From the Latin for “miniature house.” A niche or opening framed by two columns, an entablature, and usually a pediment.


A servicebook containing the sung portions of the Divine Office. During the Middle Ages they were often large (so that they could be used by a choir) and included decorated and historiated initials, depicting saints and key events of the liturgical year. Hymns are usually contained in a separate volume.


The biblical book known in the Protestant tradition as the Book of Revelation. During the Middle Ages, Apocalypse manuscripts were produced in Latin and Anglo-Norman versions often accompanied by commentaries, and sometimes with picture cycles. They became particularly popular from the tenth century onwards, although some earlier manuscript examples and picture cycles are known.


From the Greek for “hidden things.” Used of texts of disputed canonical status.


Serving to ward off evil.


Greek, literally a “box for storing books.”


A manuscript, generally consisting of several sheets of papyrus pasted together, on which the writing is in many columns written side by side, with lines running parallel to the length of the papyrus.


In Coptic Egypt and in Ireland (where it was called a cumdach), a box designed to protect and exalt a sacred manuscript. It was made of wood covered with decorative metalwork and sometimes precious stones.


A servicebook containing the texts necessary for the celebration of the Divine Office. During the high Middle Ages it might be adorned with decorated and historiated initials and more luxurious copies contain miniatures depicting biblical scenes or the performance of the Office.


A list of sacred or other writings acknowledged as genuine and/or authorized for standard use.

canon table

A system indicating the concordance of passages among the gospels, devised in the fourth century by Eusebius of Caesarea. Gospel passages are numbered, generally in the margins, in accordance with what are termed “Ammonian sections”. (The division of passages is usually ascribed to Ammonius of Alexandria, ca. 220, although he may merely have inspired Eusebius to create his own divisions.) These numbers are also arranged in columnar form to create the tables, which are often set within ornamental surrounds of an architectural character. Canon tables were generally placed at the beginning of a volume and were popular in gospelbooks, whole bibles, and New Testaments, especially during the early Middle Ages.


A song derived from the Bible.

capitula (sing. capitulum)

Latin. Lists of chapters, often found preceding the gospels.


A dynasty of Frankish kings (751–962), whose empire expanded under Charlemagne (emperor from 800) and came to embrace much of northern Europe (excluding Britain and much of Spain and Italy). Charlemagne and his successors promoted the Carolingian cultural renaissance and ecclesiastical reform, which resulted in the scholarly revision of sacred texts, the production of large illuminated bibles, and the development of a new script, caroline minuscule. In 843, the empire was divided into three parts by the Treaty of Verdun and the Ottonian dynasty assumed imperial power in 962.


Of or relating to Charlemagne or the Carolingian dynasty and its culture.

carpet page

An ornamental page, without text, the patterns on which resemble those of an Oriental carpet. It sometimes incorporates a cross in its design. Such pages generally separate the four gospels in a manuscript, or might serve to introduce the book. They are perhaps of Coptic origin.


A material made of layers of gummed linen or waste papyrus soaked in plaster.


A collection of charters or deeds, especially relating to the property of a monastery or other large estate.


A Christian symbol consisting of the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek, chi and rho.


From the Greek, literally “writing in gold.” The technique used powdered gold (or silver), mixed with glair or gum to create an ink; when dry, the ink was usually burnished. Gold leaf was also sometimes used. Such writing on parchment is known from the Early Christian period and from the sixth century was often used on pages stained purple.

codex (pl. codices)

From the Latin caudex, for tree bark. A book consisting of sheets of papyrus or parchment stacked and sewn along one side. Originating in the first century, the codex was popular among Christians for its portability and ease of use and eventually supplanted the bookroll as the favored vehicle for literary texts after the Christianization of the Roman Empire.


The study of the physical structure of books, including the number of leaves used in a gathering, the way in which they are pricked and ruled, and how the book is sewn and bound. This examination can shed considerable light on a book’s method of production, place of origin, and provenance, and can help to reconstruct its original appearance.


A term originally meaning the label on the outside of a bookroll, identifying its contents. In the Middle Ages, however, it denotes an inscription recording information relating to the circumstances of a book’s production, which might include the place of manufacture and the people involved and, less frequently, the date. Colophons are generally located at the end of a book.

colophon decoration

A late Roman practice of drawing attention to titles, colophons, and the like by framing them with patterns formed by dots and commas.


A language written in the Greek alphabet but descended from ancient Egyptian; the ancient Christian Church of Egypt; appertaining to the Christian inhabitants of early medieval Egypt.

cross-carpet page

See carpet page


A rapidly written script, with many letters joined together and sometimes including loops.

display script

Decorative, sometimes colored, script often used to emphasize the opening of a major section of text.

