(More) Visigothic script fragments sold in the US

Around a month ago I published a post on a Visigothic script leaf that was sold at an auction at Bloomsbury just before the summer. There I said “… I will not be surprised if other leaves very much like this one appear in the near future…”. Well, they have. Some weeks ago I received an email from Prof Scott Gwara (whom I recommend to follow, btw) asking about my thoughts on not one, not two, but four! new fragments. We/I immediately set to study them. I copy below part of their descriptive file (see the original here).

NEW! Noted Missal of the Roman Rite, probably Northern Portuguese, in Transitional Minuscule Visigothic Script with Aquitanian Neumes

A rare and distinctive example showing the influence of Caroline Minuscule. A neumed missal showing an expert late-stage development of minuscule Visigothic script, probably from northern Portugal. Six fragments on parchment representing two bifolia, one complete folio (bisected), and one bisected cutting. Northern Portugal, or just possibly Toledo, ca. 1130-1170… Apparently an original seventeen lines of chant with Aquitanian diastematic neumes, now fifteen lines at most.gwarausfragments2Script, Date, and Origin: This Sacramentary doubtless came from a major center of production with notable scribal training, old paleographical and codicological traditions, enduring traditional models, and, despite the obvious Caroline features, a relative impermeability to exogenous influence. It boasts a traditional (first stage) codicological structure preserving the traditions of book manufacture from southern Iberia. The text is presented in a single column and the parchment heavily ruled, dividing the surface into lines of compact interlinear spacing. The layout of the page clearly affects the script. The fragments are written in the same calligraphic hand, with a thick pen and black ink. The scribe obviously aimed for aesthetic appeal, and the elegance of his mis-en-page partly derives from his exceptional graphic consistency, intensive shading, and effort to respect the base line. The ruling and wide nib make the aspect condensed and stately, yet legible, balanced, and handsome.

A stage 3 typological variant of minuscule Visigothic script (transitional Visigothic), the hand of our fragment exhibits perfectly vertical but not over-developed ascenders, short descenders turned slightly backward towards the end, a pen-angle of approximately 45 degrees, a wedge-shaped approach stroke, and 2-shaped serifs. All the graphs are drawn according to the usual graphic model… Certain key features characterize this hand. First, the thickness of the pen combined with the angle results in a substantial contrast between strokes. Second, angular ligatures and nexus (bitings) formed with open e and r distort the heavy horizontal aspect of the model, adding a kind of dynamic verticality. Caroline and even Proto-Gothic influence is clear… Finally, the grammar is better than one generally encounters in Visigothic manuscripts.

Simply judging by the style and execution, the manuscript cannot be from the eastern Iberian Peninsula. One must, therefore, exclude Septimania, Aragon, La Rioja, and Castile as possible production centers. Nor does the script exhibit Mozarabic elements. While Toledo represented an enduring stronghold of Visigothic script (the last codex dates to ca. 1400), Toletan hands typically show Mozarabic influence. However slight, some script comparanda (noted below) make Toledo a remotely possible origin.

The scribe of our manuscript was trained at a time when the Visigothic standard had already mutated into a transitional script. Since this graphic model needed time to evolve, it belonged to a cultural context in which Visigothic script was still employed long after European systems had arrived, but one in which neoteric influences had time to settle. In Leon, the transition from Visigothic to Caroline extended for about half a century, being more or less complete by the 1140s. In western Iberia, this process took far longer. The transitional period in Portugal, for example, extended from the mid-11th century until the 1170s, while in Galicia it lasted from the late 11th century until ca. 1200. Visigothic script evolved gradually in these areas. Yet our script style does not match that of fragmentary examples from Galicia (compare the Missale at the cathedral archive of Santiago de Compostela, fragment I; Corpus no. 286). On balance, northern Portugal in the period 1130-1170 represents a plausible origin (compare the Liber quaestionum at the national library of Lisbon, ms. 38; Corpus no. 99). Even so, a Toletan origin cannot be entirely ruled out (compare the Antiphonarium of Roman Use now in Toledo, Archivo Capitular 10.5; Corpus no. 313).gwarausfragments3Music: Aquitanian notation of the peninsular “early type,” most similar to neumes used originally in southern France. This notation was introduced in the Iberian Peninsula around 1080, but the notation of our fragments cannot be as early as that, nor can it be as late as ca. 1200. A mid-century date is most likely and perfectly justifiable.

Texts: All the texts come from the services for Holy Week. Bisected complete folio: Lesson from Isaiah 53, versicles, and passion reading from Luke 22-23 for Wednesday of Holy Week. Bifolium 1 (internal bifolium), texts for Good Friday, including the “Solemn Collects” (“Prayer of the Faithful”) from the Liturgy of the Cross for Good Friday, with prayers for Jews, schismatics, and heathens; “Adoration of the Holy Cross,” antiphons known as the “Reproaches” (for texts see Liber Usualis 734-42). Bisected strip: versicles for the Good Friday mass. Bifolium 2: for Good Friday, versicles and Passion from Io 18; for Holy Saturday, a lesson from Gn 1.1-2.2, prayer Deus qui mirabiliter creasti, a lesson from Ex 14.

Condition: All pieces from a binding, therefore rubbed, wormed, holed, stained, cut, and damaged as depicted in the photographs.

Provenance: from an old European collection.

Let me just say, I am eager to see what appears next!

* I would like to thank Prof Gwara for sharing the news about these fragments and for letting me take a look at them. I really appreciate it.

My thanks go also to Dr Elsa de Luca, who help me with the description of the musical notation.

Visigothic script leaf at Bloomsbury’s auction

Earlier this year I was surprised by Tim Bolton at an after-lecture reception – exceptional Daniel Wakelin on the “why” behind written practices by the way – with the news that a leaf of a Visigothic script codex was going to auction at Bloomsbury (lot no. 4). You can read more about it here – if you have some money to spare I am sorry to say the opportunity to buy this leaf has passed. I did not write about it then but thought to do it now for I consider important to highlight the fact that, as the Visigothic script charter auctioned by Christies in late 2013, material as significant as this is still around in private hands.

I do not think there is the need of stressing again all the vicissitudes Iberian medieval manuscripts went through particularly in the 17th to 20th centuries – you can read some notes on the topic here. I would prefer for all the surviving manuscripts now in private collections to make it to official archives, although at the same time I am glad that someone, during armed conflicts in which the parchment was eaten and used for bedding, saw the importance of preserving manuscripts, being for cultural or merely for economic reasons.

The thing is that this leaf made its first appearance into society this year, almost a thousand years after it was copied. It is welcomed into a community of scholars who are aware of the fact that many fragments as this are around because we know not only about the written production of monasteries as the one in which the codex to which this leaf belongs was made but about how these medieval treasures were dispersed. With this I mean to say I will not be surprised if other leaves very much like this one appear in the near future.

Its particulars. The leaf (layout: 2 columns of 33 lines, external, lateral and lower borders remaining –72 mm and 73 mm wide respectively –, original dimensions 470 x 370 mm approx.) belongs to a codex compiling lives of saints. It was copied in a beautiful calligraphic minuscule Visigothic script by a fairly skilled scribe, not the best example but closer; there is some cursive influence in a couple of nexus with inverted beta t. The hand who copied this leaf can be dated as to the mid/late 11th century, around 1060-1070 since it does not show any influence from the Carolingian writing system.

On its provenance, in all likelihood it was written in the area nearby Burgos. My first impression was that it belonged to the Benedictine monastery of Silos, for which indeed three Visigothic script codices of this content were listed as part of the 13th-century catalogue of the monastery’s library, but after revising all Silos’ extant manuscripts I no longer concur. Whichever was its origin, I still think of it as from that area, and a clue pointing in that direction is that this leaf is preserved because it served as a binding of a late 16th-century account book of, it seems, a church in Covarrubias that happens to be some 20 km far from Silos.

The leaf sold for £21000, despite that the estimated value was of between £10000 and £15000. I think for the estimated to be a reasonable price all things considered, and I would like to congratulate the person or institution who saw its value. I hope they not only preserve it but open access to it for scholars to investigate.

* I would like to thank Tim Bolton for kindly share with me not only the news but images of this leaf. Likewise, to all the people on Twitter who sent me messages alerting of the auction; the community works because of you.

ViGOTHIC update: Making a medieval codex (III)

I started this small series by summarising the general steps needed to construct a codex to then delve into what I think was the process of making the Silos Apocalypse, the British Library Add. mss. 11695. In this second post, I asked myself many questions that, to me, were particularly important for they help understand not the codex per se, what is amazing, but its cultural context, which is better.

I asked about who were the scribes who copied the Silos Apocalypse, from where did they come from (training center/school), who called them in, how did they interact with each other, who made the illuminations, how did he – or they – do it… and, what does the codex mean within the written production of the Benedictine monastery of Silos in the late 11th century, which books were already in the monastery’s library by that time, from where did they come from, what happened while the Silos Apocalypse was being copied (how was the scriptorium organised), did its scribes write something else, what happened after the codex was made, which other books were copied, why were they copied… So, plenty of questions for which, I am glad to say, after several months of work, I have been able to propose answers all based on graphic evidence and its historic contextualisation.

My intention when writing the first post was to share some of these answers here, at least the most relevant or curious. I did not know then how elaborate and dense will they be. Therefore, I made all my findings into an article that I hope will be published soon and to which I will refer updating the post in the future.

With this research on the scribes of the Silos Apocalypse I close the first year of my Marie-Curie funded project ViGOTHIC. Next academic year started its digital counterpart, VisigothicPal!

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “ViGOTHIC update: Making a medieval codex (III)″. Littera Visigothica (June 2016), http://litteravisigothica.com/visigothicpal-project-vigothic (ISSN 2386-6330).


Project VIGOTHIC has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 656298. This post reflects only the author’s view and the Agency is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

ViGOTHIC update: Making a medieval codex (II)

We are in the scriptorium of the Benedictine monastery of Silos in the year 1091, when abbot Fortunius and his monks undertook the task of providing for their monastery one exemplar of the most well-known and copied medieval best-seller of the Iberian Peninsula, a Beatus. We are revising the steps it entailed to make the British Library Add. mss. 11695, the Beatus of Silos, and we are in step 2: the scriptorium had a trained specialist who provided a fair amount quantity of parchment made, more likely, from calfskin, as well as monks skilled enough to elaborate carbon ink and many different tones of bright red, yellow, green, and blue inks (see previous post here). What next?

Beato de Tábara. © Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, cód. 1097, fol. 167v.

Beato de Tábara. © Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, cód. 1097, fol. 167v.

