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).

Pricking, Visigothic script style

We had, a couple of weeks ago, another great resource to add to the collection of websites dealing with medieval manuscripts: Quill. Books before print. As the authors of this new –and gorgeous– site state Quill “gives you a tour through the making of the medieval manuscripts”, explaining in a very clear and straightforward manner how codices were made and used: the process of choosing the writing support, organizing the pages, preparing them for writing, of copying and correcting the text, adding the elaborated initials or illuminations we all love from medieval manuscripts, a binding, and, finally, some notes about using these books. Having this information well organized and explained, left me thinking about my Visigothic script codices. The process of making was the same for the almost 400 hundred codices gathered in the catalog, but, was also the same the way of executing it? Do this type of codices have anything distinctive that allow us to recognize them not only for the script in which they were written or for the Mozarabic style illuminations they tend to include? In fact, they have. The preparation of the page was not exactly the same for Visigothic script codices than for Carolingian ones. Moreover, it was not even the same in all areas of the Iberian Peninsula.

On Quill we can read “A medieval page consisted of both horizontal and vertical ruling. To add these guiding lines to the blank page, the scribe would prick tiny holes in the outer margins, as well as in the upper and lower ones. Lines were then drawn between these holes, usually with the help of a ruler… Until the early twelfth century the ruling was done by pressing down on the parchment with a sharp object, producing a “gutter” that would guide the scribe’s pen (called ‘dry point’). This type of ruling was replaced by drawing lines with a pencil or pen, which left more visible traces on the surface of the page (called ‘plummet’).” There are two techniques alluded here that were not executed in the same way in Visigothic script codices than in any other medieval manuscripts:

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of pricking between the columns.

© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of pricking between the columns. [available online ]

First, the pricking. In Visigothic script manuscripts, especially in those made and written in the Mozarabic communities of the south, the pricking for the horizontal lines was not always made in the outer margins. Actually, it was made right in the middle of the page!  When the layout of the page was designed for presenting the text in two columns, the holes were made in the space left between the columns. If there were three columns, which was the preferred distribution for southern codices, then the pricking would be made near the third column (in the second space left in between). Only if the text was not divided in columns, the pricks would be in the outer margins; this was the “continental style”. In northern Visigothic script codices, the layout that was frequently used was also that of three columns, but only until the 11th century, and the pricking could be made as in the southern examples or, more often, following the “continental style” by French influence.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of double vertical lines.

© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of double vertical lines.

The vertical guides were also different. They were made in the margins too, but they tend to be double vertical lines on the left and right margins and single ones between the columns.

Second, once having the guides, the ruling was indeed done with a dry point –until the 12th c. at least; Visigothic script likes being traditional–, however, the system was not the same as the usual at the time: the ruling was made after folding the bifolia and having the quires done. Medieval codices were organized by quires, that is, groups of folded pieces of parchment. On Visigothic script codices, as well as on some of the continental ones, four folded bifolia were grouped together to make a quire (‘quaternion’). The order of placement of the bifolia to make a quire was not random, but followed a standard known as Gregory’s rule: hair side faced hair and flesh side faced flesh. For ruling these folia, the copyists followed what is known as the “Iberian or Spanish system” which consists on making the ruling after having the quire, and only on the odd pages; ruling the recto of the first folio with a dry point, the pressure made will rule the second folio too, etc. As it happens with the pricking, this way of ruling the pages was frequent for Mozarabic codices made in southern Iberian Peninsula, while in northern “Spain” was only used around the 10th century. In areas such as Galicia-Portugal and Toledo, the “Iberian system” was preserved, as it was the script, for long. In fact, while all Europe was ruling with color instead of with dry point, these areas were still using it.

Codicology © Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of the hair side.

© Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, Cód. 80. Detail of the hair side.

So, the question is, why in Visigothic script codices we can find this in-the-middle pricking and fold-it-first ruling of the quires? The composition of quires by grouping four bifolia, the layout in columns, the pricking within the text box for horizontal lines (the vertical lines seem to be a medieval creation), and the ruling by dry point after folding, were all codicological techniques used in Late Roman codices. Once the Visigoths settled in the Iberian Peninsula in the early 5th century, they kept and continued the traditional Roman writing practices as the Visigothic script amanuensis did. However, whilst in northern Iberian Peninsula the Christian scribes were not preserving their heritage so eagerly against continental influence, and so they sometimes chose to make their work easier, the Christian communities in Al-Andalus really continued the tradition. For these scribes and copyists, the specific techniques they followed were their identity.

