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), (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), (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.

Littera Visigothica at the IMC Leeds 2016

Around three months ago, I sent a call for papers asking for speakers to participate in at least one session on the change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule in the Iberian Peninsula as part of the International Medieval Congress organised in Leeds every year. Well, the call was an extraordinary success, with many abstracts received approaching the topic from many different points of view. I am very grateful to all of you who contacted me, as well as to those who help to spread the call. As a consequence of the interest shown, not only one but four very interesting sessions came to be, were proposed to the IMC Leeds Committee, and accepted! Thus, if you are interested in medieval manuscripts from the Iberian Peninsula, in Visigothic script, in medieval musical notation in the Iberian Peninsula, in Peninsular Arabic-Latin scribes, in Caroline minuscule, or in Gothic scripts, to name but a few of the key topics that will be discussed in these four sessions, your place will be Leeds, 2016, 6 of July. We would love to see you there!

From Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule, from Caroline minuscule to Gothic scripts. 

The reception and evolution of Caroline minuscule in the Iberian Peninsula.

Sponsor: Network for the Study of Caroline Minuscule

Organiser: Ainoa Castro Correa, Department of History, King’s College London

Abstract: While in 11th-century Europe Caroline minuscule was the main writing system used in manuscript production, in most of the Iberian Peninsula this script was just beginning to be used. The persistence of the traditional peninsular script, Visigothic, led to a long and unequal transitional phase towards the new imported graphic system. At the same time, once the change was accepted, its graphic model arrived lacking its essential nature evolving thus quickly to a variety of proto-Gothic scripts which gave back to the Peninsula its graphic particularity. With works on scribes developing their careers in the periods in between writing systems, these sessions aim to explore the contexts of graphic change and polygraphism lived in the Iberian Peninsula from the 11th to the 14th century.

Session I: Visigothic Tradition Fading

This first session kicks off discussion by looking into how Visigothic script began to fade as main writing system in both manuscript and epigraphic sources. [Moderator/Chair: Ainoa Castro Correa, King’s College London]

  • ‘La escritura toledana, mourisca o visigótica en Portugal en el siglo XI’ – María José Azevedo Santos (Universidade de Coimbra)
  • Los centros escriptorios en el Reino de León: la transición de la visigótica a la carolina a través de la escritura publicitaria’ – María Encarnación Martín López (Universidad de León)
  • The Corsini Beatus: A Transition from the Visigothic Tradition’ – Barbara Shailor (Yale University)

Session II: Resistance to Caroline Minuscule

This second session discusses some of the most significant strongholds of Visigothic script tradition, displaying, through the analysis of manuscript and epigraphic sources, resistance to the graphic change. [Moderator/Chair: Elsa De Luca, University of Bristol]

  • ‘De la escritura visigótica a la carolina: Pasos hacia la nueva producción epigráfica en los centros de La Rioja’ – Irene Pereira García (Universidad de León)
  • Cultura escrita en el monasterio de Santa María de Monfero (A Coruña): Notarios y ‘scriptores’ de los ss. XII y XIII’ – María Teresa Carrasco Lazareno (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
  • Abbreviation by superscripted vowel: its arrival and use in documents and books from Castile’ – Francisco J. Molina (Universidad de Valladolid)

Session III: Parallel Changes – Outside the Conflict Visigothic Versus Caroline

At the same time as the collision of the two writing systems, Visigothic and Caroline, took place, other significant changes materialised in manuscript sources. This third session explores coeval changes in musical notation and language as well as in parallel cultural contexts. [Moderator/Chair: Irene Pereira García, Universidad de León]

  • ‘Graphical Changes in Old Hispanic Vertical Notation’ – Elsa De Luca (University of Bristol)
  • The Signatures in the Mozarabic Documents in Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Toledo’ – Yasmine Beale-Rivaya (Texas State University)
  • Modelos escriturarios arcaicos en la cultura manuscrita gallega siglos XIII-XIV’ – Ricardo Pichel Gotérrez (University of Birmingham)

Session IV: The Brief Life of Caroline Minuscule 

Once the Carolingian writing system was finally imposed, its troublesome introduction mirrored in a brief life fading against Gothic scripts. This fourth session closes the topic of graphic change by discussing the last years of Caroline minuscule in the Iberian Peninsula. [Moderator/Chair: Ricardo Pichel Gotérrez, University of Birmingham]

  • ‘De la carolina a la gótica en Cataluña: Contextos, lugares, nombres, problemas’ – J. Antoni Iglesias Fonseca (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
  • El proceso de gotización de la escritura carolina en Cataluña’ – Mireia Comas / Daniel Piñol (Universitat de Barcelona)
  • De escribas y escrituras en los documentos de Oña, 1107-1215′ – Concepción Mendo Carmona (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)



Littera Visigothica at the London International Palaeography Summer School

Exciting news:

I am teaching a full-day course on Visigothic script for the London International Palaeography Summer School!

As you can read in its site, the London International Palaeography Summer School is a series of intensive courses in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies that takes place each Summer in London. The next year, 2016, it will run from the 13 to the 17 of June.

The Summer School is hosted by the Centre for Manuscript and Print Studies with the co-operation of the British Library, the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House Library, the Warburg Institute, University College, King’s College London and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Courses offered at the London International Palaeography Summer School range from a half to two days duration and are given by experts in their respective fields from a wide range of institutions (you can read about teachers’ affiliations and research interests here). Subject areas include Latin, English, Anglo-Saxon, German and Greek palaeography, history of scripts, illuminated manuscripts, codicology, vernacular editing and liturgical and devotional manuscripts (course overview). For the first time, next year there will be a specific course on Visigothic script too!

Introduction to Visigothic Script

Dr Ainoa Castro Correa (King’s College London)
Full day – from 10.00 to 17.00 – 14 June 2016
Maximum: 15 students
Venue: Senate House Library


Almost all written production in what is now Spain and Portugal from the 8th to the 12th centuries was done in what is called ‘Visigothic script’, which evolved in the Peninsula from the scripts of the Late Roman Empire just as Merovingian, Insular, and Beneventan scripts did in their corresponding geographical areas. In this course, students will gain knowledge about not only the origin of Visigothic script but also about its main typological and geographical variants and its stages of evolution throughout the centuries, these aspects being discussed through digital reproductions of significant manuscript examples.

This course is open to everyone interested in medieval manuscript production, with a focus on the Iberian Peninsula’s manuscript material. Its main aim is to familiarise the participants with a particular model of medieval script, with those letters, signs, and abbreviations that characterise Visigothic script. Therefore, no previous experience is required although students with at least a basic training in palaeography will particularly benefit from the course. There will be some transcription exercises where those students who wish to do so will have the opportunity to practice reading the script.

Some basic references you might find useful – if you want to come prepared:

  • J. Alturo Perucho, A. Castro Correa and M. Torras Cortina (eds.), La escritura visigótica en la Península Ibérica. Nuevas aportaciones (Bellaterra, 2012).
  • Mª J. Azevedo Santos, Da visigótica à carolina, a escrita em Portugal de 882 a 1172 (Lisbon, 1994).
  • M. C. Díaz y Díaz et al., Corpus de códices visigóticos (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1999).
  • A. Millares Carlo, Tratado de Paleografía española (Madrid, 1983).
  • I. Velázquez Soriano, Documentos de época visigoda escritos en pizarra (Turnhout, 2000).

(You can also check the Bibliography page above, and, of course, the contents of this site organised for teaching purposes).

There will be plenty of cool images, the key topics will be openly discussed. No need to be an expert! I would love to see you all there.

The inscription for this course will open in early January. In the meantime, you can check the London International Palaeography Summer School site for more info. Don’t miss it!

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),

(ISSN 2386-6330).

How did scribes perceive the graphic change?

If you are reading this post, you more likely come from its first part “Visigothic script at the 19th Colloquium of the CIPL”. If not, some context: Earlier this month, I gave a paper at the 19th Colloquium of the Comité international de paléographie latine about the change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule. There, instead of going through a detailed list of graphic changes, what I did was to organize my presentation into four main unsolved questions which can be extrapolated to any period of graphic change aiming to foster discussion on the topic.