The miniature in fol. 167v of the 10th-century Beatus of the monastery of Tábara (Madrid, AHN, cod. 1240), also reproduced in fol. 183 of the early 13th-century Beato de las Huelgas (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, ms. 429, fol. 183), depicts the next steps in the making of the Silos Beatus – common in medieval manuscript production. It represents the oldest extant image of a medieval scriptorium, where two scribes are seen working in a room adjacent to the tower of the monastery, taking measurements and ruling the parchment, while another figure is cutting presumably a piece of parchment with scissors.

Diagram of the pricking pattern and ruled lines on a typical page of the Beatus (© A. Castro Correa).

Diagram of the pricking pattern and ruled lines on a typical page of the Beatus (© A. Castro Correa).

In order for the Beatus of Silos to start taking shape, the parchment needed first to be organised and prepared. The medieval standard for organising the pieces of parchment into codices is by making quires. After that, the folios were pricked and ruled (read more about this process here and here). We do not know whether, in this period as a general rule or if in Silos particularly, it was the scribe also the one in charge of preparing the pieces of parchment, folded into quires and ruled, before starting the process of copying of the text. If we think about what must have been the size of the community of monks who lived in Silos about that time, in the late 11th century, I think the most probable option is that he was. Following the clues embed in the layout of each one of the 27 quires that make the Beatus, almost all quaternions, it does seem so too. So, abbot Fortunius had to find amongst his community a well-trained scribe able to not only write but make all the previous arrangements required. Did he find one?

Here we find ourselves in a conundrum. There is no doubt Florentius found skilled scribes, or at least one to begin the project, within his community, but who were they? In the year the production of this Silos Apocalypse began, 1090, the monastery was in a brand-new stage since it had been just restored by Saint Domingo, around the 1060s. Before Domingo, current scholarship seems to agree in that there was no scriptorium in Silos. So, did Domingo bring with him someone else from Cogolla to Silos in order to set up the atelier? Or did he worked with what he had, training the resident monks at Silos? Was the scribe who started the Silos Beatus from Silos? We do not know. Paleographically speaking, both production centres have a very similar style, yet not the same. Could have it been the same to then gradually evolve into a distinctive one? From my point of view, the relation between both monasteries needs to be studied in depth. I do not see how it is possible for a group of scribes to accomplish such a calligraphic style so quickly without external help.

Beato de Fernando I y Sancha. © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, vitr. 14-2, fol. 30r.

Beato de Fernando I y Sancha. © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, vitr. 14-2, fol. 30r.

Another missing piece of the puzzle. Florentius aimed to copy the Beatus, but which one was the exemplar he used and from where did it come from? Specialists in the textual content of the Silos Apocalypse have determined that the Silos Beatus belongs to the IIa family – all the extant Beatos have been classified according to their text and, mostly, their illumination programme, into three different families or groups to establish the stemma. From that family, the extant codices, predating this one from Silos, are: the Beato de San Miguel de Escalada (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, ms. 644), copied at San Miguel de la Escalada (León) by Magius around 920s; the Beato de Valcavado (Valladolid, Biblioteca de la Universidad, cod. 433), copied at Valcavado (Palencia) by Oveco circa 970; the Beato de La Seu d’Urgel (La Seu d’Urgell, Arxiu Catedral, ms. 26), copied probably in Valcavado in the 1000s; and the Beato de Fernando I y Sancha (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, vitr. 14-2), copied by Facundo in León in 1047. It has not been determined whether one of these was the model Silos used for its copy, although bearing in mind that the exemplar now in Urgell was there already in the first half of the 12th century, if any of these, maybe the one now at Valladolid?

Interestingly enough, the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla (header image), with which the monastery of Silos had a close bond particularly on its earlier decades, did produce its own codices with the Commentary on the Apocalypse. Three of them are still preserved and pre-date that of Silos: the so-called Beato Emilianense (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 14-1), copied around 920s-940s, the Beato de El Escorial (Monasterio de El Escorial, Biblioteca, ms. &.II.5) dated mid-10th c., and the Beato de San Millán (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, ms 83), which although seems copied in San Pedro de Cardeña in the 10th c. had its illumination programme done in Cogolla in the 11th c. All these three codices, however, have been classified by the specialists as belonging to the I family, and thus not the same as that of the Silos Beatus. But, scholars have also noted that the illumination programme of the last one, that now in the Real Academia, is closely related to that of the IIa family. Could this theory, if verified, prove that members of the scriptorium of Cogolla were also involved, directly or not, in the manuscript production that was to be developed at Silos? Will I have time to figure this out before the project ends?


> continue reading <


Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “ViGOTHIC update: Making a medieval codex (II)″. Littera Visigothica (May 2016), http://litteravisigothica.com/vigothic-update-making-medieval-codex-ii (ISSN 2386-6330).

EUlogoProject VIGOTHIC has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 656298. This post reflects only the author’s view and the Agency is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

ViGOTHIC update: Making a medieval codex (I)

During the last few weeks, I have been trying to figure out how the many people who were involved in producing the exemplar of Beatus kept at the British Library worked together; who made what and how they interacted. As a palaeographer, at first I was mostly concerned with the identification and description of the graphic specifics of each one of the scribes who, as copyists, made the text as is now displayed. But, once I had the hands individualised, since they are remarkably intertwined throughout the quires, I soon realised how the whole process of making the codex was much more complex than expected. There are not only five hands which, in a very short period of time, collaborated in copying the main text contained in the Beatus, the Commentary on the Apocalypse per se, plus the additional texts as the excerpts of the Etymologiae, Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, and other miscellaneous texts – which, by the way, I am having difficulties to find edited or at least correctly attributed to -, but also different authors for the miniatures who made the illumination programme for which the codex is so worldwide famous. It is obvious that there is much more to a codex than the scribes, but it is somehow easy to forget how not only time consuming but expensive to make a codex like this one must have been; surely a remarkable event for the scriptorium that speaks of its own conception, means, and managerial skills. Moreover if we bear in mind, following the current state of the art, that this codex, the Silos Beatus, was one of the first ever made at the monastery of Silos.

As many of you may know, revising all the relevant bibliographic references, the palaeographical and codicological analysis of this British Library codex, is the objective of the first part of the project in which I am working now, ViGOTHIC. Having the graphic analysis done, the clues found in defining the collaboration among scribes made me expand the project to incorporate also a revision on the illumination programme, the style and its authors. All this research will be made into an article I expect to finish soon. Meanwhile, I thought about writing here how I picture, at this stage of the project, the whole process of making this medieval codex was.


Making a medieval codex (I)


It must have been around the year 1090 when abbot Fortunius, who had been abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Silos (in what is now Burgos) for some twenty years at that time, considered for his monastery to have the resources enough to make a copy of one of the most significant bestsellers of medieval Iberia, a Beatus. Silos was still a very recently revived cenobium, founded around the mid-10th century but in decadence as a consequence of the Muslim razzias around the northern Meseta. Fortunius’s Silos was, however, powerful enough thanks to the reorganisation his predecessor, abbot Domingo, had undertaken commissioned by king Fernando I. Domingo was called into to restore the ecclesiastical community living at Silos from the nearby monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla, in La Rioja, and although Cogolla’s monastery and, particularly, its written production was still of higher quality than that of Silos, Domingo’s dedication proved extraordinary. He was canonised as saint soon after his death in 1073. When Fortunius took his place, he not only knew how to maintain Domingo’s will but continued to improve Silos’s well-being making the most of his predecessor’s fame. When Fortunius undertook the task of for his monastery and newly created scriptorium producing a codex, it was a Beatus (The Silos Beatus, BL Add. mss. 11695). But, how was the process?

The Silos Apocalypse. © London, British Library, Add. mss. 11695, f. 21 Appearance of Christ in a cloud

The Silos Apocalypse. © London, British Library, Add. mss. 11695, f. 21 Appearance of Christ in a cloud

The first step the Silos’s scriptorium needed to accomplish to make the codex possible was to gather parchment enough for the work that was to be copied. Bearing in mind the actual measures of a page of the Silos’s Beatus, 380 x 240 mm, and the length of the volume, some 270 folios, this meant to buy or at least to use some of the monastery’s livestock for the purpose of providing the basic raw material for making the codex. Giving the quality of the parchment, quite pale and thin, it must have been, more likely, from calves. If we consider that one calf could have provided at least 2 bifolia, folded twice (quarto) with the measurements of the Beatus, that makes 8 folios of parchment and thus around 34 calves. But first, they needed to make parchment out of the skins.

© Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, msc. Patr. 5, fol. 1v. 12th c.

© Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, msc. Patr. 5, fol. 1v. 12th c.

To produce parchment was a very tedious and cumbersome process that required a specialist (see this short video). The animal skin had first to be removed from the slaughtered animal. The hair then had to be removed as well from that skin by soaking it in a lime bath. After that, the hair and remaining flesh would have been scraped off using a curved knife, sometimes referred to as a “lunellum” for its crescent shape using the Latin word for moon. Once that had been done, the surface had to be treated further so that it would hold ink and pigment painting, and this involved polishing the surface with a pumice stone occasionally applying a very thin layer of chalk.

Parchment was not the only basic material required, especially for a codex like this one with such an intricate illumination programme. The scriptorium needed ink – and quills to apply it! Monks were required to manufacture all the pigments the work they aimed to copy demanded. Ink for the text, carbon ink, and ink for drawing. Many different colours were used for the illuminations; besides different tones of red and a bright yellow, the Silos Beatus displays a special, for its uniqueness, range of dark blue and green inks. A specific analysis of the components of each of the inks used in this manuscript would be of great interest. In the meantime, I recommended you to take a look at this book (particularly from p. 47 on).

Once the scriptorium had the basic materials required, the work on the manuscript could begin.


> continue reading <

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “ViGOTHIC update: Making a medieval codex (I)″. Littera Visigothica (April 2016), http://litteravisigothica.com/vigothic-update-making-medieval-codex-i (ISSN 2386-6330).

Project VIGOTHIC has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 656298. This post reflects only the author’s view and the Agency is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Understanding manuscript illumination

The one thing that has always capture my attention from Visigothic script manuscripts, long before I was able to crack the script and even before knowing that Manuscript Studies existed, is the images, the fascinating depictions of strange human figures standing just in front of me, staring. For me, I guess that especially for being so young ‒ the first time I saw a Beatus I was about 10 ‒, these figures quickly spoke; they were communicating in a way that no other figural representations had done before. I now know a bit more about the manuscripts in which they stand, about their context. These miniatures, illuminations, this type of medieval art, it was developed for people who, like me when I first saw them, could not understand the passage of text to which they were linked to, so even those who cannot read could understand. I did indeed. The fighting serpent-like monsters that populate the Beatos, stood in my mind for years, unconsciously urging me to learn palaeography and now to decipher them. Here my first incursion into the world of manuscript illumination.