Divine Office

The canonical prayers and psalms recited daily by priests, monks, and nuns at certain prescribed hours (matins, lauds, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers, compline).

Early Christian

The period from apostolic times to around 600, when Pope Gregory the Great established a strong, independent Western Church. It overlapped with Late Antiquity and began the transition into the Middle Ages.


A servicebook containing readings from the epistles (the letters in the New Testament) for the Mass, arranged according to the liturgical year.


From the Greek for “rounded”; in Syriac, literally “to write the Gospels.” A formal script used to write the Syriac language, running from right to left.


A servicebook containing prayers, parts of services, and biblical passages for use in the performance of the liturgy.


See lectionary


portrait A depiction of one of the “authors” of the canonical gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—perhaps identified by his accompanying symbol (a man or angel, lion, ox, and eagle respectively). The symbols could also be depicted alone.


A person who explains or interprets a written work.


From the Latin explicitus, for “unrolled.” A title marking the closing of a major section of text, sometimes written in display script.


From the Latin for “flourished.” The period of time during which a person (whose birth and death dates are not known) was productive.


A member of one of a number of Germanic tribal federations, who began to invade Roman territory in the third century C.E. and established an empire in northern Europe from the fifth century onward. See also Carolingian, Merovingian


The booklets or “quires” of which a book is formed. Initially, single sheets of papyrus were cut square, stacked, folded at the middle, and then stitched together along the fold. A single gathering could comprise as many as fifty sheets. Many early codices consisted of single gatherings with a large number of sheets, but later multiple gatherings with fewer sheets were stacked and sewn together, especially after parchment or vellum replaced papyrus.


A language with a 40-character Greek-based alphabet, the invention of which is ascribed to Saint Cyril (ca. 827–869) and his companion Saint Methodius. It formed the basis of Cyrillic script.


A word or words commenting on, clarifying, or translating those of the main text. Glosses were often written in the margins or between the lines.


From Old English godspell, “good news.” The message of a religious teacher; in particular the story of Christ’s life, teachings and Resurrection as narrated in one of the canonical gospels (attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the first four books of the New Testament.


A book containing the full text of the canonical gospels, often accompanied by introductory matter such as the prefaces of Saint Jerome, Eusebius’s canon tables, and chapter lists (capitula). From the sixth or seventh century on, carpet pages, incipit pages, Chi-rho pages, evangelist portraits or symbols, and other illustrations appeared in gospelbooks. From the late eighth century, gospelbooks were partially replaced in liturgical use by lectionaries.


A script derived from uncial. In Ireland and Britain it developed independently to form the basis of Insular formal book-script.

Hebrew Names

A list, often found prefacing Irish/Celtic gospelbooks, explaining the Hebrew names contained in the biblical text. Saint Jerome regularized these in accordance with the Hebrew originals.

historiated initial

A large letter framing a pictorial subject that illustrates the text.


The opening of a major section of text, sometimes marked by a whole decorative page, embellished with a large initial or monogram and display script.


A book printed before 1501.


Referring to the culture of Britain and Ireland from around 550 to 850, which fused Celtic, Germanic, Antique, Early Christian, and Mediterranean elements to form something new. Developments in book production first occurred in sixth- to seventh-century Ireland, then in England and Scotland, where Irish influence mixed with Germanic and Pictish styles to produce Hiberno-Saxon art. Southern England produced its own distinctive styles of decoration and script, while other areas such as Wales preserved their late Roman legacy. A characteristic feature of Insular books is the integration of decoration, script, and text. Insular art and learning in turn helped stimulate the Carolingian renaissance.


A Jewish sect originating in eighth-century Baghdad. Their belief that the Hebrew Bible was the sole source of religious law led to a concentration on the close study of the text of the Bible.


A servicebook containing readings for the Mass, arranged according to the liturgical year; also known as an evangelary or pericope book. The lectionary became increasingly popular from the Carolingian period on.


The rites, observances, or procedures prescribed for public worship and for the public prayer-life of the Church. At the core of Christian liturgy are the Mass and the Divine Office.


text Canonical text of the Hebrew Bible, as determined at the Council of Jamnia (ca. 100 C.E.). The Masorah, a body of notes on the traditions of the text, was compiled 600–900 C.E. by Jewish scribes called the Masoretes.


The celebration of the Eucharist (the consecration and consumption of bread and wine in commemoration of the Last Supper).


A dynasty of Frankish kings (480–751), predecessors of the Carolingians.


A script in “lower case” (rather than capital) letters, with longer strokes called ascenders and descenders that extend above and below the body of the letter (as in d and q). Caroline minuscule, developed in Carolingian scriptoria in the late eighth century, was used even for more formal manuscripts that earlier would have been written in capitals, uncials, or half-uncials.