How did scribes perceive the graphic change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule? :

To what extent were the scribes aware of the graphic differences between writing systems?

Were early 12th-century Galician scribes polygraphic amanuenses?

How were scribes trained in the new script? Who taught them?

Was the social status of Visigothic and Carolingian script scribes the same?

FIG. 1. A glimpse of one of the earliest charters written in Caroline minuscule from Galicia (dated 1126)

FIG. 1. A glimpse of one of the earliest charters written in Caroline minuscule from Galicia (dated 1126)

Medieval scribes did not have the freedom to choose the form of the letters they were using to write as we have now. Rather, they had a model, a standard that was followed by a given geographical area, which usually corresponds to a political entity – meaning a country or group of kingdoms with a cultural link.

As for Visigothic script, as I guess as for many other medieval and modern scripts, it was not decided per se that everything needed to be written in Visigothic; the script just evolved developing to what we identify now as that particular graphic model. Caroline minuscule, on the other hand, was, in the Iberian Peninsula, imposed. From the late 9th century on, the writing system that is Carolingian was spread and prioritized instead of the Visigothic one in the scriptoria that populated the different kingdoms of medieval Spain. Scribes who were, until that moment, using Visigothic, needed, thereafter, to learn and apply Caroline minuscule. Some agree, some others did not.

Such a process of graphic change here roughly explained, offers an exceptional milieu upon which to study many different aspects and not just the scripts used. For example, those scribes who decided not to use Caroline, even when they were supposed to do so, show objection for a reason, be it respect for a prior cultural tradition for them worth preserving or just old age and reluctance to learn something new. They could belong to a scriptorium that was opposed to all Carolingian graphic, religious, and/or political influence, or they might just have had problems to find and/or afford a master of Caroline minuscule to teach them. As can be seen, the approach accepts a rainbow of possibilities, as many as you want.

The Harley Psalter, 1st half of the 11th c. © British Library, digitized at

FIG. 2. The Harley Psalter, 1st half of the 11th c. © British Library, digitized at

Regardless of how we want to interpret the graphic change, what is beyond question is that scribes were aware of it. They indeed perceived it. Let us leave aside the historical, political, cultural, and/or religious change to focus upon the graphic one. To what extent were the scribes aware of the graphic differences between writing systems? What my research has shown is that Visigothic script scribes did recognize Caroline minuscule, being aware of its peculiarities.

In comparison with Visigothic, Caroline minuscule has a different set of letterforms – particularly for a, g, I, and t -, and abbreviations – new to the system were, for example, those of noster/uester with theme in r instead of in s [you can read more about abbreviations and letterforms here and here]. Punctuation also has its nuances [more here]. The ductus is, however, not far from that of Visigothic minuscule. Anyway, there was a difference. So, what some Visigothic script scribes did was to start incorporating some of these new features into their hands, using a typology that we now describe as transitional Visigothic script [more here and here].

Did they do it consciously or not? It can only be guessed; say they did. Why? Were they learning the new system and, thus, did not master it yet? Were they trying to add some traces of trendiness even when they did not want to change? Again, those who did not add the new features, why did they preserve the Visigothic model? It is difficult to assess. What it can be said is that, through the close examination of extant charters, they seem to have been a bit confused at first about which features belong to which graphic model, since we find some hands that mixed scripts in a very particular way. See the image below; this is a Visigothic minuscule hand who wrote a Carolingian abbreviation adding also the Visigothic one.

Caroline nb + Visigothic -is Santiago de Compostela, AHUS., Blanco Ciceron, 188 (1122)

FIG. 3. Caroline minuscule nb + Visigothic script sign for -is © Santiago de Compostela, AHUS., Blanco Cicerón, 188 (dated 1122)

Does this mean that the scribes who mixed both scripts were polygraphic amanuenses, meaning that they were able to write in both scripts, Visigothic and Caroline? I do not think so. Some of them might have been, but not all. In my point of view, most of the scribes working on this transitional period of graphic change were either learning Caroline minuscule or irremediable influenced by it, consciously or not. Another question to ask is whether they were polygraphic Visigothic script scribes; I have already written about this here.

Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis, late 10th c. © El Escorial d.I.2

FIG. 4. Codex Vigilanus seu Albeldensis, late 10th c. © El Escorial d.I.2

How the process of learning a new script was for the scribes who decided to change? Leaving aside the dissimilarities between the two writing systems, Visigothic and Caroline do not look so different. Our brain needs to be reminded, though, that in medieval times written culture was not as today. Most of the population now is able to write, in the Middle Ages this was not the case. Thus, to learn a new script must have been a great deal. It is known that Carolingian masters came to the Iberian Peninsula to teach the new script to those who wanted to learn it, but there is no direct evidence to explain how the process itself was. For those who already knew Visigothic, it must have been easier to learn the new features, or maybe not? If we were now obliged to modify the form of our a or t, how long will take to our brain, eye and hand, to actually change? [see related posts about me learning to write in Visigothic script].

Learning to write in Visigothic script

FIG. 5. Learning to write in Visigothic script

Another difference between now and 12th century Iberian Peninsula is that, back then, writing was a laborious and slow process; it can be assumed their brain had enough time to realize the model the scribe’s hand should follow, or not? This could be another post. Let us just note here that examples of codices in which the copyist lost his thought and wrote some lines in another script have been preserved.

Finally, as for the last question, it has been suggested that those scribes and scriptoria that changed to Caroline were thus accepting and acknowledging Carolingian cultural pre-eminence. If so, it can be discussed whether Carolingian scribes held a higher status than Visigothic script scribes. In my opinion, to assess this question is tricky if not impossible. I guess that if a center felt powerful enough as to fight for the preservation of its own culture, it did not subdue; while if it was a minor center it could have done so? What do you think?


PD. If you know about publications tackling one or several of these questions, I would be grateful if you could please let me know.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “How did scribes perceive the graphic change?″. Littera Visigothica (September 2015), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Visigothic script at the 19th Colloquium of the CIPL

Earlier this month I was giving a paper in Berlin at the 19th Colloquium of the Comité international de paléographie latine [for those of you who do not know it, you can join APICES – Association Paléographique Internationale. Culture. Écriture. Societé, which is the “public” counterpart of the Comité and runs a very useful mailing list – also has a journal]. The meeting had as main theme „Change“ in medieval and Renaissance scripts and manuscripts.

“Change” is history. It occurs in every aspect of human culture: political, technical, theological, ideological, legal, literary, etc. It can affect a single person, a group or an entire society. It has multiple temporal dimensions, from immediate decisions to long-term consequences. It is a process, which can be described and explained as the result of individual action, but also as the outcome of anonymous, collective, transformations. Like other sciences, palaeography and codicology have gradually developed their own concepts and terms to analyse change in medieval and early modern scripts and manuscripts. Some of these endeavour to offer more or less ambitious explanatory models, either for specific phenomena or for general trends. Many others are essentially descriptive, typological and chronological, but they too refer to implicit theories of historical evolution. All these notions deserve to be tested and discussed. “Change in medieval manuscripts” can refer to many phenomena, on different scales (a scribe, a scriptorium, a wider context). These are mostly intertwined and can be studied as causes or consequences of one another, e.g.: the structure and style of scripts; the visual and material appearance of books; the social organisation and economy of writing and book making; materials and technical processes; processes of disseminating, preserving and using written works… Preference will be given to proposals offering not only descriptive approaches but original reflections and interpretations, e.g. on the following: evidence of change; explanations of change; change as a turning-point (periodisation); factors facilitating or hindering change.

 You can read abstracts of all the presentations given here.

There was also an exhibit at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin: „Anatomy of Letters“ by Sigríður Rún. Really fascinating, check it -> here and here.

Exhibit "Anatomy of letters" by Sigríður Rún

Exhibit “Anatomy of letters” by Sigríður Rún

As could not be otherwise because of the organizer, the quality of the speakers was astounding. I particularly enjoyed the papers by Peter Stokes, Irene Ceccherini, Carmen del Camino, Colleen Curran, Orietta Da Rold, Martin Schubert, Elena Rodríguez, and Dominique Stutzmann (presentation order), although almost all of them have been useful for my research either because of the methodology applied, the main conclusions presented, or just the brainstorming to which they led trying to shed light in solving the “change” query from different points of view and different corpora. In a couple of years, more or less, I guess we will have the proceedings published; I will cherish this book as many of the previous ones [the 1987 colloquium was almost entirely about Visigothic script, see].