I feel I should add a disclaimer. I am a palaeographer, not an art historian. I am not specialised in distinguishing, in dating and placing, representations of art of a magnitude as that of the illumination programmes found in Visigothic script manuscripts by schools, scriptoria, or masters as some of you might. But, I am curious and always open to discovering new things, and since I am reading a lot about the topic lately, I want to learn more. I started with the basics, everything by John Williams on Spanish manuscript illumination, and will continue with more specific readings.[1] I recognise my limitations to judge art history. So, If you are an expert on Mozarabic and/or Northern Peninsular manuscript illumination, my apologies for the inconsistencies that might be in what you are about to read ‒ and, please, you are welcome to share your expertise here if you like. What follows is a very succinct sketch of how I see the world of illumination in Visigothic script manuscripts developed, from the early 8th to the early 12th c.

Verona Orational, c. 720, Tarragona (Verona, Bibl. Capitular, 89)

Verona Orational, c. 720, Tarragona (Verona, Bibl. Capitular, 89)

Before manuscripts in Visigothic script only were written in the Iberian Peninsula, thus with not just some notes or maybe some paragraphs in that script ‒ which roughly corresponds with the proper period of the Visigothic Kingdom ‒, the few examples preserved of manuscript illumination link peninsular production with the Classical tradition (Byzantine). As shown in the image above (Verona Orational), the drawings were marked just by lines, and the occasional figures or geometrical frames were not coloured. In doing so, Visigothic master illuminators show a continuity with the past that will soon be reinterpreted, and, more significantly, the ascription of the peninsula to a shared supranational Mediterranean style.

La Cava Bible, early 9th c., Asturias? (Cava dei Tirreni, Archivio della Badia, ms. 1)

La Cava Bible, early 9th c., Asturias? (Cava dei Tirreni, Archivio della Badia, ms. 1)

Soon after, in the 8th/9th centuries, extant Christian written production moved to the north (Asturias), and there, in semi-isolation, the intense creativity of the easily recognisable medieval peninsular style began to show. The illumination contained in the manuscripts there produced, still scarce, intertwined both traditional (La Cava Bible) and exogenous styles in a way not seen before anywhere.

Cross of Oviedo, 9th c., Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 26) and Relief panel with cross (San Martín de Salas, Oviedo; mid-10th c.)

Cross of Oviedo, 9th c., Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 26) and relief panel with cross (San Martín de Salas, Oviedo; mid-10th c.)

There was a still strong Classical style, with linear, compass-drawn figures, and framed titles (see La Cava Bible above). But, these features, like for example a typical motif of the Classical style as the Canon Tables, created in the 6th c., were reinterpreted in a very personal way. Designs that took shape from antecedents not altogether clear but that, nonetheless, will become quite popular in Visigothic script manuscripts settled. For example the labyrinths or carpet pages, and the Asturian crosses – Cross of Oviedo (see above manuscript Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 26 and the relief panel, and also the reliquary ‘The Cross of the Angels’).

Tendencies that will become familiar later on as predominant, as the brilliant and contrasting hues (red, green, yellow) in frame ornament, and decorated initials based on geometric forms and representations of animal and human figures can also be pinpointed to this period. As for from where this animal/human-like fashion applied to initials came from, J. Williams added a very interesting note on the topic in his book Early Spanish Manuscript Illumination. Paraphrasing, he wrote that although commonly associated with 8th-c. Merovingian illumination, primitive examples appear in Visigothic manuscripts at least as early, and that both Merovingian and Visigothic examples could point to an unknown common ancestry rather than direct influence. And, even scarce, in the first extant examples of illuminated manuscripts it can also be noted the influence of southern features, as the elongated, tear-shaped eyes, or the influence of Kufic script in geometrical-based initials.

Vimara’s Bible, c. 920, León (León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 6)

Vimara’s Bible, c. 920, León (León, Archivo de la Catedral, ms. 6)

By the early 10th c., all these styles merged together and were wisely exploited by Leonese monastic scribes in a general cultural revival, showing a “radically expanded notion of the art of book decoration” (J. Williams words). Here is where the plane figures so characteristic of Visigothic script manuscripts took shape, dominating the space as full-page miniatures no longer just restricted to blank spaces next to the text. There is no dimension beyond of height and breadth, no perspective in a classical execution, but flat patterns filled with intense primary colours. They were experimenting with colour and with the Classical conventions of human representation, creating something new, dynamic and full of character, where figures interact with one another surrounded by mostly irregular but still geometric patterns (with preference to circular forms), fish and birds.

Codex Hispalensis, c. 925 (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 13,1)

Codex Hispalensis, c. 925 (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Vitr. 13,1)

But, what I find particularly interesting is that, at the same time, manuscripts produced by Christian (Mozarabic) communities in the south, show a prevalence of the Classical, more realistic, style (see the Codex Hispalensis), highlighting, thus, that the explosion of colours was a feature of northern scriptoria. The Islamic influence sought in earlier centuries, though, continued and expanded during this period too. Significantly, architectural formulas as the horseshoe arch (Visigothic, but greatly developed by the Umayyads), ornamental designs based on palm trees and acanthus, peacocks, and the adoption of the seated posture associated with Muslim life when representing figures, among others.

Libro de Horas de Fernando y Sancha, c. 1055, Sahagún? (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609)

Libro de Horas de Fernando y Sancha, c. 1055, Sahagún? (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609)

In the second half of the 10th c. Leonese illumination pivoted towards the Carolingian Empire, adopting the designs of geometrical-based, interlaced, initials (Franco-Saxon school), and a sense of “less abstraction” when representing figures, now with a clear narrative purpose.

Initial from the prayer book of Fernando y Sancha (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609) vs. the same design from a book of Homilies from San Millán de la Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 39, f. 134r)

Initial from the prayer book of Fernando y Sancha (Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, Ms 609) vs. the same design from a book of Homilies from San Millán de la Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 39, f. 134r)

Perspective was assimilated to the conception of space, and movement was embraced by the still in plain colour figures through complex drapery patterns. Motifs that were not native, as the Christ in Majesty (school of Tours), were also reproduced. However, the, what must have been felt, traditional style continued yet to be used, most likely with a conscious intention to express alliance to customs about to be discarded, as can be seen by the late 11th/early 12th c. illumination programme developed for the Beatus exemplar copied in the monastery of Silos, the BL Add. 11695.

“The Silos Beatus is the swansong of the Leonese style. With its almost exaggerated concern for emphatic pattern and color it pays homage to the style in brilliant fashion at the very moment when Spain was participating in the fashioning of the new Romanesque art whose stylistic premises were based on the plasticity so effectively banished by the Leonese painters” (J. Williams, Early Spanish Manuscript Illumination, 27-28).

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Understanding manuscript illumination″. Littera Visigothica (February 2016), http://litteravisigothica.com/understanding-manuscript-illumination (ISSN 2386-6330).

[1] Another basic I found quite interesting is The Art of Medieval Spain, AD 500-1200 (available online thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art), particularly because of the way the authors wisely merge politics, society, liturgy, art (broadly understood), and manuscripts.

Codex of the month (IX): Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, ms 10110

Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, ms 10110

Breviarium mozarabicum


Dated late 13th or early 14th century.


As some of you may have noticed in my last few posts [see here – hybridization], I have recently been engaged in studying how Visigothic script developed once Caroline minuscule began spreading throughout the northern Iberian Peninsula. I am interested in understanding how the graphic process of change from Visigothic to Caroline took place, and how scribes reacted to this, more or less, imposed change that had its liturgical parallel in the adoption of the Roman rite in detriment of the Mozarabic one. [* I will soon publish a couple of articles on this topic; if interested, do not hesitate to ask.]

We have a vast number of sources, both charters and codices, which help us comprehend, through the characteristics of the hands who wrote and copied them, what happened in the lapse of time between both writing systems. Moreover, these sources also give us valuable information about how the graphic process developed. It is not just scribes who, writing in Visigothic, started to incorporate features commonly used in Carolingian manuscripts into their own hands, but scribes who stepped aside and continued to use Visigothic script when their colleagues had already moved forward. Speaking about charters, it can be said with certainty that Visigothic script, even in the most remote areas, was no longer in use in the second half of the 13th century. But looking at codices, there are still exemplars such as this ‘Codex of the Month’ that show that Visigothic script was still in use in the 14th century.

FIG. 1 Detail of script and notation © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 2r

FIG. 1 Detail of script and notation © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 2r

Codex of the month (IX): Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110 [FIG. 1] is the last extant codex written in Visigothic script. It was composed in the very particular cultural center of Toledo, characterized by the persistence of the Mozarabic rite and a clear tendency towards archaism. Toledo was the center of the Iberian Peninsula, capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, stronghold of Christianity during the Muslim upheaval, and conscious preserver of what thought had to be preserved of the late Roman and early medieval peninsular culture throughout the centuries.

Leaving aside the script for just a moment, and the exceptional nature of having a 14th century scribe writing in Visigothic script, the text this codex contains is not at all unfamiliar, but rather very common. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110 is a Breviary of the Mozarabic liturgy, a collection of everything necessary for the daily offices within their proper order, such as psalms, readings, versicles, etc., in just one volume.


Codex muzarabicus, officium totius Quadragesimae, excepta maiori hebdomada, continens, e vetusto exemplari almae Ecclesiae Toletanae, Hispaniarum primatis, caracteribus gothico-gallicis exarato, descriptibus.

F. 1r, Ordo secunda feria ad matutinum incipiente quadragesimaF. 120v, Finit deo gratias hic liber per manus Ferdinandum Iohannis presbiter eglesie sanctarum Iuste et Rufine ciuitatis Toleti in mense aprilis. O frater quisquis legerit ora pro me emenda eum prudenter et noli me maledicere si dominum nostrum Iesum Christum abeas protectorem.

It has musical notation [FIG. 2].

FIG. 2 Detail of notation © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 30v

FIG. 2 Detail of notation © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 30v


Support: Well-preserved parchment (except for f. 109, broken), very thick and not carefully prepared. Some quires include singletons and bifolia that seem to be leftover parchment [FIG. 3]. Modern binding in brown leather, with a label on the back and the title Breviarium quadragesimale Mozarab. MS.

