Dragon Prayer Book


(monastic chanting) – I discovered the Dragon Prayer Book completely by chance. I was a new hire at Northeastern. I came down to the archives
and asked the archivist if she could show me everything
that was made before 1600. Finally, she came out
cradling in her hands, this tiny book, and she was
shaking her head and she said, “I don’t know what this is, “I don’t know where it came from.” It had this aura around it. (monastic chanting) – So when you open the prayer book, the first thing that greets you is this massive letter R with a dragon. And that’s why it’s called
the Dragon Prayer Book. We don’t know why it’s a dragon on the first page of prayers. That’s one of the biggest mysteries. We started with transcription. So it’s difficult to decipher
certain letters in the book because the scribes were
trying to save space by pushing some letters together. If there’s a D next to
an E, using the backbone of the D to construct the E. Parchment was really
expensive, ink was too. – Reading the Latin in
the Dragon Prayer Book is difficult because all the
letters look pretty similar. They’re all in a gothic bookend in which the basic letter is the letter I and every letter seems to
be made out of a letter I. Everything about the
prayer book is abbreviated not only the words, but
the prayers themselves and the music are only partial. (monastic chanting) – It took us two months to
figure out one word in the book. Once we had those first couple of words, we started to realize
what the letter forms actually were that that A was actually C. – We had deciphered a couple of words. we typed it into Google. – [Laura] We found out that
it was the standard prayer. – Then we both had this
moment of epiphany, like we’d cracked the code if you will. – My role in the project
has primarily been chemical and biological analyses. Seeing what is physically
left on the book, and finding ways for us to analyze that to find where and when
it could have come from. – In this particular case,
we were looking to identify the source of the pages in the book. So each skin has got a
different protein makeup. By analyzing the protein we can tell whether it’s from a cow
or from a sheep, etc. – So we have a particular
piece of equipment called X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. We were able to look at the
two different colored pigments, the blue and the red, and also the inks. – We later found out the
pages are made of cow skin, and they’re covered in
this beautiful Latin and German writing mostly
written in black or brown ink, which was made of oak gall.
It’s kind of a parasite that forms on a tree it also has red ink, which is made of vermilion, it’s toxic because it contains mercury. – It’s got colored tabs,
which are animal skin to mark the pages of the
most important prayers. The dragon prayer book has end pages which were added in
that contain a watermark with the keys of the city of Regensburg, which places it in southern Germany. – One of the biggest discoveries I made on this project was dating this book. There’s a small note in the
margins someone had wrote in, in Latin of Sienna next to
one of the St. Katherine’s. I went through that litany of saints and I was looking at
when they were canonized, and that’s when I realized
that St. Katherine was canonized most recently in 1461. We know then, that it’s
most likely that the book was created after 1461 and
that’s how we dated the book. – [Erika] We know that it was
created for a nun or nuns, most likely the nuns living
at St. Katherine’s convent near Nuremberg. – When we started there
were essentially no records and that’s been a really
large part of this project. Has been creating as much of a record about it as we can from
many different angles from many different disciplines. – [Erika] So many mysteries left. First, we are still
very much in the process of transcribing the prayers. – We still don’t know how
the book got to Northeastern. It was at Northeastern in the 1970s but how long did they have it before then? Who gave it to them? How did they get it? – There’s just no replacement
for a book like this. It’s unique in the world, and that’s something
that we need to treasure. (monastic chanting)


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