Visigothic script at the 19th Colloquium of the CIPL

Visigothic script at the 19th Colloquium of the CIPL

My paper was entitled “The regional study of Visigothic script: Visigothic vs. Caroline minuscule in Galicia”, and, as it suggests, it was about the graphic change but from a different point of view. Here is the abstract:

The last three decades of the 11th century were, for Galicia, a crucial period of cultural and political change. The effective political incorporation of the territory as a county of the Kingdom of León-Castile resulted in the replacement of the traditional local nobility for new aristocrats more consistent with the French preferences of the monarchy and the ecclesiastical elites. At the same time, this new centralized management promoted open paths for the massive arrival of European culture, leading to, among other things, the change from Visigothic script, the common writing system used in the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania from at least the early decades of the eighth century, to Caroline minuscule, the supra-national handwriting spread into general use throughout Europe. But, how did the scribes perceive this cultural and graphic change and adopted it?

Through the graphic examination of the first charters written in Visigothic script with Carolingian influence (c. 1070) to the first ones already written in the new script (c. 1110), this paper seeks to evaluate the impact that the change of writing system, from Visigothic to Caroline, progressively carried out reinforced by the central government and the new nobility, had on the scribes working in the main two Galician production centres, the sees of Lugo and Santiago de Compostela. It will be discussed the meaning of changing scripts for the scribes who used them; for the generation trained in Visigothic script that was driven to change its habits adopting the new writing system as well as for the new generation of those who learnt to write directly in Caroline minuscule within Galicia or, trained abroad, came to these main sees to develop their professional career. It is intended to deep in the social status of those two groups, asking if there were social differences between scribes from the old and the new scripts, and to debate how, through the graphic examples preserved, we can supposed their interaction was.

As a final point, the cultural context in which the graphic change was framed will be broadly discussed; how the rhythm of adaptation was and how it affected the political milieu in which Lugo and Santiago were in relation to the central government of the kings of León-Castile.

My point. These 3-days colloquia are exhausting for everyone and I did not want to overload my colleagues with a large amount of data and images analyzing every single aspect of the process of graphic change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule. Rather, I wanted to encourage a collective discussion through asking some general unsolved questions which can be extrapolated to any period of graphic change:

How did scribes perceive the graphic change from Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule? :

To what extent were the scribes aware of the graphic differences between writing systems?

Were early 12th-century Galician scribes polygraphic amanuenses?

How were scribes trained in the new script? Who taught them?

Was the social status of Visigothic and Carolingian script scribes the same?

Wanna know more? click -> Why these questions? <-


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Visigothic script at the 19th Colloquium of the CIPL″. Littera Visigothica (September 2015), (ISSN 2386-6330).

IMC Leeds 2016 – Call for Papers session: The reception and evolution of Caroline minuscule in the Iberian Peninsula.

International Medieval Congress 2016

University of Leeds, 4–7 July 2016

Call for Papers

De la escritura visigótica a la carolina, y de la carolina a las escrituras góticas. La recepción y evolución de la escritura carolina en la Península Ibérica.

From Visigothic script to Caroline minuscule, from Caroline minuscule to Gothic scripts. The reception and evolution of Caroline minuscule in the Iberian Peninsula.

Sponsor: Network for the Study of Caroline Minuscule

Organiser: Ainoa Castro Correa, Faculty of History, King’s College London


Mientras que en la Europa del siglo XII la carolina era el principal sistema gráfico empleado en la producción manuscrita, en la mayor parte de la Península Ibérica esta escritura apenas comenzaba a ser usada. La pervivencia de la escritura tradicional peninsular, la visigótica, dio lugar a un largo y desigual período de transición hacia el nuevo sistema gráfico importado. Al mismo tiempo, una vez aceptado el cambio, el modelo gráfico de éste ya llegaba en gran parte desprovisto de su naturaleza evolucionando de forma rápida hacia una diversidad de escrituras proto-góticas que devolverán a la Península su particularidad gráfica. Con trabajos centrados en escribas desarrollando su carrera en períodos de transición, esta sesión pretende explorar los contextos de cambio y poligrafismo vividos en la Península Ibérica en los siglos XII y XIII.

While in 12th-century Europe Caroline minuscule was the main writing system used in manuscript production, in most of the Iberian Peninsula this script was just beginning to be used. The persistence of the traditional peninsular script, Visigothic, led to a long and unequal transitional phase towards the new imported graphic system. At the same time, once the change was accepted, its graphic model arrived lacking its essential nature evolving thus quickly to a variety of proto-Gothic scripts which gave back to the Peninsula its graphic particularity. With works on scribes developing their careers in the periods in between writing systems, this session aims to explore the contexts of graphic change and polygraphism lived in the Iberian Peninsula in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The organizer would like to invite papers on Caroline minuscule; its process of introduction, implementation, and evolution in the Iberian Peninsula. Please submit proposals which fit the overall topic of the session via email to Ainoa Castro by September 27, 2015 and please include the following information:

  • paper title and short abstract (ca. 100 words)
  • name, contact details and affiliation
  • a short CV
  • equipment needed

Papers are accepted in English, Spanish and Portuguese and should not exceed 20 minutes. Feel free to contact the organiser if you have any questions.

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), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Medieval abbreviations (III). Visigothic script style

Knowing from where the medieval abbreviation system comes from, its Roman origin and adaptation throughout the Middle Ages, it is easier to recognize and understand the different methods used to contract words in Visigothic script manuscripts and the more efficient approach to classify and decipher their abbreviations.

While each versed scribe displays his or her own distinctive alphabet which varies in its general aspect, allographs, serifs, ligatures and bitings, the shortenings used by all Visigothic script amanuensis were the same according to the structure: those lacking a nasal, those made by special signs, Tironian notes, notae iuris, and those made by contraction and suspension. Some techniques and peculiar styles were preferred in specific centers just as some methods were not exactly the same in all typological variants, but, in general, a model and its evolution from the 8th to the 14th century can be defined.

Therefore, what follows is a brief summary of all the abbreviations utilized in manuscripts written in Visigothic script divided by the main typological variants cursive and minusculeplus some notes about the perceptible changes on transitional scripts. I am following the methodology explained in the last post and have added some considerations as for the evolution of each method of abbreviation, useful for dating and locate manuscripts from the northwestern Iberian Peninsula.

General sign

In Visigothic cursive (and cursive in transition to Caroline minuscule), the common sign for stating an abbreviation adopted very different shapes, often using the same scribe two or more designs in a same manuscript [see FIG. 1]. In the oldest examples the most frequent macron used was that similar to a knot or loop, while in the most recent ones the favorite design was the regular macron, particularly employed in those letters with an ascender.

FIG. 1. General sign for abbreviation. Cursive Visigothic script

FIG. 1. General sign for abbreviation. Cursive Visigothic script

The usual horizontal macron was preferred as general sign by those scribes versed in Visigothic minuscule (and minuscule in transition to Caroline minuscule).

Lack of nasals

Those scribes writing in cursive Visigothic script did not use the same flourished design of stroke above the letters for indicating the lack of nasals than just for pointing an abbreviation. In fact, the nasals m or n were not even elided in the earlier examples (before the 11th c.). In manuscripts from the 11th century onwards, from the shapes shown in FIG. 1, those resembling a knot, loop or spiral were not employed for this purpose but only the roughly horizontal line, on occasion adding a dot or another parallel line to it.

As for the general sign to indicate lack of nasals in the minuscule variant, the design of the sign recurrently employed was the regular macron for n, usually adding a dot for m.

Special signs

Writing in Visigothic script, both cursive and minuscule, the scribes developed different signs to shorten the endings us, -um, -is, and que, per and qui.