FIG. 3 Leftover parchment? © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 106v

FIG. 3 Leftover parchment? © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 106v

No. of leaves & layout: The codex starts with two folios in a neat modern hand with a summary and some notes about the codex’s collation, then a folio that corresponds to f. 7. Follows 120 ff. (270 x 190 mm) of codex; single column, with different number of lines (19 to 24) since it merges text with chant and musical notation, and the interlinear space is not constant through the manuscript; ruled in dry point and in pen in the last quires [FIG. 4]. Medieval foliation, at the top of each folio, in Roman numerals.

FIG. 4 Detail of ruling © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 104r

FIG. 4 Detail of ruling © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 104r

Because of its size and composition, this codex was clearly made to be used.

Copyist/s and script/s: As it is said in the initial pages of the manuscript, it was copied by Fernando Juánez in a minuscule Visigothic script with Carolingian influence in the abbreviation system. His hand is very distinctive; it shows a Mozarabic Visigothic script – take a look at the form of the letter t, which seems like an infinity symbol in this geographical variant of the script -, traced with ease and clarity.

Some strokes of specific letters show the graphic evolution, a Visigothic that was not drawn as it should be. For example: the top of f is almost detached from the descender – it looks like an r with a tongue at the top – making ligatures easily; the letter i tends to have diacritic mark; q is traced as a 9; the letter r has its characteristically Visigothic pointed top drawn in two different pen strokes. The same copyist added rubricated titles for each section of the codex, and initials mixing Half-uncial, Visigothic, Carolingian, and Gothic allographs alike – as was usual for the period.

The codex has very interesting notes in Visigothic minuscule and in Gothic cursive that seem to be coeval if not by the same hand.

FIG. 5 Detail of script © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 99r

FIG. 5 Detail of script © Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, mss 10110, fol. 99r

Illuminator/s: The codex does not have illumination.


Origin: As noted in the initial folios of the codex and in f. 120v, Fernando Juánez was a presbyter in the Toletan parish of St Justa and Rufina.

Provenance: Toledo.

IV. References:

Millares Carlo, A. Los códices visigóticos de la catedral de Toledo: cuestiones cronológicas y de procedencia. Madrid, 1935, p. 33 and 42, nº 28.

Mundó, A. M. “La datación de los códices visigóticos”. Hispania sacra 18 (1965): 1-25 (2-8).

‘Liber misticus’ de Cuaresma (Cod. Toledo 35.2, hoy en Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional 10110) (ed. by J. Janini with paleographic study by A. M. Mundó). Toledo, 1979.

Millares Carlo, A. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1999, nº 173.

 Digitized (Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid).

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (IX): Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, ms 10110″. Littera Visigothica (October 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/codex-of-the-month-ix-madrid-biblioteca-nacional-ms-10110

(ISSN 2386-6330).

Saying hi to Beato de Liébana

Time ago I wrote two posts for Littera on Beato de Liébana, the monk and intellectual, and the ‘Beatos’, his Commentaries to the Apocalypse of St John.

The first one dealt with Beato and his cultural context, tainted with heretic movements and deeply marked by the common belief that the end of the world will arrive in the year 800, hiding much more of what we may initially think about the period: it depicts not only a religious context but reveals itself as a summary of medieval doctrine and theological symbolism and a good example of educational methods in 8th-century Iberian Peninsula. Although I wrote it time ago and have expanded my research on the topic, it is still useful as an introduction to the ‘Beatos’. [you can read the post here]

The second was focused on one of the 32 exemplars of ‘Beatos’, the codices, preserved: The Beato of Silos kept at the British Library (mss. 11695). It was finished in the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos in 1109. This post was the second one of the ‘Codex of the month’ series and included a summary of the contents of the codex, its physical description, notes on its context, personal comments and an appendix with a short list of another ‘Beatos’ copied in Visigothic script. [you can read the post here]

As some of you may know, next semester I will be working at the King’s College London as a Marie Curie postdoctoral researcher with a project based on the study of the Beato of Silos – I will write about this soon. Thus, before moving to London, I thought it will be a good idea to take some time off and “say hi” to Beato.

Silos cloister

Monastery of Silos, cloister

Our trip started at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, near Burgos, where the now British Library copy of the Beato was made. The famous cypress of the Romanic cloister welcomed us. Silos still has a large collection of Visigothic script manuscripts [check the list here; Biblioteca de Silos], but I did not want to bother the archivist just for the OMG moment – what I will indeed do in the future though.

Bestiaria MEH

Bestiaria at the Museum of Human Evolution

As it happens, in Burgos, at the Museum of Human Evolution there is a temporary exhibition (until the end of August) that helped continue our journey, discovering how beasts, so characteristic of the Beatos, were depicted throughout the centuries.

Bestiaria: el descubrimiento de un reino

La exposición muestra a través de 80 piezas cómo el reino animal ha sido conocido y representado gráficamente a lo largo de los siglos hasta llegar al presente. Esta muestra se sustenta fundamentalmente en imágenes de códices, libros y grabados. Incluye igualmente esculturas, esqueletos y figuras anatómicas, así como reconstrucciones tridimensionales. La muestra comienza con las representaciones animales en los libros medievales y con animales exóticos mal conocidos en la Edad Media, pero de los que existían referencias clásicas o bíblicas, así como seres mitológicos que existieron en el imaginario colectivo. La exposición hace un repaso posterior por el Renacimiento y el Barroco, cuando ya la imprenta difunde las primeras zoologías que podemos considerar científicas. ‘Bestiaria, el descubrimiento de un reino’ es un viaje en el tiempo y el espacio que comienza con la reproducción de una pintura rupreste de Altamira y termina con la visión tridimensional que se puede hacer en el siglo XXI de piezas de laboratorio. “Ofrece una mirada que empieza en las tinieblas y acaba asomada al microscopio”, como señala Ricardo Piñero (Universidad de Salamanca), comisario de la muestra junto con Ignacio de Gaspar (Universidad Complutense de Madrid). En palabras de Juan Luis Arsuaga, director científico del Museo de la Evolución Humana (MEH), esta exposición “pretende repensar la ‘historia cultural’ de los animales en relación con los hombres, o mejor aún, reconstruir la historia de los hombres sin perder el horizonte de su animalidad. Temporalidad, imaginación, enigma, convicción… son eslabones que irán desgranando y perfilando los matices de este ensueño que es contar la historia de las bestias”.

Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa National Park

After a short visit to Aguilar de Campoo for an excellent course on calligraphy – I will also write about it soon -, we drove to Los Picos de Europa, an extremely beautiful National Park in Cantabria, for the main stop of our route: Potes. There, in the middle of nowhere, was where Beato de Liébana lived and developed his career.

Sto Toribio de Líébana

Monastery of Sto Toribio de Líébana

The monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana is now unfortunately more focused in the fragment of the Lignum Crucis it has than in Beato, but still keeps a small display of facsimiles of several Beatos on the cloister. It was enlightening just to be there and imagine how the monastery must have been in the 8th century! Luckily, in the nearby Potes, the capital of the National Park, there is a permanent exhibition devoted to explain in detail what the Beatos, the codices, meant and how to interpret them.

Beatos Potes

Exhibition about the Beatos in Potes

The exhibition results very instructive and I recommend everyone to visit it. Besides a close examination to the contents of the Beatos, with interactive games, and the always nice view of several of the exemplars in facsimiles, the exhibition had an unexpected surprise in one area called scriptorium:



I am not used to such detail in an exhibition for the general public, moreover displayed with two small cabinets with the most common utensils used for copying and illuminating these medieval codices.

Basic utensils

Basic utensils: inkwell, quill, penna, calamo, horns, quill shaper, knives, hole punch, plumb pen, rule, set square, tablets, and stiletto


Inks: pigments, eraser, gold leaf, brushes, meter, rule, quill, and pencil

What do you think about our trip?

I am now ready to start my research with the Silos Apocalypse ! 🙂

Codex of the month (VIII): Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 76

Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 76

Isidorus, Etymologiae

Dated c. 954

Saint Isidore, Bishop of Seville (c. 560-636), was the outstanding intellectual figure of Visigothic Iberian Peninsula and one of the most important links between the classical world and the Middle Ages. He was born in Seville, where his parents arrived from Cartagena fleeing the internal conflicts between Arians and Catholics that took place c. 550 in that area. Three of his brothers were also intellectuals: Leander, bishop of Seville (c. 579-602), Fulgencio, bishop of Écija (c. 603/10-619), and Florentina, abbess of an unknown monastery for whom Leander composed his Regula (Codex of the month (VI): Paris, BN, NAL 239; the ‘Codex of the month’ series is available here).

Isidore was educated by his brother, Leander, in Seville (c. 579), to whom, after his death, he replaced as bishop. From Isidore we know of his participation at the II Council of Seville (619) and the IV of Toledo (633), and about his wide literary production ranging from biblical exegesis to works for the regulation of clergy, defense of the Catholic faith and instruction in the orthodoxy of Christianity, to historical works as De uiris illustribus. Isidore’s most famous works, widely spread during the Middle Ages, were the Sententiae, the Synonyma, and, especially, the Etymologiae.

Isidore’s Etymologiae, considered the encyclopedia of the Middle Ages par excellence, contain a vast number of definitions and explanations relating both to the different fields of human knowledge and to the living beings and objects of daily life. Isidore drinks from the Roman encyclopedic tradition, exemplified by Varro -through Martianus Capella and Cassiodorus- and Cato the Elder, which brings together with works of Christian (Augustine of Hippo, Saint Jerome, Lactantius and Gregory the Great) and pagan authors (Festus and Servus) alike, highlighting the author’s interest to preserve the knowledge of antiquity. The Etymologiae are organized into 20 books, the first ones summarizing the seven liberal arts; grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. It is completed with synthesis on medicine, law, chronology, church organization (festivals, books and history of Christianity), religious and civil institutions, and an overview about the world and the beings, minerals and objects that populate it.


This is a composite codex; it gathers two different codices:

The first part, fol. 1-159, presents:

A) Isidorus Hispalensis. Etymologiarum libri XX 1r-155r (lacking some initial folia)

Fol. 1r Incipit […] [ad]ponebant ad eorum nomina quos supplicio afficiebant… (lib. I, cap. 3).

Fol. 2v Explicit […] positibus dictis quia [primus po]nitur inconparationis […] (lib. I, cap. 7).

Fol. 3r Incipit […] oxea id est acutus accentus linea a sinistra parte… (lib. I, cap. 19).

FIG. 1 Detail of diagrams © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 75, fol. 24v and 25r

FIG. 1 Detail of diagrams © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 75, fol. 24v and 25r

Fol. 155r Explicit […] ut uis morui ignis ardore siccetur. Finit Deo gratias.

