24 June 2013

Nuns vs. Monks in medieval "baseball"

"Rivalry in sports is not just something of our time. Nor is baseball. Both date back to at least the fourteenth century, when this image was made. What is less likely encountered in a baseball game today are the teams: monks vs nuns. The scene is from the margin of a medieval page, the location used to make fun of people. The manuscript contains a romance, popular among the medieval nobility. Somewhere, someone in a castle had a good laugh about these religious men and women playing ball. "
Found at Erik Kwakkel's remarkable tumblr about medieval books.

The marginal illustration comes from a 14th century book in Oxford's Bodleian Library (MS Bodley 264).  It has many hundreds of these marginal cartoons, which you can view at this link
(fols. 3r-208r) The Romance of Alexander in French verse, with miniatures illustrating legends of Alexander the Great and with marginal scenes of everyday life, by the Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise and his workshop, 1338-44; with two sections added in England c. 1400, (fols. 209r-215v, with fol. 1r) Alexander and Dindimus (Alexander Fragment B) in Middle English verse, with coarser miniatures, and (fols. 218r- 71v, with fol. 2v) Marco Polo, Li Livres du Graunt Caam, in French prose, with miniatures by Johannes and his school. 
During a brief perusal, I found these images:

I'm at a loss to explain why the illuminator chose to depict hematochezia in that last vignette.  But the one that interested me most was this one, depicting beggars wielding scabella -

- which I blogged in 2011 (discussion at the link).


  1. That was quite a surprise. I didn't expect medieval monastic life to be that full of excitement.

    Are those marginal illustrations related in any way to the story, or just added for extra visual appeal? Do you still have the page numbers where you found those monks and nuns?

  2. I found the 1st one and the 4th one on 22r and 56r respectively. The pictures seem to be entirely disconnected from the text. The 4th image baffles me as well, but shocking and disturbing marginalia seem to have been quite common, even in religious manuscripts.

    There is an interesting article on marginal illustration at the link:

  3. Not baseball - rounders.

  4. Just see: Jörg Sonntag (ed.), Religiosus Ludesn. Das Spiel als kulturelles Phänomen in mittelalterlichen Klöstern und Orden, Berlin / Boston 2003. You will find everything on games in monasteries there.


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