The discovery of lapis lazuli in the dental calculus of an 11th-century religious woman is without precedent in the European medieval archaeological record and marks the earliest direct evidence for the use of this rare and expensive pigment by a religious woman in Germany.*
She kisses the bristles to a fine tip,
dips her brush in cerulean dust. Brings her skill
to bear on the letter, its lobe soon gravid
with blue. Blue pigment nestles in her teeth.
Some calculus takes centuries to read.
One historian guessed she was there to clean
the room. Or was she there to kiss the book?
Scrub, smooch––aren’t these the things that women do?
Let’s ask her: are you Woman, or Master?
If woman, votary of ink, with which
I net the numinous. If master, the same.
Bowed to the body of the word, she prays
bowl, serif, ligature, head
until she, too, is illuminated.
*Radini, A., M. Tromp, A. Beach, E. Tong, C. Speller, M. McCormick, J. V. Dudgeon, M. J. Collins, F Rühli, R. Kröger. “Medieval women’s early involvement in manuscript production suggested by lapis lazuli identification in dental calculus.” Science Advances 5, no. 1 (9 Jan 2019): 6, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aau7126