Further readings:

  • Díaz y Díaz, M. C. Manuscritos visigóticos del Sur de la península: ensayo de distribución regional. Sevilla, 1995.
  • Keller, A. “Le système espagnol de réglure dans les manuscrits visigothiques”. In Actas del VIII Coloquio del Comité Internacional de Paleografía Latina. Madrid, 1990, 107-114.
  • Ostos Salcedo, P. “Producción libraría altomedieval y códices isidorianos. Aproximación codicológica”. In San Isidoro. Doctor de las Españas. Sevilla, 2003, 271-307.
  • Rodríguez Díaz, E. “Los manuscritos mozárabes: una encrucijada de culturas”. In Die Mozaraber. Perspektiven und Definitionem der Forschung. Munich, 2011, 75-103 [online here].
  • Vezin, J. “La réalisation materielle des manuscrtis latins pendant le Hauy Moyen Âge”, Codicologica 2 (1978), 15-51.
  • Vezin, J. “Les cahiers dans les manuscrits latins”. In Recherches de codicologie comparée. La composition du codex au Moyen Âge, en Orient et en Occident. Paris, 1998, 99-104.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “Pricking, Visigothic script style”. Littera Visigothica (October 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).

The roads of Medieval Galicia. Fighting against Carolingian script?

Last week I went to the Robarts – UofT Library with my meditated list of books to borrow for the next step of the project -cultural context of sources, Galicia 9th-10th centuries. As always happens, while walking along the shelves looking for these books previously selected, few others caught my attention so the initial list of six books ended up in eleven (I couldn’t carry more!) … Anyway, the day before yesterday, by morning, one of these ‘extra’ books, “Los caminos medievales de Galicia” / “Medieval roads of Galicia”, called me and I decided to take a look.

CaminosGaliciaStudying the graphic evolution of Visigothic script, specifically the minuscule variant in transition to Carolingian script, I grabbed this book because I thought it would help me understand how the new writing system slipped in Galician scriptoria, marking the Visigothic script from the mid-eleventh century onwards. I started reading and I could not stop until finishing it!

The author of this book, Elisa Ferreira, is currently professor of Medieval History at the University of Santiago de Compostela. The work is excellent and very interesting for reading it as a reference book and even as a literary work. It thoroughly reconstructs all the roads, main and secondary, linking villages, monasteries, and cathedrals of medieval Galicia in such detail that you can imagine people traveling through them, suffering hardship, carrying goods up and down… I really enjoyed reading it 🙂

In addition to the useful information I found directly related to my project and which I will discuss below, I learned two interesting things about the Roman roads and their transition to medieval times:

  • Fist, that, in theory, the Roman road had pebbles in the center and large slabs in both sides while the medieval, on the other hand, had a central hall. Also, it seems that Galicia repeated hereinafter the Roman type, while the medieval technique was followed in northern Portugal.
  • Second, on the abandonment (or use) of the Roman roads in the Middle Ages. According to the thesis of A. Leighton (Transport and communication in Early Medieval Europe, AD 500-1100, Devon, 1972), the Roman roads were abandoned by the introduction of the horseshoe on the horses. Go riding on roads with pebble was dangerous for the horse and for the rider. However, it seems that this does not apply to Galicia. The Roman roads were not made from scratch but simply improved pre-Roman roads, natural ways, and these roads continued to be used in the middle ages linking one village to another (of course, if the roman settlement was abandoned the road was too). Knowing the landscape of Galicia and having traveled for some of these old roads, I cannot even imagine how it would have been to go for other ways in the Middle Ages! It is true that would not be easy to ride for these cobblestone roads, but believe me when I say that the other options were/are far more dangerous! Galicia has not exactly little rough orography…

Anyway… as I was saying, the motivation that led me to choose this book was my interest in studying how the French graphic influence arrived to Galicia. How the Carolingian script was spread across the Kingdom.


Graphic example. Minuscule Visigothic script in transition to Carolingian script.