FIG. 2. Ending -us cursive variant

FIG. 2. Ending –us cursive variant

The main sign employed to signify the ending -us in the cursive variant was the one similar to a G-clef after b, d, I, m/n, p, r or t [see FIG. 2, first image]. From the mid-11th century onwards, although less frequently, scribes using the cursive variant also utilized a small wavy stroke similar to an uppercase s drawn superscripted after b, d, I, m and p [FIG. 2, second image]. This latter sign with the same meaning was also the one used in the minuscule variant after b, I, m/n, p and t. In some unusual examples in cursive script from the last decades of the 11th century on, a wavy stroke cutting the ascender of b, d and I can be found too [FIG. 2, last image].

FIG. 3. Ending -us transitional variants

FIG. 3. Ending -us transitional variants

In minuscule in transition to Carolingian script, besides using profusely the sign similar to an s to indicate -us, a superscripted semicircle after b, d, i/I, m/n, r, s and t started to be favored [FIG. 3, last two pics].

FIG. 4. Ending -um cursive variant

FIG. 4. Ending -um cursive variant

For representing –um, the scribes using the cursive variant employed the same “G-clef like” sign as for -us now after n, r and t [FIG. 4, first image]. From the mid-11th century on, this ending was also noted by an oblique line cutting the final stroke of the letters n an r [FIG. 4, last two pics], sign that will be the characteristic one of the minuscule variant being employed only after r cuadrata (also after m/n and t in transitional script, for which it was the only one used for -um).

FIG. 5. Ending -is

FIG. 5. Ending -is

Another of the characteristic signs in cursive and minuscule Visigothic script was that used for the ending –is [FIG. 5]; a wavy or spiral stroke under b, m/n and t, which progressively became more elegant.

FIG. 6. Ending -ue cursive variant

FIG. 6. Ending -ue cursive variant

In isolated cases in the cursive variant and frequently in the minuscule one, que was abbreviated by a q plus the same sign as for -us similar to an uppercase s, although not before the mid-11th century (cursive) [FIG. 6].

FIG. 7. Ending -ue transitional variant

FIG. 7. Ending -ue transitional variant

In transitional scripts que was abbreviated by a q plus a semicircle or semicolon [FIG. 7].

FIG. 8. Per cursive variant

FIG. 8. Per cursive variant

FIG. 9. Qui cursive variant

FIG. 9. Qui cursive variant

To end with, for per and qui two different signs were used in cursive and minuscule; per was frequently condensed in all cursive examples [FIG. 8], while shortened qui tends to become rare around the mid-11th c. [FIG. 9]. In transitional variants, the most frequent form for per was the so-called “continental per” (a p with a horizontal stroke cutting the descender of p) [FIG. 10, first image].

FIG. 10. Transitional scripts

FIG. 10. Transitional scripts

In transitional variants some more signs were added [FIG. 10]: (i) the sign for pre drawn with a p plus a macron; (ii) for er/-er- by a t plus macron; (iii) forur by means of a t plus an angular macron; (iv) unt by an r plus macron; and (v) -en- by m plus macron.

General abbreviations

There is a long list of abbreviations by contraction and suspension used both in cursive (especially) and minuscule Visigothic script manuscripts. I made a list of the most frequent ones here, where you can also find the year of the manuscript (charter) in which I found each form.

By and large, the reductions used in the cursive variant tend to be a bit more intricate since the scribes did not usually follow the easiest contraction, maintaining unnecessary letters (each scribe his choice). Some examples: apstls for apostolus, epcs for episcopus or prsbtr for presbiter. Aum for autem, ppls for populus, pptr for propter, scdm for secundum, or sct for sicut and the possessives noster/uester with s (nso/uso) and not with theme in r (nro/uso) are also notably representative.

The influence of Caroline minuscule was first shown in Visigothic script manuscripts in the abbreviation system and can be easily recognized: besides the profuse use of abbreviations by superscripted vowel (for cri, igitur, mihi, modo, nihil, pra/pri/pro, qua/qui/quo, quomodo, tibi, tri/tro, uero) and the more frequent Tironian notes (for et and con) and notae iuris (est, sunt), another Carolingian examples are au for autem, ap for apud, ep theme for episcopus, nb/ub for nobis/uobis, pbr for presbiter, qm for quoniam, qd for quod, sct for sicut, tpre for tempore and ul for uel. Note that, in the first manuscripts preserved written in Visigothic script, some abbreviations that will be more frequent in the Carolingian writing system like ep for episcopus, nne for nomine, the Tironian note for con (ɔ) or the “continental percan be found; that does not necessarily mean there was an early influence of Caroline minuscule but a prevalence of traditional writing practices, since these forms were already in use in the first steps of the abbreviation system.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Medieval abbreviations (III). Visigothic script style″. Littera Visigothica (December 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Medieval abbreviations (II). Medieval period

In the last post I wrote about the origin of the medieval abbreviation system explaining briefly the techniques used by the Romans classified as abbreviations by singula litterae, suspension and contraction, Tironian notes, notae iuris, and nomina sacrafor shortening words. In this post I will focus my attention on summarizing how these methods were adapted throughout the medieval period, giving some tips on how to study them effectively.

With the beginning of the Middle Ages, for each one of the national writing systems that preceded the expansion of Caroline minuscule Visigothic and also Merovingian, Beneventan and Insular scripts, the traditional Roman methods to shorten words started to be interpreted in a different manner corresponding to the evolution of writing techniques and different cultural contexts. Although the basis was preserved, the active use of abbreviations made some fall into oblivion (ex. most of the Tironian notes; the notae iuris were preserved although not recognizing their origin and being just used as abbreviations by suspension or contraction), while others were not only in vogue but also served as foundation for the development of almost all the medieval system (nomina sacra). Therefore, departing from the same methods, a new whole system for shortening words began to be used to the point that not only each writing system but even some specific production centers or scriptoria employed their own distinctive set of abbreviations [on the image above, an example; in green lack of nasals, in red by special signs, and in blue by contraction and/or suspension – Add. 11695, f.221v © The British Library].

Visigothic script has their own system of abbreviating words, one for the cursive variant, another for the minuscule variant, and another one too for the transitional typological variants of the script combining Visigothic and Caroline abbreviations. Studying the ones handled by the scribes for each variant, their construction and evolution, entails practice and can be a bit chaotic bearing in mind the amount of constructions used especially from the 11th century on, but also such uniqueness as for the myriad of options at their disposal provides very useful information to date and place manuscript sources as well as to deepen the cultural context of scribes and written testimonies.

The methodology I always use for analyzing Visigothic script abbreviations entails 4 major points that gather all possible techniques for shortening words during the period (8th – 14th centuries). It is based on the different types or systems for condensing words used in medieval writing systems essentially classified into two groups, by suspension and by contraction, but modified aiming to study the application of each method (how the scribe drawn and used the abbrev.) and its evolution instead of the type of technique itself. Following this model it is easy to obtain a graphic profile of each hand’s abbreviation system, what allows then to make comparisons, find out the more probable school or center for the scribe, the manuscripts he more likely read (since several abbreviations can be found only in some specific genres), the external cultural influence he was surrounded for, and also his or her chronological period. Once having a corpus of a couple of hundreds, just by analyzing the abbreviations, sources can be placed in context with a small margin of error.

General sign

FIG. 2 Example of macron

FIG. 1 Example of macron

First, I always check the design employed to draw the general sign of abbreviation, also called macron [FIG. 1]. This sign comes from the Roman period and was spread in parchment thanks to its widespread use in the nomina sacra, as we have seen, and is the most basic element that needs to be analyzed. Although it was first just a more or less horizontal line above the letters left behind for condensing the word, it can also present numerous styles since it evolves with the writing system itself; a different type of stroke equals to a different type of macron.

Lack of nasals

FIG. 3 Example of macron used to indicate lack of nasal

FIG. 2 Example of macron used to indicate lack of nasal

Besides its general use for noting that there is a shortened word in the text, which can correspond to any type of the common set of abbreviations of each writing system (see below), the macron was used during the middle ages to mark a very simple an specific abbreviation: the lack of nasals, m and n [FIG. 2]. These nasals can be absent from the middle of the word (for example in omnia abbreviated as oia) or, more likely, at the end (as in the example formam). The general sign was exactly the same for both uses, and for both nasals, for long in the last centuries of Visigothic script a point was added over the line, which means that it does not necessarily present a graphic difference, so one needs to recognize when the abbreviation is only eliding a nasal or indicates an entirely different word.

