Echoes from the Cloister, 1969
|I introduced my 1969
television lecture on manuscript illumination with an
algorithmic animation showing a cube rotating on its axis and
spiraling to infinity and back. The sequence, joined to
electronic music, served as a brief graphic introduction lasting
about 30 seconds.
"Echoes. . ." sequence (2.7 meg)
Notes on the rationale
for this film sequence:
Shortly after arriving in Minnesota to
teach at MCAD I was invited to present one of a series of public
television presentations featuring the work of the monks at St. John's Abbey. My
1969 lecture addressed the manuscript illuminations in the then recently established
microfilm collection of medieval manuscripts located in the Hill
at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. This
lecture was one of about 8 weekly Public Television presentations
on the cultural contributions of the Benedictine monks in Collegeville
the Evangelist pages from the Codex Millenarius, c.800.
show John the Evangelist both as Scriptor and as symbolized by
For this lecture I had access to
the microfilm library. The collection includes a wealth of
manuscripts microfilmed in German and Austrian monastic libraries.
The most outstanding early illuminations held in 1969 were those of the Kremsmünster
Codex Millenarius (dated c.800). (See Notes 1 &
To introduce the
medieval illuminations I included the brief algorithmic
animation shown above. The electronic sequence provided a
provocative lead into the subject matter. "If the monks were living
today", I noted, "they would be exploring this new media for
illuminating their most treasured texts".
Since then I developed my own
electronic scriptorium, a studio with several pen plotters, my "scribes",
for executing my coded instructions. The ideas used to introduce
that lecture in 1969 took shape, over a decade later, in the form of
Lake Apocalypse series (1990 ff) and the Pearl Park Scriptures
The Codex Millenarius
contains all four Gospels in Latin translation and has been used in
liturgy up to this day. Its priceless value is based on in its age, its
elegant Carolingian script and its illuminations. This Codex
includes eight full-page miniatures depicting the four Evangelists and
their symbols, the four relevant sumptuous initials introducing the Gospel
texts, and a few remainders of the canon tables.
microfilm project in Austria and Germany was
guided by Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, a bibliographer committed to
documenting the work of Benedictine
monks. I had the good fortune of getting to know him during a period when
he worked on a bibliography of work by Benedictines in the
United States. At that time he was resident at the monastery at St.
Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa. ( ca. 1954-59) while he labored on the
bibliographies of the monks in America.
I recall evening walks when we shared mutual interests
on history. Later, as an encyclopedist, I recall how much I admired, used,
and respected his work. When offered to present the lecture on his microfilm collection I was honored and deeply touched by the privilege.
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