*Between fol. 80 and 81, during the restoration of the codex, a folio was added. The first part of this work ends in fol. 80, and thus this quire is a binion.

B) Bede. De celo uel quinque circulis eius atque subterraneo meatu 155r-159v

Fol. 155r Incipit de celo uel quinque circulis eius atque subterraneo meatu. Incipit Celum circulis quinque distinguitur

Fol. 159v Explicit … fruamur uno et permaneamus in uno. Explicit Deo gratias.

Fol. 159v Colophon Benedico celi quoque regem me qui ad istius libri finem uenire permisit incolomem, amen. Explicitus est liber Ethimologiarum a duobus uidelicet scriptoribus [E]ndura presbiter et Didaco diaconus sub era DCCCCLXL [II]a

FIG. 1 Incipit © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 25, fol. 16v

FIG. 2 Incipit © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 25, fol. 16v

De celo uel quinque circulis eius atque subterraneo meatu was composed by joining part of the works of Bede, De Rerum Natura and De ratione temporum. It had already been copied as an appendix of Isidore’s Encyclopedia in San Millán de la Cogolla (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 25) and Cardeña (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76). This brief treaty, besides including a chapter on the mythological origin of the zodiac signs (fragments of Isidore, Bede and the Auxerre anonymous), also intersperses verses of Ausonius astronomical treaty.

FIG. 1 World map © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 108r

FIG. 3 World map © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 108r

The second part, fol. 160-162 (lacking some final folia), is another copy of Bede’s De cello… with some modifications. It results in a very sloppy version made by a different scribe (changes in the abbreviation system). This addition must have been made at an early time since it continues the medieval numeration of the codex, and a note from the 16th century alerts the reader of its repetition (Haec quae sequuntur iam apposita pag. CLXIIII).


Support: Well-preserved parchment. Modern binding in white leather.

No. of leaves & layout: 162 fol. (330/310 x 230 mm / 265 x 175 mm); quaternions (a binion for the last part of A, and a ternion for part II); two columns justified with double vertical lines on both sides (pricking no longer visible); first and last horizontal lines across the folio; 44 lines (part I), 38 lines (part II); ruled in dry point. Signs in Roman numerals to order the quires (the numeration starts again after fol. 80v (.XII.) – fol. 88v (.I.).)

Medieval foliation in Roman numerals and modern foliation by pencil, with Arabic numerals.

FIG. 1 Colophon © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 159v

FIG. 4 Colophon © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 159v

Copyist/s and scripts: As it is said in the colophon of the manuscript, fol. 159v, part I was copied by Endura presbiter and Didaco diaconus in a minuscule Visigothic script with Carolingian influence (change between scribes on fol. 80v-81r). It has been differentiated another scribe copying the last folia of part I, fol. 109-159. Part II (fol. 160r-162) was copied by another hand, which Díaz y Díaz attributes to the same production center and, also, the mid-10th century. The manuscript has emendations in Cortesana script.

FIG. 1 Detail initial © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 137v

FIG. 5 Detail initial © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 137v

Illuminator/s: unknown. Part I: Littera notabiliores decorated with zoomorphic and geometric motifs. Initials in blue and yellow. Part II: First words of each chapter in red and poorly developed initials.


Origin: According to Díaz y Díaz and Millares this codex should have been made at the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña (Burgos).

Provenance: The manuscript arrived to the Real Academia from the monastery of Cardeña after the expropriation of 1835.

Context: Isidore’s Etymologiae was widely distributed throughout the Middle Ages, being a model for later encyclopedias. There are many extant copies in Visigothic script (check the Catalog here).

IV. References:

FIG. 1 Glosses © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 42v

FIG. 6 Glosses © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, cód. 76, fol. 42v

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 1983. Códices visigóticos de la monarquía leonesa. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación San Isidoro – CSIC, p. 321-322, 413.

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 209.

Ruiz García, E. 1997. Catálogo de la sección de códices de la Real Academia de la Historia. Madrid, cod. 76, p. 385-387.

Digitized (Biblioteca Digital de la Real Academia).

Littera Visigothica gallery.

 – by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (VIII): Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cod. 76″. Littera Visigothica (May 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/codex-of-the-month-viii-madrid-real-academia-de-la-historia-cod-76 (ISSN 2386-6330).

Punctuation in Visigothic script manuscripts

This week I decided to continue the list of main posts proposed for the blog (suggestions welcome) by writing about the punctuation system used by Visigothic script scribes. Not an easy topic to write about, or to read about, but I am sure that it will be useful.

(not) Following the rules

The punctuation system used in early and high Medieval Latin manuscripts essentially follows the Greek system based on the use of positurae – that is dots – to indicate the different parts of speech. If you are familiar with medieval manuscripts, both codices and charters, you must have seen these dots before, more often halfway up the body of the letters. The interpretation of these signs as for their modern equivalence is not always easy since, as happened with the script and other manuscript features, it was the scribe who decided what signs to use and the meaning each of them should have. In other words, there was a basic normative system to indicate the different pauses used in speech. To mark them was crucial bearing in mind that the texts were read aloud, and thus it was very useful for the reader to be reminded of, basically, where to breathe. However, although it must be thought the scribes were taught to follow the traditional rules of punctuation, depending on how well were they trained, their cultural context and experience, the design and use of the dots varied. One cannot be always sure of the type of pause the scribe meant to write, of that correspondence between the type of dot and its meaning, although what we can do, and in fact have done, is to list the designs of the signs themselves, leaving for a careful experienced reading to consider and interpret the value of the punctuation in a modern edition of the text.

Basic types of punctuation signs

Traditional scholarship has given different names to the dots used to mark pauses depending on their position in relation to the baseline of the text. Thus, these dots can be called: distinctio, when they are placed at the top of the text line; subdistinctio, for those placed at the bottom; and media distinctio, for those in an intermediate position within the text line. It has also been attributed to each of these basic three types a modern equivalence. Hence: the distinctio seems to mark the end of a part of speech with complete sense equivalent to a sentence, thus corresponding to a period (longer pause); the subdistinctio splits different elements of a sentence, consistent with a comma (small pause); while the media distinctio or distinctio media seems to be a rhetorical punctuation allowing the reader to pause before completing the reading of a portion of text with complete sense, equivalent to a semicolon or colon. But it is not as easy as that.

Punctuation in Visigothic script

Since the late eighth century, and therefore also in Visigothic script manuscripts, both codices and charters, as a result of a change in the methods of reading, this system of punctuation diversifies, developing multiple signs for which a modern equivalence is not always easy to find. Taking a quick look at the corpus of Visigothic script charters I work with, these are the most frequent signs used:


The first and second images correspond to a subdistinctio and to a distinctio media. Both are used very frequently, the second one also by some scribes to split the syllables of a word. Their modern correspondence will be a comma and a rhetorical pause as expected (minor pause). The problem comes with all the other signs. A subdistinctio or media distinctio with a diagonal or S-like stroke above (that will be a punctus elevatus) more likely has the modern equivalent of a slightly heavier mark than a comma, although for some texts and some scribes we will understand it as a regular period. The same modern meaning could be that of the next three images; a media distinctio or punctus followed by a stroke, a distinctio plus a comma or punctus versus, and a colon, that may correspond to a heavy comma, a colon, a semicolon or just to a period (thus, major pause). Finally, the last four images – colon plus S-like stroke or a comma on one side or above –, often followed by an uppercase letter, do tend to correspond to a long pause, our period. In my experience, when the scribe used a punctuation mark comprising a colon plus a distinctio media arranged as a triangle he was marking a new paragraph and not just a regular period, for which he will more likely use a punctus versus (our semicolon) or a colon. Of course, there were also scribes who used just media distinctio for both minor and major pauses.

So, these are some brief notes about the punctuation system used by Visigothic script scribes. It is always confusing to work with punctuation in these type of manuscript sources because of the dissimilarities with our punctuation signs and because each scribe tend to use their own group of signs with, often, their own value. However, some scribes used very distinctive signs of punctuation that could help identify them in other manuscript sources, being thus their study meaningful from a paleographical point of view – besides their significance for editing purposes.

Some useful references:

B. Bischoff (1992), Paleografia latina. Antichità e medioevo, Padova, 241.

A. Millares Carlo (1932), Tratado de Paleografía Española, Madrid, 396.

M.B. Parkes (1993), Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West, Berkeley-Los Angeles.

J. Vezin (1990), “La pounctuation du VIIIe au XIIe siècle”, in Mise en page et mise en texte du livre manuscrit, Paris, 439-441.

J. Vezin (2008), “Le libre et la lectura dans le monde latin pendant le haut Moyen Âge”, in Actas de las Ias Jornadas de Historia del Libro y de la Lectura (Barcelona, 4-5 mayo 2006), Barcelona, 27-48.



– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Punctuation in Visigothic script manuscripts″. Littera Visigothica (April 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/punctuation-in-visigothic-script-manuscripts (ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (VII): Santiago, BU, ms 609

Santiago de Compostela, Biblioteca Universitaria, mss. 609

Diurnal of Fernando I [Psalterium et Liber Canticorum]

Dated 1055 (fol. 212v)

While the last Codex of the month, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 239 was not particularly noted for the quality of its writing material, the skills of its copyist, or a rich program of allegorical illuminations, as it was compiled for practical purposes, the codex chosen this month is quite the opposite. From its first to its last page, Santiago, BU, ms 609 is an exceptional manuscript, elegant and lavishly decorated. One of the very few extant examples of Visigothic script codices conceived for private use by the royals.

In 1055, queen Sancha (1037-1067) commissioned this codex, a prayerbook for her husband king Fernando I of León (1037-1065) (fol. 208v). According to its colophon, she had a direct hand in determining its contents, and, in doing so, she left a fundamental clue for understanding the process of change from the Visigothic to the Roman rite, and thus from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule, in the kingdom of León-Castile (see below ‘context’). In May 1059, she commissioned a further prayerbook for herself, now kept at Salamanca, Biblioteca Universitaria, ms. 2668 (also in Visigothic script) about which you can read more here (in Spanish).


Psalterium et Liber Canticorum.

Fol. 1r-4r: Title page [header] and calendar (1v-4r).

Fol. 4v-5v: Dedication Florus Isidoro abbati, Iheronimus to the Galican psalter, and Alcuin’s De psalmorum usu liber.

FIG. 1 Psalter (Beatus uir...) © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 7v

FIG. 1 Psalter (Beatus uir…) © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 7v

Fol. 7r-196r: Psalter, Incipit In nomine Domini incipit liber psalmorum, Beatus uir qui timet Dominum (fol. 7) [FIG. 1]

Fol. 196r-206r: Old Testament chants and some prayers, one of them with a litany (fol. 198v).