Special signs

 FIG. 4 Abbreviations by special signs: cuius, genus, qui, que, nobis.

FIG. 3 Abbreviations by special signs: cuius, genus, qui, que, nobis

The third point entails the analysis of the abbreviations that tend to change the most between typological variants of Visigothic script: abbreviations by special signs [FIG. 3]. This type is formed basically by some letters of the reduced word followed by a sign which, depending on its shape, indicates a specific set of letters usually from the last part of the word (ex. us, um, is). The design of the special signs employed tends to show first exogenous influence (from Caroline minuscule).

FIG. 5 General abbreviations by contraction and suspension

FIG. 4 General abbreviations by contraction and suspension: frater, quod, uel, episcopus, sancti, propter, nostris

General abbreviations

Finally, the last group gathers all the abbreviations made with some letters plus the general sign [FIG. 4] and those Tironian notes and notae iuris that were remnant during the medieval period for the regular ecclesiastical texts and legal charters. Therefore, within the first group, nomina sacra, abbreviations by suspension (including singula littera) and abbreviations by contraction, that changed over time.

All Visigothic script scribes had this very complete method for signifying abbreviations, and all these options were used from the 8th to the 14th century, although not with the same intensity. In general, in the earliest written examples their use was frequent but not profuse, especially in ecclesiastical texts, while from the 12th century on some scribes abbreviated almost every single word in a sentence.

In the next post I will go through these four points of analysis summarizing the designs of the general sign, the macron, the special signs and some of the general abbreviations (contraction and suspension, Tironian notes and notae iuris) found in Visigothic script manuscripts (cursive, minuscule, and transitional variants) and their evolution.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Medieval abbreviations (II). Medieval period″. Littera Visigothica (December 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

[Read part III: Visigothic script style]

Medieval abbreviations (I). Origin

It is time to write about one of my favorite topics on working with medieval manuscripts: the abbreviations (the other the medieval punctuation system; I will write about it soon). Each writing system has their own abbreviations. They evolved by being used as well as for external influence of coeval writing systems. Scribes and copyists used them extensively, and they were a real nightmare for the first paleographers who, during the Enlightenment, tried to solve them as well as even for medieval amanuensis. It is entertaining to try to solve them, to think in how scribes learnt to use and recognize abbreviations, almost as it is to see how, in some cases, even they got confused in their meaning, particularly among writing systems; those learnt in Caroline minuscule felt very stressed when reading Visigothic script manuscripts, and not only for the script!

The practice of abbreviating words was active since the beginning of written culture as it continues now in our digital communications (msg and so), and, as today, one of the two clearly identified reasons of its existence was to speed up the process of writing. It is not the same to write each one of the letters of, let’s say confirmat, that just to write cf. for each one of the tens of witnesses of a charter. But besides that, medieval abbreviations were also used to get the most out of the writing material, parchment, pretty expensive by the time. Using the less space possible seems to have been one powerful reason. Conventionally thus, only these two reasons have been discussed. However, in my point of view, yet another maybe more important argument needs to be fully explored: tradition. If shorthand techniques were initially used to speed up and cheapen writing, during the middle ages tradition I think was the main reason for using abbreviations, moreover bearing in mind that some of the methods employed are more complex and laborious to write than the word itself. To me, this becomes clear when working with charters were it can be seen an evident tendency to apply, for example, those abbreviations classified under the type nomina sacra. But let’s start from the beginning.

01_alphabet tironian notes

FIG. 1 Alphabet. Tironian notes.

The origin of the abbreviation system used in medieval manuscripts lays in the methods of abbreviation already used by the Romans, obviously a bit more elaborated and disorganized as medieval rules applied for writing tend to be giving the diverse cultural background of the scribes. More precisely, in Roman acronyms and in the shorthand notes, called Tironian notes, used for official business and especially legal jargon. [see FIG. 1].

In the Roman Empire, names and legal formulae, among other terms, used in inscriptions and other written testimonies were shortened by using only the initial letter, sometimes duplicated to express the plural (ex. C for Caius, K for kalendas or SPQR for Senatvs Popvlvsqve Romanvs). These are the first and simplest abbreviations in which only that part of the word, the initial, is preserved, and are called singula litterae or litterae singulares.

Following the same principle, and also over the same period, another system started to be used, built again preserving the first letter but also some of the initial ones of the word (ex. CLA for Claudius or PR for praetor). These are called abbreviations by suspension. Suspension is the most spontaneous mechanism, but it is also the least precise one as it is difficult to solve and requires familiarity with the text itself. Luckily, in the first century AD the grammarian M. Valerius Probus collected and explained some of these abbreviations (De litteris singularibus fragmentum). It has two basic types: one preserving only some of the first letters, and other preserving only the consonants, called syllabic suspension (although I have only seen and used the former, referring to the syllabic suspension as contraction).

From the 2nd and 3rd centuries on, the practice of condensing words writing nothing else but the initial letters was progressively developed including the initial letter of each of the syllables of the word, or at least the first and last letters, what is now called abbreviations by contraction. In the rare cases where the initial part of the word is omitted, we call these abbreviations aphaeresis.

FIG. 3 Most frequent Tironian notes in medieval manuscripts.

FIG. 2 Most frequent Tironian notes in medieval manuscripts.

The Tironian notes, attributed to Marcus Tullius Tiro (last century BC), are a tachygraphic system based in the use of some specific signs for the theme or prefix of each word plus auxiliary signs for the endings.  The most frequent signs for the medieval period are those of et, enim, sunt, esse and con [see FIG. 2]. If you want to know more about Tironian notes, there is a website on the topic (in German).

The constant and extensive use of the Tironian notes in the Roman world, and particularly in administrative context, resulted in the development of another abbreviation technique known by the name of notae iuris or notae antiquae since it expanded also into non-legal texts, developed between the 2nd and 5th centuries, which heavily influenced the medieval abbreviation system. FIG. 3 lists some examples of this type.

FIG. 4 Notae iuris.

FIG. 3 Notae iuris.

FIG. 5 Nomina sacra.

FIG. 4 Nomina sacra.

From the 4th century on, with the expansion of Christianity, new abbreviations were used to refer to terms central to Christian worship like Deus, Iesus, Christus, sanctus or ecclesia; the nomina sacra. As can be seen in FIG. 4, they receive their name for the cultural context to which they refer to and not for the mechanism used to form them, mixing thus abbreviations by contraction and suspension. The nomina sacra, besides those abbreviations made by means of signs or superscripted letters that will be discussed in the next post, became the most characteristic ones in the middle ages to the point that it is difficult to find a text without one. Furthermore, being easy to remember and widely understood, they served as starting point for developing the next generation of (medieval) abbreviations, and provided one of the graphic aspects that these shortened words will, thereafter, always include: the small horizontal line on the top of the letters called “general sign of abbreviation”, macron or tilde.

All these methods of shortening words were preserved and expanded during the medieval period, mostly by Irish monks, incorporating some others that, although having their origin in the same fundamental techniques, are classified differently.

