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There are no books… Galician Visigothic script codices

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“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).

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Codices · Context · Fragments · Paleography

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