of his martyrdom - looked like the bubonic plague. This indicated that the reader of the book was terrified of the plague and repeated the prayer to ward off the disease.
Pages which contained the prayers for the salvation of others were less dirty than those asking for salvation for oneself.
As well as demonstrating medieval people prayed for their own assistance, the analysis showed the pages of a prayer to be said in the small hours of the morning were only dirty for the first few pages. It has been suggested this shows most readers fell asleep at the same point.
Researchers have found [medieval people] to have many characteristics still found in modern readers. They … feared illness, were selfish and often fell asleep while reading late at night.
I looked at my NIV Study Bible, and there is definitely a grubby section along the page edges where I flick through to find something- but no specifically soiled verses.
I do not use a Prayer Book, so couldn’t check that out. But I admit that if I cannot sleep, I often lie awake praying, and then doze off. Years ago, I’d feel guilty about that, but now I have decided God understands me completely, and generously grants me the rest I need even as I am telling Him about it!
I do remember in my student days, I had an RSV Bible, and Isaiah chapter 43 was stained with Marmite, and toast crumbs – because when I was feeling that life was tough, I’d frequently resort to tea, toast, and those comforting words!
I am not sure about the conclusion of the researchers that people were selfish because ‘the prayers for the salvation of others were less dirty than those asking for salvation for oneself’. Maybe those ones for others had been said so often that they had been learned by heart?
Do you have any ‘dirty books’? [no rude answers, please!!]
And what will researchers of a future generation conclude when they look back at the iPads and Kindles of today?