Some useful references:

  • Bains, D. A supplement to “Notae latinae” (Abbreviations in Latin manuscripts of 850 to 1050 A.D.. Cambridge, 1936.
  • Boge, H. Grïechische Tachygraphie und Tironische noten: Eind Handbuch der schnell der Antike und des Mittelalters. Berlin, 1973.
  • Brown, S. “Concerning the origin of the Nomina Sacra”. Studia papyrologica 9 (1970): 7-19.
  • Bryson, W.H. Dictionary of Sigla and Abbreviations to and in Law Books before 1607. Charllotesville, 1975.
  • Capelli, A. Lexicon abbreviaturarum. Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane usate nelle carte e codici specialmente del Medioevo. Milano, 1899.
  • Cencetti, G. Lineamenti di storia della scritura Latina. Bolonia, 1956, 353-475.
  • Costamagna, G. Tachigrafia notarile e scritture secreti medioevali in Italia. Roma, 1968.
  • Costamagna, G. Il sistema tachigrafico sillabico usato dai notai medioevali italiani (secolo VIII-XI). Regole fundamentali. Genova, 1953.
  • Lindsay, W. M. “Notae latinae”. An account of abbreviations in Latin manuscripts of the Early Minuscule period (700-850). Cambridge, 1915.
  • Mentz, A. (1939 i 1942), “Die Tironischen Noten: Eine Geschichte der römischen
  • Kurzschrift”. Archiv für Urkundenforschung, 16 (1939) and 17 (1942): 384 and 155-303.
  • O’Callaghan, J. “Problemática sobre los Nomina Sacra”. In Las abreviaturas en la enseñanza medieval y la transmisión del saber. Barcelona 1990, 21-36.
  • Parkes, M.B. “Tachygraphy in the Middle Ages: Writing Techniques Employed for Reportationes of Lectures and Sermons”. In Scribes, Scripts and Readers. London and Rio Grande, 1991, 19-33.
  • Schiaparelli, L. Avviamento allo studio delle abbreviature latine nel medioevo. Firenze, 1926.
  • Schiaparelli, L. “Le Notae Iuris e il sistema delle abbreviature medievali”. Archivio Storico Italiano, 73 (1915): 275-322.
  • Schiaparelli, L. “Note paleografiche. Segni tachigrafici nelle Notae Iuris”. Archivio Storico Italiano, 72 (1914) and 73 (1915): 241-254 and 245-275.
  • Traube, L. “Nomina Sacra”. Versuch einer Geschichte der christlichen Kürzung. München, 1907.
  • Turner, C.H. “The Nomina Sacra in early Latin Christian Manuscripts”. In A Miscellanea F. Ehrle: Scritti di Storia e Paleografia, IV. Roma, 1924, 62-74.
  • Online resources: Abbreviationes™


[Read part II: Medieval period]


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Medieval abbreviations (I). Origin″. Littera Visigothica (December 2014), (ISSN 2386-6330).

Mozarabic rite, yay or nay

I am sorry for not posting as often as I should. I have survived to a hectic semester which included more papers than I want to think about, a couple of articles, the LMS dissertation/article and the new website of PIMS (last two a work in progress), all while applying for grants and expanding my readings towards new avenues of research I have always wanted to explore. Also, I have in mind several main changes on this blog that I still need to think over and want to make during the summer, what had made me consider to stop writing and first reorganize or not. But, whatever is going on should not be an excuse. Thanks for your feedback these last months.


There is a topic that has been bothering me around for a bit and about which I have been thinking in writing, not only as an exercise to consolidate knowledge but as a way to emphasize how much still needs to be done to contextualize Visigothic script. We can debate if the problem is the lack of studies about the script and its sources–what I believe is true–or an absence of open minds and capacity of thinking pursuing a different path of thought when reading the studies published on topics that have to do with Visigothic stuff.  I could have chosen among several topics for which this short intro is valid, but the specific one that bothers me this season is liturgy: the Mozarabic rite. What exactly is the Mozarabic rite and why they were so eager to change it.

Why have I been thinking about that since what I do is Visigothic script? As I have mentioned in my latest posts, one of the aspects which contributed to the gradual intensification of Carolingian influence, and the subsequent disappearance of Visigothic script and adoption of Caroline in the Iberian Peninsula, was the change of rite, from Mozarabic to Romano-Gallican. Why this contributed, you may be wondering… Before the change of rites: the more or less mandatory imposition of the new Roman rite, the sooner-to-be best-seller –of course written in Caroline– with it was already circulating all along the Iberian Visigothic territories, becoming a must-read for every monk/scribe who, from avidly reading Caroline, should have incorporated some features to his script. After the change of rites: because all the codices in the new rite were copied (although that was not completely true) in the new script, making therefore the change of writing systems required. That summarizing how important for an early medieval paleographer is to understand the change.

In the series of posts I foresee, this one the first, I will be blogging about everything I will be reading on the topic, at least what I consider more revealing, starting by answering the following: Why the Visigothic liturgy was seen as some dangerous way of thought that needed to be abolished? What could have happened in the Iberian Peninsula as to ‘deserve’ it? I had never considered it before, but it seems it was Elipando’s fault.

Madrid. Biblioteca Nacional. Ms. Vit. 14.2.

Beato’s reply to Elipando, the Commentaries. Madrid. Biblioteca Nacional. Ms. Vit. 14.2.

Elipando was archbishop of the see of Toledo between 717 and c. 800, a bishop with a very subversive ideas: he proposed that Jesus, in his divine nature, was the son of God, but as to his human nature, he was only his adopted son. That is, he was the one who, with Félix of Urgell, was spreading heretic ideas that needed to be eradicated throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The topic of the Adoptionism quarrel before the 8th century is interesting enough–with all that influence from Nestorianism and Islam–as to write more about it, but I am sure you can just Google it to satisfy your inner erudite.

Within Spain, the remarkably famous now Beato de Liébana (yep, the scribe who wrote the beautiful, peaceful and enjoyable reading that it is his Commentary on the Apocalypse) and bishop Eterio of Osma throw up their hands in despair. One could discuss here the possible political interest that Beato might have had in crushing the relationship with the central church, being a monk from Liébana, in the middle of the Astur kingdom. Also the fact that a no-so-famous back then monk was openly going against the main see of the Christian Iberian Peninsula–Elipando must have gone mad (letter to abbot Fidel). Or even the interest that can be guessed in Elipando and Felix’s ideas for “making friends” with their new southern neighbors counteracting the influence of the powerful Carolingian church.

Abroad, the also prominent Alcuin had, of course, something to say (Adversus Elipandum).

But going to the facts, it seems that the ‘problem’ was that Elipando did not have a better idea than to support his arguments with sources, quoting texts as any good scholar today will use footnotes. He summoned the authority of some of his Toletan predecessors (Eugenio, Ildefonso and Julián among others), bolstered his position by citing portions of prayers of the Visigothic liturgy. That made Charlemagne, the bishops and priests of the kingdom of the Franks, of Italy, and of Aquitaine, feel a bit uncomfortable with the crazy ideas these Spaniards were developing as can be read in the Synod of Frankfurt decrees (794): “this heresy should be eradicated from the Holy Church” (cap. Francf., 165). A reminder about why to care: Félix was bishop of  Urgell, in the Spanish March, under Charlemagne.

In the decrees of the Synod of Frankfurt, they did not say “we eradicate it” as well as, as always happens with decrees, even if they had, to implement the purge was something that could not possibly have been done from one day to the next. However, one of the main aims of the Carolingian religious reforms was to establish the Roman Liturgy to be followed in the realm of Charlemagne, as well as to spread it in all the other lands under Carolingian influence. Both the condemnation of Adoptionism, and indirectly of the Visigothic liturgy, and the Carolingian supranational religious movements were the cause of the change.

* I am indebted to the excellent articles written by R. Reynolds compiled on the book ‘Studies on Medieval Liturgical and Legal Manuscripts from Spain and Southern Italy’ I came across some months ago. Please DO check it if you have the chance.

* If I am missing some relevant reference, please do let me know. I know nothing about liturgy but I want to learn 🙂

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Mozarabic rite, yay or nay”. Littera Visigothica (July 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Visigothic vs. Carolingian script. Context (II)

As promised, here is the second post about the political and religious aspects that led to the change from Visigothic to Carolingian script, now specially focused in Galicia. The first post with a general approach to the topic, considering the Peninsula as a whole, was last week, and do not miss too the one about the medieval roads of Galicia by which the influence of the new writing system “physically” arrived, and the other about how the interaction took place, graphically speaking.


In the first part of this post I wrote about how the combination of religious and cultural aspects as well as specific political circumstances collide determining the progressive disappearance of Visigothic script along the Iberian Peninsula. The gradual process of change started in the Astur or Castilian-Leonese Kingdom before the first written testimony in Caroline minuscule was drawn; when the ‘national’ script was already odd if not completely vanished in Catalonia and Septimania.



Since the mid-11th century, the influence of Carolingian script can be seen in what it is called the transitional variant, a minuscule Visigothic script with some letters from the Caroline alphabet, some abbreviations like the super-scripted letter or the signs for the end of –us by semicircle or even semicolon, Tironian signs, and a different general shape of the script. This ‘carolinization’ was growing quickly, but it was not equal in all the peninsular northern territories, as each one reacted in its own way to the external influence.