In studying the manuscripts preserved for the diocese of Lugo, I concluded that the influence from Carolingian script was scarce while, in contrast, the muniments preserved from the diocese of Santiago, on which I am working now, show an outstanding Carolingian influence from earlier date [I will post about that in the near future]. How to explain this difference?


‘Los caminos de Galicia’
I have highlighted the two ways (the Primitive Road at the top) in red and the sees, Santiago and Lugo, in green.

The medieval terrestrial route linking Europe with Galicia in the Middle Ages was the Camino de Santiago. Through it has to be assumed not only goods from abroad the Kingdom were circulating but also books, scribes and maybe even masters. Displaying the open road routes to Santiago, the two centers studied, Lugo and Santiago received this French influence, theoretically, alike. The so-called ‘Primitive Road’, in use since the mid-ninth century, went through Lugo in its direction to Santiago. While following the ‘French Road’, opened in the tenth century, pilgrims could choose whether to stop in Lugo or go directly to Santiago.

So, if the road went through both centers, why the French influence is bigger in Santiago than in Lugo? I have two theories:

  1. The simple one: because being Santiago the final destination, pilgrims, merchants or travelers would remain longer or even settle, so the French/Carolingian influence was, therefore, more important there than in Lugo.
  2. The naughty (and my favourite): what about if the lucense (from Lugo) see was voluntarily impervious to outside influences? Maybe they knew the Carolingian writing system but wanted to stay devoted to their Visigothic script. Could be? This would also suggest a link between the ‘traditionalism’ for which Lugo is well-known and has seemed always proud and the use of Visigothic script. It makes sense that, when in late eleventh century the king ‘suggested’ changing the script, the ‘trendy’ diocese and not the older one was the one interested in following the “friendly advice” … [the political implications of this French-friendly ‘advices’ will be topic for another post 🙂 ]

Also, what about the monasteries under Santiago and Lugo sees which were not close to the main road network -thus, for which the simple explanation abovementioned cannot be applied? (Note: In the book ‘Los caminos…‘ is said that the other paths, the secondary ones, were used for subsistence trade, not primarily intended to receive foreigners, although, obviously, they could have used them). Manuscript sources from these centers show the same level of ‘frenchyness’ that the cathedral to which they belonged, very scarce in Lugo and highly developed in Santiago. Why? Again, I have two theories:

  1. Monasteries were under command of their see which sent them the manuscripts they needed, meaning that the scriptorium located around the cathedral would be responsible for copying the codices which circulated among its diocese. This would also suggests that the production of manuscripts would be centralized and independent for each diocese.
  2. And the other option: the scribes of these monasteries completed their training at the cathedral school, therefore getting into the ‘habit’ of writing with the Carolingian influence developed in there.

Both theories seem completely plausible. I need to think more about all of this ….


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “The roads of Medieval Galicia. Fighting against the Carolingian script?”. Littera Visigothica (December 2013), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).


The Medieval Chi-Rho in northwestern Spain

Lately I have been struggling –editing and looking over ideas, thinking about the reviewer’s suggestions, etc.– with an article that has been accepted for publication in Scriptorium (yay!). Its provisional title, more or less, is ‘Observations on the Chrismon in the Visigothic script documents from the diocese of Lugo (917-1196)’ although after yesterday’s work I am maybe changing it to ‘Observations about the Chi-Rho used in medieval charters of northwestern Spain (10th-12th c.)’. As some of you may know, I have been working on Christian monograms for some time now. I have even presented a first draft of accomplishments earlier this year in Saint Louis at the 1st Annual Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies [check the 2nd one for 2014]. So, why am I thinking of changing the title? Because, studying the meaning of this sign, I realized that its cultural implications are in fact even more important that what I thought!

We know as Chi-Rho the Early Christian monogram formed by combining the Greek letters χ and ρ symbolizing Christ’s name (Χριστός), widely used in all types of media from antiquity to the present day. Saying that, you are maybe thinking on some of the many examples that show up in insular gospel books, like the Chi-Rho of the Book of Durrow or the one in Lindisfarne Gospels. [check this post on Chi-Rho monograms in which are collected a few].

Chi-Rho page from the Book of Kells

Chi-Rho page from the Book of Kells

What you may not know is how this sign is and how was it used in charters. How was it understood and developed for the northwestern Spanish scribes.

