I'm trying to remember the name of a sci-fi/fantasy novel published before 1970 which is set in an abbey, where monks are engrossed in illuminated writing. Time seems to be either dark-ages or post-holocaust. There is a comment at one point about someone writing a book about what happens in the time it takes to open a window.

It's not A Canticle for Liebowitz which I just finished reading. Does anyone recognize this book?

  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson is set in a future/alternate reality where scientists live monastic lives away from the laity. Is that the one? – Tahnoon Pasha May 21 '13 at 14:38
  • thanks for this but Anathem was published in 2008 whereas the book I'm referring to was published before 1970 – Mike Loughlin May 21 '13 at 14:52
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    This is only a guess since it doesn't meet the 1970 time reference, though there is a lot of conjecture about windows. Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, 1980, in Italian, translated 1983. – wbogacz May 21 '13 at 16:01
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    Illuminated writing? You can illuminate (==decorate with gold) a manuscript, and you can do chrysography – gold writing – (possibly in an illuminated manuscript), but I don't think I've ever heard of "illuminated writing". – Martha May 21 '13 at 19:29
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    I vaguely remember a scene with similar elements from Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series. – AShelly Oct 4 '13 at 19:34

Could it be Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy?

I think that came out late 70's early 80s.

An unusual and original work of fantasy from the acclaimed author of Tea with the Black Dragon. A contemporary man, John Thornburn (a meek, non-violent and unpredictable artist) and woman, Derval (his tough, confrontational, strong and warrior-like lover) time travel to ancient Ireland to avenge a Viking attack. Packed with fascinating details of historical time and place in Irish history and delicately balanced on the border between realism and fantasy, the story centers around one of the most famous and beautiful illuminated manuscripts in history, the legendary but entirely real Book of Kells. Celtic history blends with magical fantasy for a strange and immersive tale of adventure.


The Sea of Trolls series by Nancy Farmer is I believe what you are looking for. It is a wonderful series.

Nancy Farmer cover

  • This was published far to recently to be the book they're looking for. Are you sure this is it? Can you provide more evidence that may suggest similarity? – Edlothiad Nov 16 '17 at 7:58

Actually, the most popular book is "The Name of the Rose", the novel by Italian author Umberto Eco. Plot summary per Wikipedia:

Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk travel to a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to attend a theological disputation. As they arrive, the monastery is disturbed by a suicide. As the story unfolds, several other monks die under mysterious circumstances. William is tasked by the abbot of the monastery to investigate the deaths, and fresh clues with each murder victim lead William to dead ends and new clues. The protagonists explore a labyrinthine medieval library, discuss the subversive power of laughter, and come face to face with the Inquisition, a reaction to the Waldensians, a movement which was started in the 12th century and advocated an adherence to the Gospel as taught by Jesus and his disciples. William's innate curiosity and highly developed powers of logic and deduction provide the keys to unraveling the mysteries of the abbey.

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    While we appreciate your answer, how does this match other than that it involves monks? – FuzzyBoots Mar 18 '15 at 11:59
  • This is a book involving monks, with otherwise no relation to the question – Abulafia Mar 18 '15 at 12:47

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