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T h e  V i r t u a l  A b b e y : A  M e d i e v a l  T o u r
Abbey Entrance | Herb Garden | Scriptorium | Wine Cellar


Anthropomorphic Initial Hard Point Pen
Antiphonal Herbal Pigment
Bestiary Historiated Initial Pounce
Boards Hymnal Pricking
Books of Hours Illuminator Psalter
Breviary Initial Purple Pages
Carolingian Ink Rubricator
Colophon Insular Ruling
Diaper Knife Saints' Lives
Divine Office Lead Point Scribe
Drollery Marginalia Script
Evangelistic Portraits Miniature Scriptorium
Exemplar Mise-en-Page Underdrawing
Foliate Initial Oak Gall Vellum
Gesso Outline Drawing Vernacular
Gilding Palimpset Zoomorphic
Gloss Parchment  

Mise-en-page - the basic arrangement of text on a page. The early monastic layout was a typical block style with large lettering, clearly spaced, in two columns of 13 - 25 lines each. Evolutions in style later promoted smaller letter forms and more complex layouts incorporating decorated Initials, Gloss, or Miniatures.

oak gallOak Gall - an ingredient of medieval Ink, which when pulverized, resulted in the extraction of tannin that deepened the color and density. The galls were produced by young oak trees in which a gall moth laid its eggs. The tree protected itself from the invader by producing a gall, or hard ball, from which the adult moth later emerged. Because of their higher tannin content, galls most sought after were those harvested before the moth matured.

Outline Drawing - a simple illumination found in early Carolingian and Insular manuscripts in which paintings are outlined in ink and embellished with color tints or overlays of color wash.

Palimpsest - manuscript pages evidently scraped of ink and reused for another purpose, a common practice when new Parchment was difficult to obtain - from the Greek palimpsestos or "scraped again."

Parchment - the material that replaced papyrus in the 4th century as the most popular for manuscript production. In general practice, the term is often used interchangeably with vellum to describe the animal skins from which parchment is made. Technically, however, parchment is derived from goat or sheep skin, and vellum from that of a calf. The greasy, fat-laden skins of goats and sheep were difficult to clean and prepare, and so calf skin became the universally preferred writing surface.

Parchment was available commercially, but expensive. It was available only when enough funds were supplied - by either a wealthy sponsor or church official - to pay a commercial parchmenter. For example, strict house rules of the 12th century Carthusian order forbade the eating of meat, therefore monks had no butcher onsite, and no parchment. The more agrarian and organized Benedictines, by contrast, often had their own livestock, onsite butchering facilities, and an ample supply of parchment. From this perspective it comes as little surprise that the output from Benedictine scriptoriums were the envy of Western Europe.

Making Vellumparchmenter and scribe

Skins were soaked in running water for several days; then immersed in a lime and water solution for as long again, with an occasional 'stir of the pot' to remove hair and dirt. Next they were rinsed, stretched taut over a frame, and dried in the sun and scraped with pumice and water over and over again. When dry, the skin was cut from the frame and ready for use.

Why Books Are in the Shape They're In...

It was inevitable that manuscripts were taller than they were wide: animal skins were rectangular. Staying true to the rectangle was the most economical way to fold the skins into pages. When paper was later introduced, bookmakers could have chosen any shape, but opted for the convention, and today the tradition continues because a millennium ago monks used natural vellum.

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