Fol. 207v: Leonese royal obituary.

FIG. 2 Sancia ceu uoluit quod sum Regina peregit... © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 208v

FIG. 2 Sancia ceu uoluit quod sum Regina peregit… © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 208v

Fol. 208v: Sancia ceu uoluit quod sum Regina peregit, era milena nouies dena quoque terna. [FIG. 2]

Fol. 209r: Ordo ad medium noctis.

FIG. 3 Detail of musical notation © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 215v

FIG. 3 Detail of musical notation © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 215v

Fol. 210r: All the notation appears to have been written by a single hand. “The notation reveals clear diastematic tendencies despite being in campo aberto, but this apparent diastematic tendency does not facilitate even an approximate transcription of the melodies. The notation presents an elaborate ductus of regular design, comparable to that in the codices from the Riojan tradition. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Spanish notation from the northern part of the Peninsula” (Hispania Vetus, 256).

* Fol. 209r-224v, later addition (same production center, different scribe, same illuminator).


Support: Excellent parchment, perfectly preserved (restored). The original binding, leather over wood with straps, was very deteriorated and thus restored in February 1973 (Servicio Nacional de Restauración de Libros y Documentos, Madrid) with a modern binding, Mudejar style, with leather straps.

No. of leaves & layout: 226 fol. (310 x 220 mm / 220 x 110 mm); single column justified with double vertical lines on both sides (pricking no longer visible); 22 to 34 lines; ruled in dry point. First gathering, fol. 1-6; it is now formed by two bifolia (fol. 1-6 and 3-5), fol. 2 attached to 1 and fol. 4 (rest of a bifolium) between 3 and 5. Originally, it must have been a quaternion (see Díaz y Díaz, p. 283). The Second segment, fol. 7-203; 25 quaternions (two of them, first and last, incomplete), without signs or catchwords. Third part; ternion + quaternion. There were some alterations in the order of the folia with its restoration. Thus, fol. 6 appears between fol. 2 and 3. The codex lacks one folio between the 4th and 5th, and another one between the 134th and 135th. Modern foliation by pencil, with Arabic numerals in the upper right margin, and several errors (fol. 37 and 199 appear as 37bis and 199bis).

Copyist/s and scripts: Pedro. Minuscule Visigothic script with Carolingian influence.

FIG. 4 Copyist and illuminator © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 208v

FIG. 4 Copyist and illuminator © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 208v

Fol. 208v “Petrus erat scriptor, Fructuosus denique pictor” [FIG. 4].

Illuminator/s: Fructuoso.

FIG. 4 Initial © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 92r

FIG. 5 Initial D © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 92r

The initial of each psalm is decorated with an elaborate drawing, some with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic motifs. Verse initials in gold; the titles of each psalm and didascalias in red [FIG. 5 and 7]. In fol. 152 the initial M was cut off.

FIG. 5 The King, the Queen and the scribe? © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 6v

FIG. 6 The King, the Queen and the scribe? © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 6v

Full-page miniatures on fol. 1 (decorated A as Omega), 6, 7, 207v and 208v. Fol. 6r (presently 3r) includes a full-page ex libris with a labyrinth deciphered as Fredinandi regis sum liber / Fredenandi regis necnon et Sancia regina sum liber. Fol. 6v (presently 3v) includes a miniature that represents the King, the Queen and an additional figure, perhaps the scribe, an abbot, or a noble [FIG. 6].

About the program of illumination and its meaning read M. Castiñeiras, Libro de Horas de Fernando I y Sancha, available online here (in Spanish).


Origin: According to Millares this codex should have been made in or near the monastery of Sahagún.

Provenance: The manuscript arrived at the University of Santiago from the monastery of San Martín Pinario after the expropriation of 1835.


King Fernando I and his wife Sancha have been thought to have played a fundamental role in the introduction of the Roman rite and Carolingian script in the Peninsula, because of their, allegedly, support to the house of Cluny. However, such Cluniac relation and the influence it could have had is not attested by evidence.

FIG. 6 Initial © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 71r

FIG. 7 Initial A © Santiago, BU, ms 609, fol. 71r

The two councils, that of Coyanza in 1055 and of Compostela in 1056, which took place during Fernando’s reign, did encourage the reform of the church but according to a proper observance of the Old Hispanic liturgy. Also, both Fernando’s and Sancha’s Prayer books adapt liturgical influences and private devotional prayer practices from beyond the Pyrenees, but preserving the character of the Spanish liturgy by taking foreign elements like the calendar, the litany and Carolingian prescriptions for private devotional prayer, placing them with the Old Spanish Psalter and Canticles, and altering them for use in León-Castile. None of these adaptations come from the Cluniac tradition. Instead, they are linked to the Carolingian traditional of private devotional prayer, developed by Alcuin for Charlemagne and expanded by later Carolingians (Charles the Bald’s prayer book).

Where Cluniac influence can be found though, is in the addendum Urraca, Fernando’s and Sancha’s daughter, had made to her mother’s prayerbook once she inherited it. The new gathering attached to the original manuscript is wholly Cluniac in content and follows the description of post-time prayer outlined in the customary of Ulrich of Zell, which consists of the seven penitential psalms, a litany, and a series of psalms and collects.

(The last two paragraphs come from the excellent article published by Lucy Pick “Rethinking Cluny in Spain”, pp. 5-7 and 11 respectively, published a couple of years ago, and available online here)

IV. References:

Edited: Díaz y Díaz, M. C. and Moralejo Álvarez, S. (eds.). Libro de Horas de Fernando I de León / transcription by Mª V. Pardo Gómez and Mª A. García Piñeiro / Santiago de Compostela-Madrid, 1995, 2 vols.

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 1983. Códices visigóticos de la monarquía leonesa. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación San Isidoro – CSIC, p. 279-292.

Klinka, E. 2012. “Ego misera et peccatrix…: El Liber mozarabicus canticorum et horarum (Salamanca, ms. 2668)”, e-Spania 12.

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 287.

Pick, L. 2013. “Rethinking Cluny in Spain”, Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies 5/1: 1-17.

Zapke, S. (coord.). 2007. Hispania Vetus. Musical-liturgical manuscripts from Visigothic origins to the Franco-roman transition (9th-12th centuries). Bilbao, 2007, p. 256.

More references.


Digitized (Minerva. Repositorio Institucional da USC).

Littera Visigothica gallery.

– by Ainoa Castro

 Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (VII): Santiago, BU, ms 609″. Littera Visigothica (April 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/codex-of-the-month-santiago-bu-mss-609 (ISSN 2386-6330).

Writing in cursive and minuscule Visigothic script: polygraphism in medieval Galicia

Some time ago I wrote about the different types of Visigothic script explaining that, according to the speed of the strokes the scribe used in writing, the script can be classified into two main typological variants: cursive and minuscule.[1] Visigothic cursive was, in general, drawn quickly, without lifting the pen, which leads to multiple ligatures and connections between letters and words [FIG. 2]. Visigothic minuscule, on the other hand, was written slowly, letter by letter, making it more readable and appealing to the eye. I also mentioned that the cursive variant was the one preferred, at least before the second half of the 11th century, to write charters –since cursive writing for legal issues meant a direct link with the writing practices of the late Roman empire– while minuscule can be found in almost all Visigothic script codices [list] as a main graphic variant. In saying that, it can be thought that the scribe chose which typological variant he wanted –or was supposed– to use for the manuscript he was commissioned to write, be it a charter or a codex, thus implying the scribes were able to use both types. But, was that accurate? If we consider that all Visigothic script scribes were capable of writing in both minuscule and cursive, were thus able to differentiate the uses and traditions linked to both types of scripts too?


FIG. 1 Alphabets, cursive and minuscule Visigothic script.

To write in minuscule or cursive Visigothic script was not just a matter of writing quickly or slowly but rather of using two different scripts, two different ideal graphic models. Both “variants” are grouped under the name ‘Visigothic’ but they are, in fact, not the same script; they differ as for their genetic and chronological origin –in all likelihood even their geographical origin was not the same–, basic graphic characteristics and evolution, chronology… Cursive and minuscule alphabets are not the same [FIG. 1], nor are their abbreviation or even punctuation systems (see more here and here). Therefore, if we think a scribe had the ability to choose which type should be used for his manuscript, we must also think he must have learned and mastered two different writing systems.

Think about that for a moment. We are assuming the scribe was not only so skilled as to be able to write, say, calligraphic cursive Visigothic script, but that he was also capable of writing a beautiful codex in minuscule Visigothic, without mixing alphabets, or, even more significantly, abbreviation systems! (read about medieval abbreviation systems here, part 3) There are substantial differences between the abbreviations used in minuscule and in cursive scripts. Not to confuse which set should he use really implied a profound understanding of the script. He must have been truly exceptional, and his training center/school and master must have been highly remarkable too. So, how many scribes do you think were able to achieve that in the early medieval Iberian Peninsula?


FIG. 2 Basic ligatures, cursive variant.

Although not all the manuscripts that were written and copied throughout the medieval scriptoria of the Iberian Peninsula are extant, and plenty of them have no indication of who their material author was, giving the sources preserved and the textual information they provide, very few scribes were able to achieve such an accomplishment. Polygraphic scribes were scarce. It was uncommon for a scribe to use both cursive and minuscule Visigothic script, and even more unusual if he also used other coeval writing systems or alphabets that can be found in the myriad of cultures that was medieval Spain. The examples we can be sure about are so scarce that they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, or almost.


FIG. 3 Petrus. Samos 1061 (© AHN 1239/13) and Tuy 1071 (© ACTuy, 1/2).

For the Galician area, the one I am familiar with, with some 300 charters written in Visigothic script, I only know of some ten examples of polygraphic scribes we can be completely sure about since we have charters written by them in both cursive and minuscule scripts (or parts of charters: text in minuscule and the scribe’s signature in cursive). One was brought up a couple of weeks ago thanks to a colleague who, reading the last post about the signs used in charters for signatures, recalled seeing the same scribe’s sign I posted in another charter than the one I extracted the image from. That is Petrus [FIG. 3]. Bearing in mind how frequent the name Petrus was back then, and still is, he indeed needed to differentiate himself from other scribes named Petrus, developing his own distinctive sign as he did. We know of at least two charters written by this same Petrus, one with a donation to the monastery of Samos dated 1061, and the other, a royal charter to the see of Tuy, dated 1071. Petrus was a well-trained and skilled scribe. Both charters were written in a very calligraphic script, the first in a neat Visigothic cursive and the second in minuscule variant, with all its proper features and characteristics.