Visigothic minuscule + Carolingian


Previous studies published[1] regarding, specifically, to the study of Visigothic script in Galicia, state that the influence of Carolingian script can be seen in early 12th c., with few examples preserved after 1150 written in Visigothic script. The last example being from 1199 makes Galicia, like Toledo, the last stronghold of Visigothic script in the Iberian Peninsula. Although this information is not entirely accurate –the influence of Carolingian script dates back to 1070, thus late 11th and not early 12th, and Caroline was not the main script until the second half of the 12th c., thus not since the early 12th and not with few examples in Visigothic after 1150; and finally, the last example in Visigothic script dates from 1234 and not 1199–, it clearly reflects one of the main reasons why Galician manuscript sources are exceptional for studying the script’s evolution: the process of change from Visigothic to Carolingian was here slower than in any other part of the Iberian Peninsula –it took more than a century! (129/164 years lapse between the first and last examples in transitional Visigothic script)–, and, since both scripts were in use simultaneously for generations, the graphic influence was a continuous development that can be studied thoroughly, step by step. However, what the studies published so far do not highlight is the other main reason: that this interaction between the scripts was graphically, and not only chronologically, different among the two main centers in the region, Lugo and Santiago, which reflects the cultural context of Galicia during the 11th and 12th centuries. The reaction to the aspects mentioned (the connection with France, Cluny, Rome…) was not the same in both dioceses: Lugo, the traditional Galician diocese which had just lost territory and its political and cultural prominence with the restoration of the sees of Braga and Orense (c. 1070), in which the new changes arrived slowly under Alfonso VI, and Santiago, the radiant diocese built as a major point of communication with Europe.

With the change of dynasty, Astur to Navarre, Bermudo III (1027-1037) to Fernando I (1037-1065), the assimilation of Galicia into the Castilian-Leonese kingdom was difficult; the local nobility did not easily support changes promoted with centralized force that could jeopardize their power, making it therefore essential for the new kings to establish a safe control over the outbreaks associated with foreign supporters, to build their own new nobility, and to make alliances with the Galician church. Indeed, in Lugo, after the revolt led by Count Rodrigo Ovéquiz in 1085 (who had plotted with William I of England to hand Galicia to him), the king promoted Bishop Amor (1088),[2] granting him the lordship over the town in 1089 and successive privileges strengthening episcopal authority, protecting capitular property, and regulating markets, while, in return, he engineered reforms within the ecclesiastical administration of the diocese to reassert control over diocesan territories, as well as in the liturgy and, also, the script, appointing henceforth a succession of foreign priors to the Cathedral Chapter. The early 12th century was not a good moment for the diocese, allied with Alfonso el Batallador in the civil war, thus, against the future king Alfonso VII and Santiago, but, even so, changes continued with Bishop Pedro III (1113-1133), a former chaplain of Queen Urraca, under whom the first charter in Caroline was written (by Pelayo, entitled episcopal notary in 1122), and Bishop Guido (1135-1152, former prior), who was of French origin and under whom the change from Visigothic to Caroline finally took place.

In the meanwhile, in Santiago the foreign and, especially, French influence was stronger and the changes quicker, as the diocese evolved as a peregrination center since the invention of the apostolic tomb in the mid-ninth century. Although, at first, the Francophile political orientation of Alfonso VI was not well received by the diocese, under Bishop Diego Peláez (1071-deposed) who was a little intimidated by the pressure of Cluny in the kingdom, in the late 11th century the pro-European future of the diocese was already determined under the administration of Xelmírez, secretary and chancellor of Raymond of Burgundy, while the see was vacant. In 1093 Bishop Dalmatius succeeded Diego; Dalmatius was a Cluniac monk appointed by the king in alliance with Pope Urban II and abbot Hugh of Cluny, who achieved for the diocese the privilege of exemption from metropolitan jurisdiction (Braga), placing it directly under the authority of Rome. A couple of years after his death the see was, finally, under Xelmírez, named bishop in 1100 (ł 1140), who, quoting R. Fletcher, “had the wit to see that his world was changing and the intuition to grasp how change might be made to serve his apostle’s – his own – purposes”.3 Describing the administrative transformation of the diocese under Xelmírez would be another post and I think it is not needed since we have the exceptional Saint James’s Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela online. Regarding what concern us here, it is enough to say that he reformed the Cathedral Chapter and school of Santiago following French models, bringing to the, since 1124 archiepiscopal see, foreign masters who, without doubt, were not used to the old script, and that this reorganization as well as the Cistercian ‘colonization’ of Galicia were fully developed in the mid-12th century.

[1] M. Lucas Álvarez. “Paleografía gallega. Estado de la cuestión”, Anuario de Estudios Medievales 21 (1991), pp. 419-469 (441, 445).

[2] For this paragraph J. D’Emilio. “The Cathedral Chapter of Lugo in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries: Reform and Retrenchment”, in R. A. Fletcher, Cross, Crescent And Conversion: Studies On Medieval Spain And Christendom In Memory of Richard Fletcher. Leiden, 2008, pp. 193-226. Especially 200-201 (footnote 35), 202.

3 R. A. Fletcher. Saint James’s Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. New York, 1984, p. 6.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Visigothic vs. Carolingian script. Context (II)”. Littera Visigothica (March 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

Visigothic vs. Carolingian script. Context (I)

I have been posting lately about Visigothic script in transition to Carolingian script, addressing the topic by considering the medieval roads of Galicia by which the influence of the new writing system “physically” arrived, and showing how this interaction took place graphically speaking. In order to complete the approach it was pending to write about the context of change from one script to another, explaining how the Caroline arrived and the aspects to be considered in studying its introduction along the Iberian Peninsula. It took me a while to feel confident enough to write about it trying to condense everything, but, finally, I think I get it. So, here we go! I have divided this post in two parts: the first one is a general approach to the topic considering the Peninsula as a whole, and the second one will be specifically focused in Galicia, highlighting how the context was graphically reflected there in a different way between main production centers.

[If you are an undergrad -in Spain Palaeography is taught within the core course of the BA in History among others- and just want to keep it simple, go to the end of the post.]


The trans-Pyrenean influence seen in the gradual adoption of the new supranational writing, Carolingian script, was attested in the Iberian Peninsula long before the first written testimony in the new script was drawn in the Astur-Leonese kingdom. As Mundó, Díaz y Díaz, and Vezin,1 among others, have largely discussed, there were codices in Carolingian script circulating in the Christian and, since the 8th century, Mozarabic centers, whose direct influence has been observed on written testimonies in, first, the script (with some common Carolingian abbreviations like the Tironian sign for con, episcopus as eps or the possessives noster/uester with theme in r instead of in s, forms that are attested, although few, within the Visigothic script scribes –since early 10th century); second, the structure of the codices analysing some codicological aspects such as the appearance of the explicit –since early 10th century2; and, third, the new style of illuminations –since around mid-11th century.3  The final change from one writing system to another took place, though, after a slow and gradual process of contamination, in different stages in each area of the Iberian Peninsula as a result of religious and cultural aspects combined as well as specific political circumstances.

In Septimania and the Catalan counties, strongly connected to the Carolingian Empire given its involvement to stop the Muslim advance, the Carolingian script was adopted first, in the mid-9th century. This connection motivated the fluid arrival of trans-Pyrenean texts, as a result of the logical interaction of people and ideas,4 in the new script and, also, codices in the new Roman rite too, before its, more or less mandatory, replacement. The new territories recovered from the Muslims, were not only politically added to the Catalan counties but ecclesiastically attached to the Narbonne’s metropolitan see. As a consequence, the new rite –Romano-Gallican-Old Spanish as Reynolds5 calls it given the amount of Old-rite texts on it– was gradually introduced on its reclaimed or newly built dioceses, first in the cathedral schools to finally reach the parish centers, and, to spread the new liturgy, codices, written in Caroline, were needed.6 These factors contributed to the continuous and gradual intensification of Carolingian influence, which led, through the contamination between graphics systems, to the decline of Visigothic script, and, finally, to its disappearance.