Within the diplomatic structure, the Chi-Rho was used in the initial part of texts, regardless of the type of document issued -private, royal or ecclesiastical-, preceding the verbal invocation, and also in the signature box where the subscriptions of witnesses confirming the documentary action were grouped, before each individual or group of individuals. Similarly, the sign can be found before the name of the scribe, when he is named on the charter. Let me introduce you to the ‘craziness’ of ‘my’ Christograms, 10th to 12th centuries:

Spanish Chi-Rho (charters) – cursive

Spanish Chi-Rho (charters) – cursive

Yes, trust me, they are the same, just a little bit evolved. This cursive form of the Spanish Christogram symbol used in charters, dividing it into three parts (top-middle-bottom) can be read has follows: the vertical stroke is the cursive interpretation of ρ, the kind of loop in the middle is the χ, the dots at the side are punctuation marks, and the stroke at the bottom is the ς that was added around the 10th century corresponding with the usual greco-latin abbreviation XPS in nomina sacra. But as wild and strange as these forms are, the scribes who did them recognized the Chi-Rho and, in fact, regulations as for its use can be seen: depending on the production center -cathedral, monastic or parish-, the design of the sign changes. Thus, analyzing several hundreds of charters from early 10th century until the late 12th, that is, the Visigothic script corpus, we can see how it evolves, which is great because it allows us to use it to date and locate charters geographically, placing them in their historic/cultural context (this is why I decided to write an article on the sign).

But, there is more. At the same time that this crazy cursive form was used, other scribes decided to use a more ‘classical’ design:

Spanish Chi-Rho (charters) – non-cursive

Spanish Chi-Rho (charters) – non-cursive

Why? As far as I know, it seems that the use of one design or another depends on the cultural relevance of the production center and on to what extent it was open to external influences or not. It does not depend on the training of the scribe: there were professional scribes using the cursive form, although it is true that parochial ones used even more cursive or degenerate forms.

Spanish Chi-Rho (charters) – too cursive!

Spanish Chi-Rho (charters) – too cursive!

With regard to how open each center was and the reception of exogenous influences, another thing worth mentioning is that when the Carolingian script arrived, the Chi-Rho also changed. In the first ten examples written in this supranational script, cursive designs of the Christogram can still be found, but in the ones immediately following it is like the sign was turned back to its origins. Why?

Carolingian script Chi-Rho (charters)

Carolingian script Chi-Rho (charters)

So, something I expected to be very methodological, very “paleographical”, has become an open door for the study of written culture from a much broader historical and social perspective than I anticipated. Now, I need to find out why the cursive sign evolved regulated enough as to distinguish various types, as I have done according to the timeline, to analyze the cultural level of each center within Galicia and to study the routes of cultural exchange with the rest of Spain and Europe. It looked as though it was over and it turned out to be only the beginning.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “The Medieval Chi-Rho in northwestern Spain”. Littera Visigothica (November 2013), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

The war and the manuscript

For the last years I have had the pleasure of working directly with hundreds of charters of over a thousand years in some cases, hidden in Galician ecclesiastical archives and partially forgotten. When facing these written testimonies, it is impossible not to think about who wrote them, where, for whom and why, but also in all the things that each piece of parchment has lived, how everything has changed since the moment they were written. Working with fragments, very damaged and often illegible, I always wondered, what happened to you?

That was the case in studying this beauty:


And, after doing that, the reason which (I believe) explains its state of preservation:

Official report, 23 April 1846, written as a result of the liberal uprising movement, the final episode of which took place at the monastery of San Martín Pinario (Santiago de Compostela, Galicia) itself.

“At the branch office of National Assets they discovered the door open and the first door of the entrance destroyed . . . on the second floor they noticed that the doorway leading to the rooms of the aforementioned office, where the archives of the abolished religious community and various ecclesiastical corporations were located, had been forced with great blows . . . They discovered great quantities of books and files belonging to that said religious communities and corporations lying on the floor in the most chaotic way imaginable, torn apart from their binding and parchment covers, the sheets of different documents mixed up with one another and the majority torn apart, among them pieces of parchment from choral books. They also found them in equal disorder in the windows . . .  some of the volumes were placed on top of others and formed a kind of wall, which was recognized as serving as a parapet for the force defending itself there . . . it was equally noted that many papers may have been burned from the remains they had found on the floor . . . in the hall that had been the library . . . they found piled on beds a considerable amount of documents from the abovementioned archives of the abolished Inquisition, unbound, the sheets torn apart and half missing . . .”

