Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Six months a wife and an illuminated manuscript

Half a year of married life! It’s hard to believe…

Every month on the 29th, I have been writing a post about my wedding, but I’m having so much fun writing about the back-story, which goes as far back as the 1860s, that I haven’t actually arrived at the wedding itself! I’m still stuck in the 1800s! Last month I wrote about my inspiring great-grandmother Faith who moved to Florence in the 1890s to teach German. One more word about her before I get to my own story.

A few years ago, around the same time I serendipitously discovered the wedding ring of my great-great-grandmother Susan (Faith’s mother), my father proudly showed me another family heirloom. He brought out a big leather-bound seemingly ancient book and carefully lifted the cover. It was a collection of German fairy stories and folktales. But this was no ordinary book, it was an illuminated manuscript, hand painted in gold, blue and red, with pages that unfolded to reveal intricate and spectacular illustrations. I wish I had a photo of it, but it is all the way on the other side of the ocean. The photos I have included are not my own, but the manuscripts in them are similar to Faith's.

My German is very poor, so I could not understand much of the book, much less read any of the stories, but I marveled at it nonetheless. I also have no expertise in dating books, so for the time being I have no idea how old the book is, or whether it is an original or a copy. But you want to know the best part about this book? It was a wedding present. For Faith, from what I imagine was one of her closest friends.

I seem to have a knack for finding inscriptions and dedications, because I discovered a tiny envelope tucked between two of the richly decorated pages of the massive tome that seemed to have been ignored for over a century. Inside, on a small card was written the following note:

“Dear Faith,                                                                           April 23rd, 1895
I wish you all the greatest possible happiness in your upcoming marriage, but not so much that you lose your love of the German language.
Much love…”

Just as the inscription in Susan’s ring is worth so much more than the gold it is carved into, so this note is more precious to me than the book itself. It makes me proud to think that even over one hundred years ago, my great-grandmother and her girlfriends got that being a good wife does not mean abandoning one’s passions. Anzi! (On the contrary!)

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3
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