Medieval manuscripts blog

13 May 2014

Comic Mania

We received some lovely feedback about our recent post, Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore ... so here are three more medieval comic strips. Some people suggested, incidentally, that the famous Bayeux Tapestry qualifies as one of the earliest "comic strips", but here are some British Library examples from the 12th century.

Silos Apocalypse - Daniel the Superhero

A vision of the life of Daniel is illustrated in graphic detail in this Spanish version of Revelations made in the monastery of Silos in Northern Spain. King Darius orders Daniel to be thrown into the lions' den. Daniel appears in the den, on the right, where he is given food and the lions lick his feet. In the lower half of the image, Darius lies awake, worrying about the punishment he has inflicted on Daniel.


Scenes from the Life of Daniel, Spain, 4th quarter of the 10th century: London, British Library, Ms Additional 11695, ff. 238v-239r

The Guthlac Roll -  the life of a ‘cult’ hero

Saints’ lives were usually action-packed and gory, lending themselves easily to the comic-strip format. The Guthlac roll tells the story of the life of St Guthlac using a series of images in roundels with labels (see our recent blogpost On A Roll).

St Guthlac receiving the tonsure at Repton Abbey, with the inscription 'Guthl[acus] tonsura[m] suscipit apud rependune', and inscriptions 'Epi[s]c[opus]', 'Guthlac[us]', and 'Ebba abbatissa' labelling the figures, England (possibly Crowland), c. 1175-1225: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 3 


Drawing of Guthlac exorcising a demon from Ecgga: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 10


Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert - miraculous events 

St Cuthbert’s life is told in 46 pictures in this beautiful picture book from the 12th century:


Miniature of Cuthbert accepting the bishopric at a synod of fellow monks; miniature of a man ministering to his ailing servant with holy water blessed by Cuthbert, from Chapter 24 & 25 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, Durham, 4th quarter of the 12th century: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, ff. 53v-54r

Here is an action-packed image of a man falling from a tree (degree of difficulty 1.7):

Cuthbert's vision of the soul of a man, who was killed by falling from a tree, being carried to heaven, from Chapter 34 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, f. 63v

Don't forget that our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is on at the British Library until 19 August 2014.

Chantry Westwell


Daniel amazing! Great lead to some staggering images.

Re Daniel page and 'text' - just on the image of him in Den. What does it ACTUALLY say? Or is that what you wrote?

I'm not a historian, but I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post. It's little examples of creativity (and a little humor) like this that show people 1000 years ago weren't all that different from us. Thanks for taking the time to put these images out there for folks like me to stumble upon.

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