Could there have been more that we are not aware of? Sure there were more, within the same Galician corpus. But how can we identify them when we have no examples of their polygraphism? Remember, cursive and minuscule are two different scripts and thus they cannot be graphically compared for recognising the same hand. Were all the skilled scribes, those of a higher cultural level, polygraphs? It could be; it makes no sense to think about scribes specialised in only cursive or minuscule. Can we assume that those scribes who wrote a perfectly calligraphic cursive Visigothic script with a few abbreviations or even letter forms from the minuscule variant (or vice versa) are telling us they knew and mastered both writing systems? Maybe they got distracted and forgot for a second what the correct form of the sign for the ending -um was. Or, are they just picturing a graphic environment in which both coeval systems were used and influenced one another? In other words, that they did not really graphically differentiate between both writing systems.

© ACLu., Colección de documentos privados, nº 26 y Ainoa Castro

FIG. 4 Semi-cursive script | © ACLu. 26 y Ainoa Castro.

What about the scribes who used the semi-cursive variant [FIG. 4] of Visigothic script? Were they polygraphic scribes or just the few accomplished ones who allowed the graphic influence to happen? The identification of the semi-cursive typological variant is intricate. It is not just a cursive Visigothic with some features from the minuscule one (what I call ‘semi-cursive’) or vice versa (what I call ‘semi-minuscule’), but a total mix of alphabets, abbreviation and punctuation systems. In my point of view, the semi-cursive should not be described as a typological variant, altogether with cursive and minuscule, but as a mirror of the graphic skills the scribes who used it had. For me, every time I come across an example of this script I think about a scribe who was not well trained in any variant although had some knowledge about both. A scribe that did not belong to a main production centre with a well-known school but to a small centre, maybe a small monastery or a parochial church –that is why for some scholars the semi-cursive is also called elemental script.

So, scribes writing in a calligraphic script could thus have been polygraphs, meaning, able to write in both cursive and minuscule, because they learned both writing systems in their high-level school, while uncultured scribes were not polygraphs but rather just poor scribes mixing graphic characteristics because of their cultural level? What was the process of learning to write in cursive and minuscule?

[1] I do not consider here elongate since it is not a different writing system but a type of cursive Visigothic script.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Writing in cursive and minuscule Visigothic script: polygraphism in medieval Galicia″. Littera Visigothica (March 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/writing-in-cursive-and-minuscule-visigothic-script-polygraphism-in-medieval-galicia (ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (VI): Paris, BN, NAL 239

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 239

Regula sancti Leandri et Flores sanctorum

Dated 10th + 11th century

The codex chosen this month is very different from the previous ones. It was not made to inspire fear and teach through its astonishing program of miniatures as the Beatos, nor has it ornamentation or curious decorated initials to talk about as the Leonese Antiphonarium mozarabicum or the John Rylands’ Moralia. This codex was copied only because it was necessary for the pious practice of its owner; there was no need for an excruciating slow writing, the most skilled scribe, or the finest parchment available. Codex Paris, BN, NAL 239 is a monastic book, one that transmits, among other similar texts, the Regula of Leander of Seville, Isidore’s brother, as he composed it for his sister, Saint Florentina, nun and founder of a long list of monasteries in 6th-century Hispania.


This book is formed by two distinct parts that were already together at an early time.


FIG. 1 Detail of incipit (Epistola beati Iheronimi) © Paris, BN, NAL 239, fol. 26r

A) The first part, fol. 1r-67v –lacking some of its initial and final folia–, gathers different monastic texts from the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, useful for a female community: fol. 1-10 Saint Leander of Seville’s Regula (fragment) (PL 72 0873); fol. 10-23 Saint Ambrose’s De lapsu uirginis (CC); fol. 26-30, epistola beati Iheronimi ad Eustociam directam (de custodia uirginitatis, 22); fol. 30v-38, epistola sancti Ambrosi ad germanam suam directa; fol. 33v-38, epistola Euacri ad uirginem directam; fol. 38-42, epistola beati Iheronimi ad quondam uirginem. To these corpus of texts follows what seems to be two letters about computus (on the dates of Eastern in relation to the Jewish celebration), dated 764, between some Petrus and the bishop of Cordoba Félix (fol. 42v-43v-47v), and the Vita uel transitus beatissime sancta Seculine (Ségolène de Troclar) (fol. 47v-67v) [FIG. 1].


FIG. 2 Detail of incipit (Saint Pelagius) © Paris, BN, NAL 239, fol. 74r

B) The second part, fol. 68-83 –lacking a bifolium between fol. 74 and 75 (being, currently, one fol. 82)–, presents the liturgy of Saint Pelagius of Córdoba (10th century), including his Passio (fol. 74) [FIG. 2]. It still has the first folio, 68r, blank.


Support: Besides lacking some gatherings and some damage in the internal folia that were used as flyleaves, it is a well-preserved codex. The parchment used to copy part B is of less quality, thick and rough. Modern binding of brown leather.

No. of leaves & layout (more on codicology of Visigothic script codices here):

A) 67 fol. (255 x 150 mm); single column; quaternions; pricking and ruling (in dry point) varies:


FIG. 3 Detail of pricking and ruling part A © Paris, BN, NAL 239, fol. 8r

The pricking and ruling are not the same in all the gatherings. Thus, fol. 1-22 were ruled with a vertical line in the left side, pricking in the upper and bottom margins, and two vertical lines in the right side, with only the second one pricked. The horizontal lines, 22 for fol. 1-14 and 17 for fol. 15-22, were pricked on both sides, although only that done in the outer margin can be clearly seen. These lines go across all the page, irregularly, surpassing the vertical lines by both sides. The interlinear space, vertical and horizontal, varies for each quaternion. The scribe did not copy text on the last of the horizontal lines. And also the text was sometimes continued after the vertical lines, altogether making an irregular text box, only justified by the left margin [FIG. 3]. On the other hand, fols. 23-67 were ruled with only one vertical line each side of the writing box while the horizontal lines of this group go from 20 for fol. 23-45 to 21 for fol. 46-67 – with text on the last horizontal too.


FIG. 4 Detail of catchwords part A (conuersa) © Paris, BN, NAL 239, fol. 30v-31r

Although some of the first quaternions have lost folia, catchwords, linking a gathering with its next one, can still be found on fol. 14v, 22v, 30v, 37v and 45v [FIG. 4].

B) 16 fols. (255 x 150 mm); 18-lines, single column; bifolia; pricking and ruling (in dry point) done for both vertical (one for each side) and horizontal lines (pricked in the outer margin). The interlinear space results, again, irregular. Neither signatures nor catchwords were used to help organize the gatherings [FIG. 5].


FIG. 5 Detail of part B © Paris, BN, NAL 239, fol. 69v

Copyist/s and scripts: 

One scribe, who for Díaz y Díaz subscribed on fol. 47v, copied part A in a minuscule Visigothic script with cursive influence. The same hand wrote down on the outer margins the texts to be rubricated in Half-Uncial script with the openings of each of the works copied [FIG. 1]. This scribe has been dated by Díaz y Díaz as from the 10th century.

 Benedictus es domine quoniam adiuuisti me et consolatus es me. O uos qui legeritis me indignum miserum et nimis peccatorum meorum catenis abstrictum nec nominandum Uiliulfum imperitum in uestra digna memoriam reducite precantes pro delictis meis domini misericordia, si uos ille Iesus meus introducat in caelorum patria gloriosa, amen. (Fol. 47v)

Two scribes copied part B (one fol. 68-75v, 83; the other fol. 75v-81, 83) using different types of black ink, in minuscule Visigothic script. These scribes have been dated by Díaz y Díaz as from the 11th century.


FIG. 6 Folio part B © Paris, BN, NAL 239, fol. 70r

None of the three scribes show a calligraphic script, but rather rudimentary skills in writing [FIG. 6] meaning that the text was not carefully written as in other lavishly made codices to be treasured. This codex just required to be useful. Thus, the script needed to be easy to read, the text easy to follow. No flourishes were used because none were necessary.

Illuminator/s: There are no miniatures in any of the two parts of the codex. Only some simple initials in red (part A) and red and green (part B).


Origin: While for Millares this codex should have been made in a Mozarabic center considering its content, Díaz y Díaz ascribes it to Castilia; moreover, to a Castilian center nearby Aragon. Bearing in mind the first part of the codex, it was clearly made for a female monastic community. Considering the second part, it must have been written in or for a monastery consecrated to San Pelayo. It has been proposed the women’s monastery of San Pelayo, near Salas de los Infantes (Burgos), as production center, although it could have been copied in any other pelagian cenobium nearby Silos.

Provenance: Santo Domingo de Silos; it seems that this codex was in the monastery’s archive in the 18th century as included on its catalog.

Context: There are only two other extant codices with Leander’s Regula, also in Visigothic script: the so-called Codex of Leodegundia (El Escorial, Biblioteca del Monasterio, a.I.13, 11th century), and the Emilianensis 53 (Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Emilianense 53, 11th century; digitized). No other copies of Saint Ambrose’s De lapsu uirginis or the Vita sancta Seculine.

IV. References:

Clark, C. U. 1920. Collectanea Hispanica. Paris, p. 53, nº 660. (online)

Delisle, L. 1880. Mélanges de Paléographie et de Bibliographie. Paris, p. 76-78. (online)

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 1983. Códices visigóticos de la monarquía leonesa. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación San Isidoro – CSIC, p. 448-451, nº 183 and 184.

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 255.

Digitized (BnF Gallica).

Littera Visigothica gallery.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (VI): Paris, BN, nal 239″. Littera Visigothica (March 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/codex-of-the-month-paris-bn-nal-239 (ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (V): Paris, BN, NAL 2170

Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 2170


Dated c. 928 + 11th century

Cassianus’ Collationes Patrum were not as popular throughout the Iberian Peninsula as the Beatos or the Moralia in Iob, medieval best-sellers of the last Codex of the month posts. However, codices with this work were also well-known and spread. The Collationes are a compilation of 24 texts, dialogs or conferences, in which several characters introduce the reader to the teachings and precepts of Oriental monasticism. Iohannes Cassianus (c. 365-c. 435) summarized on this work the principles of Eastern monasticism, as he lived them on his pilgrimage to the Egyptian hermits with his master and friend abbot Germanus of Bethlehem, introducing thus them into Europe.

