Medieaval Writing
The Codex

From New Palaoegraphical Society 1907, in the description of a codex in the British Library, Egerton MS 2831, a commentary of St Jerome on Isaiah:

"Gatherings usually of eight leaves, marked at the end q.I, q.II etc. Heavy ruling with a hard point on one side only; with single vertical bounding lines for the columns. On ff.56-63 (the eight central leaves of a gathering of sixteen) the text is in a single column across the page. Books xiv-xvii (ff.1b-109) are written in minuscule characters of a type intermediate between the Merovingian and Carolingian hands. The Incipit and Explicit and first line of each book are in uncials ......"

sheet This starts to make sense when we look at how the pages of a book were assembled. The parchment sheets, when cut to size, represented two pages of the manuscript book.
sheet marked in half Each sheet was divided in half.
sheet folded The sheets were folded.
three folded sheets Several folded sheets were placed one inside the other to form a sort of pamphlet.
gathering This produced a gathering or quire. A number of these gatherings was assembled together and bound to form the codex. However, the preparation and writing was generally carried out on the loose gathering before it was bound.
A leaf or a double sided page is usually referred to as a folio, abbreviated as f. and in the plural as ff. Each folio was numbered, not each individual page. Conventionally the front or right hand side is known as the recto, abbreviated as r., while the left hand side is called verso, abbreviated as v.. Occasionally other conventions have been used, and in the example above they use b. rather than v. for the reverse side of the page. When the book is opened it displays a double page or bifolium. If, for example f.4v is on the left, then f.5r will be on the right.
Domesday Book
A famous book, Domesday Book in the London National Archives, open to display a bifolium. The verso page is on the left, the recto on the right.
To prepare the page for the scribe, the lines for writing on and for containing the columns were drawn up. This was started by pricking the edges of the page through all the leaves of the gathering to form a guide for the lines. In the earlier medieval period these lines were scored on the page, hard point. Later red lead was used, referred to as plummet. Later still lines were drawn with coloured ink.
This segment from a 12th century Life of St Martin of Tours shows the ruled lines for the text (Metz. Stadtbibliothek, Salis. MS 37, f.4). (From New Palaeographical Society 1904).  
After the scribe had written on the prepared pages, still in the form of gatherings, and other embellishments had been added, the gatherings were assembled for binding. Sometimes the last page of each gathering had some sort of identification; a number, a signature or in the later medieval period, a catchword. A catchword was the first word of the next gathering written in the bottom corner of the page. This is very handy for the codicologist as it is possible to tell whether leaves or whole gatherings have been lost as a result of rebinding over the centuries and is a check on the integrity of the manuscript.
folio with catchword This example shows a folio with a catchword entered at the bottom of the page. Below is an enlargement of the catchword. At the bottom are the first two lines of the following page, showing that the first word is the same as the catchword. Note also the red ruling of the guide lines for writing.
Details from a book of hours (National Library of Australia, MS 1097/9, ff.30v and 31r), from lauds for the Hours of the Virgin. By permission of the National Library of Australia.
following page
Finally, from this first example, incipit and explicit refer to the headings that were often placed at the beginning and end of sections of the text. "Here ends the gospel according to St Matthew. Here begins the gospel according to St Mark" or whatever is appropriate. These were written in large display scripts or rubric and served as place markers for the reader.


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Forms of Manuscripts

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