© A. Castro

© A. Castro

Two centuries later, in the mid-11th century, the same process took place in the Astur-Leonese territories. The equivalent interrelated aspects can be seen here as well. The connection with France initially arrived because of the strong French ties of the Navarre dynasty, which happened to substitute the Astur one in the person of Fernando I, closely linked with Cluny.7 Thereafter, the Cluniac monks were granted with episcopal and abbatial sees enabling the liturgical unification advocated by Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), reinforced by the presence of papal legates, and codified8 in the Synod of Burgos in 1080. The influence of Cluny can be seen also in the marriages of Alfonso VI (king of Leon, Castile, and Galicia after dethroning his brothers) with Agnes of Aquitaine and, mostly, with Constance of Burgundy, niece of the abbot Hugh of Cluny. Also from France noblemen arrived to the kingdom to fight against the Muslims –Almoravids now, who were called by the Taifa kingdoms as help after the Christian conquest of Toledo in 1085. Particularly relevant for Galicia were Raymond of Burgundy, who married one of the king’s daughters, Urraca, who will succeed his father -Raymond will eventually be rewarded with the title of count of Galicia in 1087-, and Henry of Burgundy, Constance’s nephew and Raymond’s cousin, who married the illegitimate daughter of the king, Teresa -he will be named count of Portugal in 1095 and their son will be the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. But, if this French connection was not enough, the pro-European politics of Alfonso VII, queen Urraca and Raymond’s son, were also enhanced by his efforts and dedication to improve and secure the apostolic see of Santiago, taking thus advantage of the ecclesiastical situation in Galicia to reinforce his power.9 All these ties with France assisted the change from Visigothic to Carolingian script. As in Catalonia, the liturgical Reform involved a massive arrival of books with the new rite10 written in Carolingian script to be copied in the Iberian Peninsula, either for the local clergy, using a more or less contaminated Visigothic script, or for the newly arrived one, used to the Carolingian system, or even for scribes first educated in the Visigothic but who have also learned the new script and were thus able to use it, interchangeably, with mixed elements of both traditions.

Neither the abolition of the Mozarabic rite, nor the Synod of León in 1090,11 nor the massive arrival of Carolingian texts were by themselves the determining cause for the disappearance of Visigothic script, as it is clearly pointed by the existence in the 11th and 12th century of codices of the Roman liturgy copied in Visigothic, as well as its graphic prevalence in areas such as Galicia, Portugal and Toledo. The process of change was the result of a confluence of reasons and it took place gradually, as can be perfectly seen in analyzing the script used in the royal chancellery: as scribes were appointed royal notaries from different centers throughout the kingdom, some versed in Visigothic, some in Carolingian, and some in a mutually influenced script and style, they continued to use their script working for the queen (Urraca) and the kings (Alfonso VI and Alfonso VII in Spain, and Afonso Henriques in Portugal), a situation which emphasizes the meaning of the learning process and the development of schools in ecclesiastical centers, thus, the study of regional variants and different cultural contexts.

Do not miss my next post to see how the reaction to this historical context was in the main cultural centers of Galicia… It is juicy!


For undergrads:

Relations of the Castilian-Leonese kings with Cluny and Rome: Fernando I (1037-1065), and especially Alfonso VI (1072-1109):

  • Francophile orientation of Alfonso VI’s marriages (Agnes of Aquitaine and Constance of Burgundy)
  • Fighting against the Muslims with French/Burgundian aid (Raymond and Henry)
  • Arrival of Cluniac monks
  • Gregorian Reform; papal legates in Castile and Leon; Synods of Burgos (1080; abolition of the Mozarabic rite), and Leon (1090); arrival of liturgical books in the new Rite
  • Routes of cultural exchange improved: Camino de Santiago

[Read the 2nd part of this post]


1 Coloquio sobre circulación de códices escritos entre Europa y la Península en los siglos VIII-XIII. Santiago de Compostela, 1988; J. Vezin, “El códice de la BL add. 30849 y la introducción de la carolina en España”, in Actas Silos. Un milenio, Congreso internacional sobre la abadía de Silos, Studia silensia 26 (Burgos, 2003), 211-222; C. del Camino Martínez, “La escritura Carolina en la Península Ibérica”, in Paleografía I: la escritura en España hasta 1250. Actas de las IV Jornadas de la SECCTTHH (Burgos, 2008), 119-140.

2 J. Pérez de Urbel, “El Antifonario de León. El escritor y la época”, Archivos leoneses 8 (1954): 115-144.

3 Ref. A. Millares Carlo. Tratado de Paleografía Española. Madrid, 1983, 140-143 (from J. Williams. Early Spanish manuscript illumination. New York-London, 1977).

4 A. M. Mundó, “Importación, exportación y expoliaciones de códices en Cataluña (siglos VIII al XIII)”, in Coloquio sobre circulación de códices, 87-134; M. Zimmermann. Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle). Madrid, 2003, 629, 641-642, 647-648.

5 R. E. Reynolds, “Baptismal rite and paschal vigil in transition in medieval Spain: a new text in Visigothic script”, Medieval Studies 55 (1993): 257-272; Id., “The ordination rite in medieval Spain: Hispanic, roman and hybrid”, in Santiago, Saint-Denis and Saint Peter: The reception of the roman liturgy in León-Castile in 1080 (New York, 1985), 140-141.

6 A. M. Mundó, “Les changements liturgiques en Septimanie et en Catalogne pensant la période préromane”, Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa 2 (1971): 29-42; Id., “La cultura i els llibres a Catalunya, segles VIII a XII”, in Historia de Catalunya Salvat II (Barcelona, 1979), 261-274.

7 Ch. J. Bishko, “Fernando I y los orígenes de la alianza castellano-leonesa con Cluny”, Cuadernos de Historia de España 47-48 (1968): 31-135 and 49-50 (1969): 50-116; I. Sanz Sancho, “La política de Fernando I respecto a Roma y Cluny”, in La península Ibérica y el Mediterráneo entre los siglos XI y XII. Codex Aquilarensis XIII (Aguilar de Campoo, 1998), 101-119; C. Laliena, “Encrucijadas ideológicas. Conquista feudal, cruzada y reforma de la Iglesia en el siglo XI hispánico”, in XXXII Semana de Estudios Medievales. La reforma gregoriana y su proyección en la cristiandad occidental: siglos XI-XIII (Pamplona, 2006), 289-333.

8 It seems that the first attempts took place before the Synod itself, since codices with the Roman rite were copied in Visigothic script in the Astur-Leonese kingdom in the 10th or early 11th century, meaning that “the change of rites or acceptance of Roman-rite books was taking place gradually in Spain itself (before the Synod)” (R. Reynolds, Baptismal rite, 262-3, note 23), maybe by Cistercian influence early established coming from Navarre (Sancho I el Mayor) or Catalonia. Thus, the Synod of Burgos would contribute to reinforce the change which would take place gradually. About the meaning of the successive Synods in the 11th c.: G. Martínez Díez, “La Iglesia de las normas: el Derecho Canónico”, in XXXII Semana de Estudios Medievales. La reforma gregoriana y su proyección en la cristiandad occidental: siglos XI-XIII (Pamplona, 2006), 53-97.

9 R. Fletcher. Saint James’s Catapult: The Life and Times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela. Oxford, 1984 (cap. II and V).

10 M. C. Vivancos, “La introducción de la liturgia romana en los monasterios de Silos y San Millán a través de sus manuscritos”, in Une liturgie en crise? La liturgie hispanique au XIe siècle. Coloquio organizado por el Centre d’Études Supérieures de Civilisation Médiévale de Poitiers 19-21 junio 2008.

11 While the celebration of this Synod is accepted, its scope regarding the abolition of not of the Visigothic script is controversial: “se celebrase o no, se dictase cambiar la escritura (de los textos litúrgicos, nada dice de los documentos) o no, el hecho es que hay documentos en carolina antes y después… podría tanto tratarse del reflejo de una situación preexistente como la expresión de una intención que aún tardaría en verse cumplida” (Del Camino, La escritura Carolina, 126-127);  Millares, Tratado, 142-143, 167.

– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Visigothic vs. Carolingian script. Context (I)”. Littera Visigothica (March 2014), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).