Art And Culture

Ghostly Faces, Invisible Verses Found in Medieval Text

Ghostly Faces, Invisible Verses Found in Medieval TextGhostly Faces, Invisible Verses Found in Medieval Text

Ghostly faces and lines of verse previously invisible to the naked eye have been uncovered in the oldest surviving medieval manuscript written entirely in Welsh.

‘The Black Book of Carmarthen’, dating to 1250, contains texts from the 9th through 12th centuries, including some of the earliest references to Arthur and Merlin, Live Science website reported.

“It’s easy to think we know all we can know about a manuscript like the ‘Black Book,’ but to see these ghosts from the past brought back to life in front of our eyes has been incredibly exciting,” Myriah Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. “The drawings and verse that we’re in the process of recovering demonstrate the value of giving these books another look.”

Only recently did Myriah Williams and Paul Russell, a professor at Cambridge’s department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC), examine the pages of the book.

“The margins of manuscripts often contain medieval and early modern reactions to the text, and these can cast light on what our ancestors thought about what they were reading,” Williams explained. “The book was particularly heavily annotated before the end of the 16th century.”

Williams and Russell said they think a man named Jaspar Gryffyth, a 16th-century owner of the book who copied his name in Hebrew onto the book, likely erased such “reactions.” These verses and doodles would’ve been added to the manuscript over centuries as it was passed from one owner to another. “He fits the time frame for the erasures, which we know would have been in the late 16th century, but we can only speculate that he might have been the one to take it upon himself to ‘cleanse’ the manuscript,” Williams said.

Using UV light and photo-editing software, Williams and Russell revealed glimpses of some of the erased doodles. For instance, page fol. 39v of the newly visible work includes ghostly faces and a line of text accompanying them, which date to the 14th or 15th century, Williams said. On the following page, fol. 40v, a full verse, possibly dating to the 13th century, came to light.

“There is one more drawing so far that we are still working on,” Williams said.

“What we have discovered may only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be discovered as imaging techniques are enhanced,” Russell said in the statement. “The manuscript is extremely valuable and incredibly important - yet there may still be so much we don’t know about it.”