(More about Cassianus’ life and work)


© Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 120v

Detail of explicit, incipit and index © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 120v

A) Fols. 1r-236v: Cassianus, Collationes Patrum. The first two quires are missing; it starts with the end of cap. IX, collatio secunda (abbatis Moysis). (read Migne’s PL 49, 477 – 1328C,  online)

Each collatio has its own incipit, index with number and title of each cap., and explicit –for example, collatio tertia ‘conlatio abbatis Pafnuntii’ = 22 cap. = incipit + index in fol. 7r and explicit in fol. 16r.

(fol. 236v) “Explicit conlatio abbatis Abrahe de mortificatione. Finit liber conlationum editum a beato Cassiano. Deo gratias”.

B) Fol. 236v: Prayer in honor of Sancti Martialis Episcopi (with musical notation). “O princips egregie, o Martialis…”

© Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 236v

Prayer in honor of Sancti Martialis © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 236v

C) Fols. 237r-255r: Vita Sancti Martialis Episcopi (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina 5552)

(fol. 236v; Gothic script) “Incipit uita sancti ac gloriosissimi Marcialis episcopi Equitaniorum primi patroni Lemouicensium ciuitas, qui obiit pridie kalendas Iulii” (fol. 237v with the same version written in Visigothic script).

* The codex has a large collection of glosses, emendations, and some other notes (synonyms), from the 11th century mostly.

© Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 6r

Detail of notes © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 6r

* Order of copy: Collationes -> Vita -> Prayer (on a verso left blank).


Support: well-preserved text, although many leaves have been damaged by humidity lacking of almost all external margins. Only half of the inner column is extant for fol. 165. Modern binding of brown leather.

No. of leaves & layout: 259 fols. (370 x 270 mm); two columns-35 lines for the first part and two columns-31 lines for the second one; quaternions; ruled in dry point (two vertical lines defining the outer margin of the writing box and a vertical line in each column in the inner area; 2-1-1-2; the pricking for those vertical lines easily found).

© Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 53r

Detail of pricking and ruling of the page © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 53r

The chapter of each collatio is sometimes referred to in the upper margin of the folio. There are some subtle differences in the layout used by each scribe. Thus, for example, in collatio nona (second scribe), the numerals for each chapter go in the intercolumn space and not within each column.

Copyist/s: At least six copyist. Working in the second decade of the 10th century: fols. 1r-38r, fols. 38r-96v (identified as Alburanus, fol. 87r), fols. 97r-146v, fols. 146v-233v (identified as Iulianus). Working in the 11th century: fols. 234r-236v and fols. 237r-255r. In the first part of the codex, there are also some 11th-century additions on fols. 128v (editing faded ink) and 148v.

(fol. 87r) “Explicit conlatio abbatis Isaac secunda de oratione. Deo gratias. Expliciunt conlationes X sanctorum Adelladio et Leontio episcopis. Incipiunt alie VII ad Honoratum aepiscopum et Eucerio famulo Christi. Amen. Deo gratias. Hec sunt in hoc codice conlationes numero VII, abbatis Ceremonis conlationes III, abbatis Nestoris conlationes II, abbatis Iosep conlationes II. Incipit prefatio. O pie lector Albunari scribtoris memento“.

* Each chapter header highlighted in red ink mostly, sometimes in green, and copied by the same hand that its text.


Collationes Patrum: This part of the manuscript contains a number of small decorative initials or litterae notabiliores in green, yellow and red as part of incipit and explicit. Seem that their style slightly changes between hands, especially between the first two and the third one, less elaborated. In some of these initials, small figures were added within; especially in those corresponding to the third hand.

© Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 66r

Detail of initial © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 66r

Vita Sancti Martialis: On this second part, initials were also highlighted in red, green, yellow and blue but in a continental style.

Script: For the first part, Collationes, minuscule Visigothic script; for the second part, Vita Sancti Martialis Episcopi, minuscule Visigothic script with some slight graphic influence from Caroline minuscule.

Detail scribe 1 vs. 2 © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 38r

Detail scribe 1 vs. 2 of the Collationes © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 38r


Origin: All seems to indicate that the codex was copied at the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (Burgos), at least its second part and the glosses–without a thorough graphic analysis, the scripts of the 10th and of the 11th seem to differ enough as to possibly belong to two different production centers of the same cultural level.

Provenance: Santo Domingo de Silos?; this codex was in the monastery’s archive in the 18th century.

Context: Cassianus’ works were fundamental readings about monasticism in medieval Europe. How institutions should be managed and how the ascetic experience must be understood as useful for a better comprehension of God and the nature of His word. During the 9th and 10th centuries, both Cassianus’s Collationes as well as his Institutiones were read and copied in the Iberian Peninsula: we have 10 extant codices, four Institutiones and six Collationes all dating from that period ((you can find them on the Excel list of manuscripts here). And the interest on these works was not geographically focused on one place, but rather widely spread throughout all the Visigothic ancient kingdom: from Córdoba to Barcelona, including Burgos, Zaragoza, and La Rioja, monasteries from very different backgrounds read, and annotated, Cassianus.

IV. Personal comments:

Detail 11th-century additions © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 148v

Detail 11th-century additions © Paris, BN, NAL 2170, fol. 148v

As far as I know, although the content of this codex has been extensively studied, the several hands who collaborate on its copy have not. Therefore, a further study of each of these scribes would be interesting, especially bearing in mind their collaboration dividing up quires and content. If both parts of the manuscript were written and annotated in the same production center, Silos, their graphical study would also bring light about the evolution of the script in there from the early-mid-10th to the late 11th century.

V. References:

Clark, C. U. 1920. Collectanea Hispanica. Paris, p. 54, nº 669. (online)

Delisle, L. 1880. Mélanges de Paléographie et de Bibliographie. Paris, p. 78-79. (online)

Díaz y Díaz, M. C. 1983. Códices visigóticos de la monarquía leonesa. León: Centro de Estudios e Investigación San Isidoro – CSIC, p. 454, nº 188.

Lowe, E. A. 1910. Studia Paleographica. Munich, p. 63, nº 31 (Palaeographical Papers. I. Oxford, 1972). (online)

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 262.

Millares Carlo, A. 1932. Tratado de Paleografía Española. Madrid, p. 568, nº 215.

More on Cassian -> Tzamaliko, P. 2012. The real Cassian revisited: monastic Life, Greek paideia, and Origenism in the sixth century. Leiden.

 Digitized (BnF Gallica).

Littera Visigothica gallery.

– by Ainoa Castro


Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (V): Paris, BN, NAL 2170″. Littera Visigothica (February 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/codex-of-the-month-paris-bn-nal-2170 (ISSN 2386-6330).

Codex of the month (IV): Lyon, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 443

Codex of the month (IV):  Lyon, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 443


 + Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 1591


7th – 9th century [Visigothic script dated c. late 8th – early 9th c]



Origen (185-254 C.E.) was a scholar and early Christian theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He is considered one of the most important and prolific early church fathers, playing through his work a critical role in the development of Christian thought.

He was an inexhaustible writer in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality. Some of his reputed teachings, such as the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatastasis), and the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, later became controversial among Christian theologians.


Origen wrote more than two hundred homilies on almost the entire Bible that are extant in Greek or in Latin translations. This codex contains the homilies In Genesin, In Exodum and In Leuiticum, as translated from Greek into Latin by Rufinus Aquileiensis (345-410) [see Migne Patrologia Latina]. 13 additional folios containing the beginning of the homilies In leuiticum are now at Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale (nouv. acq. lat. 1591).


Composition: folios 1-6, 12-76, 78-161 -> 7th century; folios 162-226, 232-279 -> 7th century; folios 7-11, 77, 227-231 -> 8th-9th century (restored).

Support: well-preserved parchment.

No. of leaves & layout: 279 fols.; 1) fols. 1-6, 12-76, 78-161: 345 × 295 mm (280 × 205 mm; single column, 29 lines); 2) fols. 162-226, 232-279: ca. 350 × 295 mm (275 × 205-220 mm; single column, 29 lines); 3) fols. 7-11, 77, 227-231: 350 × 295 mm (260 × 210 mm, single column, 31 lines).

Folios in Visigothic script: 7-11, 77v, 82r -glosses-.

Copyist/s: unknown.

Half-Uncial (7th century): 1) folios 1-6, 12-76, 78-114v. (related with Lyon, Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, Ms 604); 2) folios 115-161.

Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol16v

© Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol16v

Uncial (7th century): folios 162-226, 232-279 (expert scribe).

Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol162r

© Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol162r

Merovingian script (7th c.): some liturgical notes and names of readers (f. 17v, 24v, 33r, 58r, 82r, 87v, 99r).Caroline minuscule (8th-9th century): 1) folio 77r-v.; 2) folios 227-231.

Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol16r

© Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol16r

Caroline minuscule (8th-9th century): 1) folio 77r-v.; 2) folios 227-231.

Visigothic script (8th-9th century): 1) folios 7-9v, 10v, 11r; 2) 9v-10v, 11r-v; 3) 77v, 82r.

Illuminator/s: unknown. Decorated initials in the first Half-Uncial hand.

Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol28v

© Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol28v

Script: This codex was written in three stages, being started in the 7th century and continued until the 8th-9th centuries. As a consequence, it was written mostly in Uncial and Half-Uncial, with some folios in minuscule Visigothic script and Caroline minuscule, and notes in Merovingian script.

Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol77v

© Lyon, Bibl. Municipale, MS 443, fol77v


Origin: folios 1-6, 12-76, 78-161 and folios 162-226, 232-279 -> from a Merovingian production center, possibly Lyon; folios 7-11, 77, 227-231 -> copied in southern France, in a production center with a close relationship with the Iberian Peninsula (maybe in Lyon?).

Provenance: The codex was already in Lyon in the 9th century (annotated by Florus, deacon).

V. Notes

Other copies in Visigothic script from Origen’s works:

  • Barcelona, Biblioteca de Catalunya, Colección Mundó (9th c.): Origenes, In Exodum, Hom. III, 3 (2 fragments, bifolium).
  • Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Emilianense 63 (late 9 th – early 10th c.): Origenes, Homiliae in librum Iosua (53 fols.). [online here]


© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, MS 63, fol11v

VI. References

Millares Carlo, A. 1999. Corpus de códices visigóticos (ed. by M. C. Díaz y Díaz, A. M. Mundo Marcet, J. M. Ruiz Asencio, B. Casado Quintanilla, and E. Lecuona Ribot). Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: UNED, nº 122.

More references on the archive’s website.

Digitized (the 2nd one)

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Codex of the month (IV):  Lyon, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms. 443″. Littera Visigothica (January 2015), http://litteravisigothica.com/codex-of-the-month-lyon-bibliotheque-municipale-ms-443 (ISSN 2386-6330).