Medieval Writing
Papal Minuscule - 12th century

Script Type : minuscule, a form of diplomatic minuscule

Date : from around the 11th century

Location : the papal curia in Rome

Function : document hand, specifically for use in the most formal grade of papal bulls

This segment is from a papal bull or privilege of Pope Eugenius III of 1147 (British Library, Cotton Cleopatra E I, f.123), taking under his possession the abbey of St Mary at Saltrey. The script is a rather elaborate diplomatic minuscule. (From New Palaeographical Society 1904)
Pass cursor over letters to see examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : This script has some odd calligraphic flourishes, but the underlying letter forms are basically those of Caroline minuscule, and so are pretty easy to recognise. The ascenders and descenders are very tall compared to the body of the letters. The letters b, h and l have strongly wedged or even split tops to the ascenders, while d has a curving swept back form. The descender of q curves to the left like a g. There are two forms of s, the short rounded and the tall form. When s is doubled it develops some extra curls which makes it resemble an f, as in


The letters u and v are identical, as are i and j, although an extended from of i with a long descender appears when the letter is doubled, as in


A calligraphic peculiarity is the extreme stretching of the st combination, as in

nostra, or an even more elaborate form with the ct combination, as in

fructum. These oddities identify papal documents of the highest grade.

There are many abbreviations, many indicated by the fancy abbreviation mark known as the papal knot, as in

domino. The Tironian form of et, looking somewhat like a 7, is in use.

The segment shown is not continuous text as the document is much wider, but pass the cursor slowly over it and see what words are identified. There is no paleography exercise for this example as yet, but I will get on to it soon. Promise.

On the other hand if I don't manage it, take a look at The Diplomatics of the Papal Documents, formerly on the Vatican Secret Library website but now, it seems, only available from the Internet Archive, God bless 'em.

Script Index

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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 24/10/2011.