Mark Their Words: Medieval Bookmarks


By Jenneka Janzen

When talking about manuscripts with the uninitiated, I usually mention how features that guide us through our modern books – running titles, subheadings, and indices, for example – originated in the Middle Ages. Yet, I tend to overlook bookmarks (despite my childhood collection of them) as a sort of ‘separate apparatus’. Bookmarks, however, also have an interesting medieval past!

Unlike today’s kitten-adorned cardboard versions, or the crocheted worm variety (my personal favourite), medieval bookmarks tended to be less decorative, but über practical. There are essentially three types of bookmark, most of them extant from the twelfth century onwards* and usually found in liturgical books (as the Mass celebrant had to locate various readings in several different books depending on the day).

1) Fore-edge Bookmarks

This type is arguably the ancestor of today’s binder or index tab. A tab made out of a bit of parchment (sometimes cut…

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