Volume 40, 2019

Anne L. Clark
Pages 27-58

When Pictures Tell the Story
Imagination and Cognition in an Illustrated Prayer Book

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München Clm 935 (the so-called Prayer Book of Hildegard of Bingen, produced in the 1170s in the Rhineland) offered an innovative program for women’s prayer. Coupling full-page paintings of sequential biblical scenes with prayers linking the biblical episode to the personal life of the reader, the manuscript offered its user not only an abridged visual Bible, but a new type of support for a complex devotional practice. With complementary but by no means homogeneous possibilities of meaning suggested by the words and images, the reader/viewer was enabled to craft a way of prayer not explicitly guided by rubrics or directions. Focusing on scenes from the Creation series and the Passion narrative, this essay uses some recent insights of neuroscience and cognitive theory to provide a reading of the kind of mental experience likely to be engaged by the reader/viewer of this prayer book.