Created around 1200—and once owned by Henry VIII—The Aberdeen Bestiary is one of many of its genre, which was especially popular during the Middle Ages. Given how closely man worked in conjunction with animals, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that such a text would exist. Bestiaries, which originated in the Ancient World, are manuscripts that contain flora and fauna, typically giving a moral tale next to each entry.
Often used as a teaching tool, bestiaries reflected the Christian belief that everything in the world is touched by God and has its own special meaning. So what makes The Aberdeen Bestiary so particular? For one, its lavish illuminations in gold are extraordinary, as most bestiaries were not illuminated. It begins with the creation story from the book of Genesis and then moves into descriptions of animals such as a lion, panther, and elephant. Not the typical animals an average medieval citizen living in Europe would encounter, but describing local species was not the aim of this manuscript, which was used for moral teaching.