Unfortunately, these reports are not uncommon. In case you are wondering, after that day what remained of the archive was gathered together and moved to several institutions between 1867 and 1946, until they came finally to be integrated into the Archivo Histórico Universitario de Santiago de Compostela. Although, as usual, some charters passed to private hands, as in this case.

Further Reading:

  • Castro Correa, Ainoa. “The reconstruction of Early Medieval Spanish manuscript sources”. Early Medieval Europe, Volume 22, Issue 1 (2014), 69-87. (online)
  • Romero Tallafigo, Manuel. De libros, archivos y bibliotecas. Venturas y desventuras de la escritura. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Gobierno de Canarias / UNED, 2008.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “The war and the manuscript”. Littera Visigothica (October 2013), ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).

There are no books… Galician Visigothic script codices

“There are no books preserved in Visigothic script for Galicia”. This is the quote that can be found on studying the medieval libraries, production and circularization of codices in Visigothic script for Galicia (northwestern Iberian Peninsula). But, luckily, such affirmation is wrong.

First, can we be sure that none of the codices preserved and supposedly produced at some center of i.e. Castilia are not actually from Galicia? Unless the codex’s colophon indicates specifically and without doubt the place of origin, no, we cannot. It is not just because of the mobility of the political and diocesan borders in the Middle Ages. The study of Visigothic script has advanced a lot in the last thirty years. Several studies have been published regarding sources, definition of the script and regional variants. However, given the number of sources and the detailed study they deserved, the conducted research is still not enough to be sure –if we can ever be sure– of the geographical location to which each of these manuscripts has been linked. [One example of this is the ‘Codex of Leodegundia’ (Escorial a.I.13); I will post about it in the future :) ]

Second, the fact that no complete codices are preserved does not mean that there are none. It is true that we do not have beautiful examples like the Visigothic orationale written circa 720 in Tarragona named ‘Oracional of Verona‘ (Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare, LXXXIX) or any Beatos (i.e. British Library, Add MS 11695) produced in Galicia –at least as far as we know– but what about the colligere fragmenta? A piece of codex is still a codex, and there are a lot of fragments!

© AHPOu, c. 4, nº 35

© AHPOu, c. 4, nº 35

The archive that currently keeps more fragments of codices in Visigothic script from Galicia is the Provincial Historical Archive of Ourense. As flyleaves of notarial protocols from the 16th and 17th centuries, several fragments of codices from the 11th and 12th centuries have been preserved. Of course, their condition is not good. Many are small fragments, in others the rubbing has made virtually impossible the reading. But leaves of missals, prayer books and lectionaries give us a precious information about the books produced and used in Galicia back in the Middle Ages. From them we can reconstruct the entire codex applying codicological methodology, to complete the liturgical text with other known copies, and through paleographical and historical approach, to learn more about the scribes, their training and career.

© AHPOu, c. 4, nº 43

© AHPOu, c. 4, nº 43

Therefore, we cannot say “there are no books” just as we cannot say “there were no books”. The fact that they ‘have not been preserved’ in any way means they have not been there. We have a long list with hundreds of references to books mentioned in other Galician sources, coeval charters, copies preserved in later codices, that help us to reconstruct the history of the book / the libraries in the Ancient Kingdom. Also, analyzing the quotes used by some scribes, we can see their familiarity with specific books, either directly or indirectly. From studying their style writing and their grammar, we can see their cultural background which depends not only on training in schools but also on reading. And all this without mentioning the references to codices made ​​by scholars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when wars, the reorganization of the archives and time had not affected as much as today the lives of manuscripts.

To sum up, are there Galician Visigothic script books? Yes! Just to study them and their historical context takes a little more effort.


– by Ainoa Castro

Suggested Citation: Castro Correa, A. “There are no books… Galician Visigothic script codices”. Littera Visigothica (September 2013), there-are-no-books-galician-visigothic-script-codices ‎‎(ISSN 2386-6330).