What is the oldest book in a Fairfield library?
After more than 800 years, the pages are surprisingly soft; the green, red, gold, and blue illuminations exquisitely vivid. Indeed Saint Gregory’s Letters of the Twelfth Century is a literary and historical gem. It’s also the Pequot Library’s oldest book.
“It’s all hand done. What’s unique about this is someone spent a few years on it. That’s what makes it so precious,” explains Heather-Marie Montilla, the library’s executive director.
Saint Gregory’s Letters, written in Latin and French, was produced in a Cistercian monastery at Pontigny, France, around 1190. It’s done in a hand known as Carolingian Miniscule, which is a predecessor for typefaces today.
Living between 540 and 604 Pope Gregory I was pontiff from 590 until his death. Some 854 letters have survived; the Vatican library holds most of the copies. Rule lines are still visible as are the nearly microscopic “marginalia,” or annotations. The intricate illustrations feature interlocking circles and tiny animals.
“Illuminations were important in 1190. It’s the start of the Gothic period, the start of imagery in the church. Most people didn’t read and this was a way to help them visualize the stories and sermons,” says Marianne Pysarchyk, Pequot’s technical services and teen librarian.
How the book came to Pequot remains a mystery. The only clue is a bookplate, inscribed “Edward Deacon, Esq. Connecticut.”