By Julie Somers
While browsing images of medieval treasure bindings, I noticed that one example I was looking at was not actually a book at all. In fact, it was an ornamented wooden case made to closely resemble a book. Produced in Germany, it was created to hold various sacred objects, including leaves from actual books, in this case the Gospels, along with other corporeal relics.
This type of reliquary is often known as a cumdach, or book shrine. An elaborate ornamented box or case used to hold relics or, more often, manuscript fragments that were considered sacred in some manner. Usually quite small, they served as a portable vessel meant for the preservation of a sacred text that represented a direct connection or association to a saint
It is evident from these examples that these cases were meant to directly resemble a book, symbolizing the important manuscripts found inside. Even today, we place important mementos or documents such as love letters or birth announcements within the pages of a family Bible or book of poetry, or even personal items within a faux dictionary safe placed on a bookshelf. This tradition of encasing our precious items has endured.