Medieval Writing
Circular Page Design
page with circular writing A page of prayers arranged as a wheel, from a 14th century codex (British Library, Arundel 83, f.129v). By permission of the British Library.
While scribes normally stuck to a horizontal mode of writing, occasionally they branched out into more creative modes. This page of seven prayers is arranged in a wheel pattern. The symbols of the evanglists are tucked into the corners, each with an angels holding their name on a scroll. Some horizontal writing in the lower left offers a key to the text in the wheel, while the figure on the lower right is associated with an inscription on a scroll.
segment of writing
Above, a detail showing one of the prayers in a segment of the wheel as well as the scroll for St John. At right, the scroll for St Mark and a very pale and finely written scroll running up the side of the page.
While this shows how the scribe with his pen could design with more freedom than the modern typesetter, it leaves open the question of how the book was supposed to be used. Was it placed flat on a table so that the reader could walk around it? One could hardly imagine wrestling the book around. Or was it not meant to be read in a literal sense at all, the mere act of contemplating the page serving to liberate the spiritual messages written on it? This, of course, is speculation and historians tell us that speculation in history is wicked.
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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 1/8/2011.