A servicebook containing the texts necessary for the performance of the Mass (including chants, prayers, and readings), together with ceremonial directions. Introduced in the early Middle Ages, it eventually supplanted the sacramentary,gradual, evangelary, and epistolary, which had previously been used together.

Monarchian prologue

A prologue to each of the gospels, attributed to the Spanish theologian and heretic Priscillian (died 386). It summarizes the authority from which each evangelist received his gospel’s teachings.


A Christian inhabitant of Spain under Muslim rule.

neume, neumatic

An early form of musical notation used for plainsong in the Middle Ages. The marks, written above the text rather than on stave lines, indicate the general shape of the music but not precise notes or rhythms.


An alphabet (perhaps of Irish origin but inspired by Roman script) used by the Celts for short inscriptions. Letters consist of straight or diagonal marks written along or across a single line.


Spelling, study of the variants of which can help locate the origins of a manuscript, or identify a scribe.


A ruling dynasty in Germany (919–1024), whose empire succeeded that of the Carolingians (from 962).


From the Greek palimpsestos, “scraped again.” A reused document from which the original writing might be erased by washing (in the case of papyrus) or scraping, with pumice or a knife (in the case of parchment), before being written over. Sometimes the underlying text can be read in ultraviolet light or using electronic image-enhancing techniques.


From the Greek, “all receiver.” A single volume containing the complete biblical text.


(pl. papyri) A writing support material made from a species of rush that grows in marshes along the River Nile.


From Pergamon (Bergama in modern Turkey), an early production centre. A writing support material made from prepared sheep and goat skin. The skin was defleshed, stretched, and scraped, and might be treated with pumice and whitened with chalk before being cut to size. Parchment supplanted papyrus as the most popular writing support material in the fourth century, and was itself largely replaced by paper in the sixteenth century with the rise of printing, thought it remained in use for certain high-grade books. Parchment is the term used generically in the present work to indicate prepared membrane. See also vellum.


Relating to Passover or Easter.


The plate used to hold the host (consecrated bread) during the celebration of the Eucharist.


Relating to texts written by the Church Fathers or other Early Christian writers whose authority was particularly respected in later periods. Well-known patristic authors include Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and Saint John Chrysostom.


From the Greek for “fifty.” In Judaism, the fiftieth day after Passover; in Christianity, the descent of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and their speaking in tongues.


A volume containing the Psalms. Medieval psalters were used in the liturgy and for private devotion. Depictions of King David, author of many of the Psalms, frequently introduce the psalter, which might also feature a calendar, canticles, creeds, a litany of the saints, and prayers. Byzantine psalter illustration exerted an important influence on the West.


A container for the host (bread consecrated in the Eucharist).


See gathering


From the Latin rubrica, “red.” A title, chapter heading, or instruction, often written in red ink, that is not part of the text but which helps to identify its components or instructs on their use.


A letter from one of a number of alphabets used by the Germanic tribes of northern Europe before Christianization. Some runes were combined with the Latin alphabet in written Old English.


Of the Sassanid dynasty (224–651 C.E.) in Iran, Iraq, and neighboring areas.


A writing room, usually (but not exclusively) in a monastery or church, where books are made.

scriptura continua

Latin. Writing in which the letters are written one after the other without spaces between the words. This was usual during Antiquity, until Insular scribes introduced word-separation and more systematic punctuation, which was in turn developed further in Carolingian scriptoria.


See bookroll


A pointed tool, generally of metal or bone, used for writing on wax tablets, and also for pricking and ruling manuscripts.


An elaborately decorated, often bejeweled, front cover for a codex, indicating the value of the text within.


A hymn used in the Mass, from Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8: “Holy, Holy, Holy.”


A servicebook containing tropes, that is, musical and textual additions to the chants of the Mass or Divine Office, sung by a soloist. Tropers are known from the early Middle Ages onward.


An interpretive system in Christian thought, designed to prove that the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old. The sacrifice of Isaac, for example, foretells the Crucifixion; David is a type of Christ; and the stories of Daniel in the lions’ den and Jonah and the whale prefigure Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Encountered during the early Middle Ages, and favoured by Saint Jerome, typological juxtapositions become increasingly frequent in art from the eleventh century on.


A formal script with letters based on Roman capitals but with more rounded forms. It was introduced in the third century C.E.


A writing support material made from calfskin. Uterine vellum, the skin of stillborn or very young calves, is particularly fine and white in appearance, but was rarely used. The term is often used generally to indicate prepared membrane. See also parchment


From the Latin for “vulgar.” A regional language, as distinct from an international literary language, such as Latin and Greek. Throughout the Middle Ages biblical texts were only gradually translated into the vernacular, although development of Western vernacular literacy began at least as early as the sixth to eighth century in Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England.

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