A silk bookmark: reading and remembering

Reading is an act of memory. This is not how we think of it, but it was how early readers of scripture thought of it, and perhaps we need reminding. This exquisitely worked Caroline silk bookmark offers a material embodiment of a key principle of devotional reading: the ability to mark several places at once. The bookmark itself asks to be read: zoom in close to see the Latin text stitched into each strand. These are each lines from the medieval prayer ‘Anima Christi,’ which was associated in the seventeenth century with the Society of Jesus. It was used with an embroidered Protestant bible, suggesting an unexpected intimacy between Catholic and Protestant texts—one of either protective concealment of Catholic affiliation behind a Protestant veneer, or of the adaptation of Catholic devotional models to Protestant faith. It reminds us that to both sides of this deep divide belonged, ultimately, a single reading practice: one that depended on acts of attention and memory memorialized in the tools of their practice. BW

The Holy Bible: containing the Olde Testament and the New. Newly translated out of the originall tongues: and with the former translations diligently compared and revised: by His Maiesties speciall commandement (London: Robert Barker and the Assigns of John Bill,1632).

CUL: BSS.201.C32.15

By kind permission of Bible Society

A pencil note on the fly-leaf of this book suggests it may have belonged to Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King George III.

Further reading

Peter Stallybrass, ‘Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible,’ in Jennifer Anderson and Elizabeth Sauer, eds., Books and Readers in Early Modern England (Philadelphia, 2007), pp. 42-79.

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