Northeastern University has a medieval manuscript on a back shelf at the Snell Library. The book had been neglected for years and was discovered by a new English Professor, Erika Boeckeler when she asked the archivist for ancient books in the university’s library. It is referred to as The Dragon Prayer Book by Boeckeler’s students. However, nobody is aware as to when it was obtained or how much was paid for it. All that exists in the files is a black-and-white photograph that shows someone reading the book in 1976.
It is a medieval manuscript which is a very small squat, boxy book but as thick as an encyclopedia volume. The brown leathery binding was in a state of decomposition when Boeckler found it. There were signs of a clasp that had fallen off long ago. Tiny bookmark nubs of animal skin, still retaining traces of their original color, were glued to some of the crucial passages. It is a book with 604 colorful pages, scripted by hand in Medieval Latin and made of vellum. Boeckler and her students set out to resolve the mysteries of this ancient book and have confirmed that it is the university’s oldest book. This is because of a discovery by Laura Packard, who has led the research efforts. She found a reference in the book to Saint Catherine of Siena, who had been sainted in 1461, leading to the conclusion that the book had been used by nuns of the Dominican Order after 1461.
Initially, the problem was to decipher the text as it was penned in beautiful calligraphy with a variety of inks. The words were initially unfathomable to Boeckeler and Packard and they had to spend two months trying to crack the code. A lot of students have asked Packard whether the book may be haunted. Dirt smudges in the corners mark the most used pages. The book is missing two pages that were thought to contain liturgical calendars. There are many questions to be studied and answered. But one obvious question is: Why does the opening page feature a dragon? It is the book’s lone illustration.
“I don’t have a theory. We have no idea”, says Packard.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman