Three Leaves from a Latin Religious Pocket Handbook

February 1, 2016 in Manuscript Studies


3 Leaves from a Latin Religious Handbook
in Small-Format

Folio 8 recto, detail of top lines of both columns of text, with parts of the 'Treatise on the Conception of the Blessed Mary' by Eadmer. Reproduced by permission.

[First published on 1 February 2016, with updates.]

Continuing our series of Manuscript Studies (now with a Contents List), Mildred Budny reports on a set of 3 non-continuous leaves from a dismembered pocket-sized Latin religious handbook, purchased online and now in a private collection.  Written in Gothic rotunda script with simple bichrome embellishments, the leaves came from a bound volume of unknown origin and provenance.

The 3 detached leaves were ripped or cut from their former manuscript along the gutters or fold-lines which stood at the spine of the volume.  That they formed part of a bound volume is proved by the traces of glue and a brown leather spine covering, and the notches for the stitching holes by which the nested groups of leaves were sewn into its structure.  Stains and nicks along the other edges attest to wear, tear, and damage over the course of time in that bound state.

At Sixes and Sevens, Etc (Up to Eight)

Set out in a row, here are the rectos of the leaves, numbered in pencil at top right.  The prominent numbering counts them in modern Arabic numerals as ‘6’, ‘7’, and ‘8’.   The crossbar of 7 may imply European practice.The rectos of Folios '6', '7', and '8' from a dismembered religious handbook. These leaves are non-consecutive, as their texts show. Reproduced by permission.This feature must post-date the dismemberment of the volume, because the text on the leaves so designated is not continuous from one to the next.  That they stood at a distance from each other is demonstrated by the different sorts of damage on the upper edges, whereby a brownish stain from liquid affects 2 of the 3 leaves, somewhat similarly, without a shared component on the first.  The different shapes of the inner edges, which do not line up with one another, make it clear that no one of them was ever conjoint with another in this set.

Each leaf retains part of its former gutter, along with the ridged impression, direct or indirect, of the sewing cord which ran along most of its length.  Both ‘6’ and ‘8’ have a heavily ragged inner edge, which retains sections of the formerly adjacent leaf as segments of a wrinkled stub.  The roughly extended portions beyond the gutter on folio ‘8’ retain traces of glue and brownish stains from the former spine of the bound volume, which apparently had a brown (tawed?) leather cover.  This leaf seems to have been ripped from the book (or vice versa), not only from its former stub or conjoint leaf.  Perhaps it stood at the end of the book?

Presumably the folio-numbers represent the work of a seller, marking an assembled set — perhaps the left-overs from a selection of more ‘desirable’ leaves for other purposes in the dispersal. Such selectivity, separating the supposed wheat from the chaff, or the preferred drink from the dregs, as it were, is not uncommon in disposing of the remnants of manuscripts.  Once, that is, the manuscript under selection had been reduced to fragments ready to cast to the winds of commerce and acquisition. Some of our blogposts, as with Lost & Foundlings explore these practices.

Bits & Pieces

By definition, the presence of the numbers implies the existence (or former existence) of the earlier portion of the selected series, whose full extent is unknown.  Where are, at least, Folios — or Items — ‘1’ to ‘5’?  Let alone the other leaves in the original manuscript, whose number could, given the type of book, have been large. (Other cases in portable format include ‘Otto Ege Manuscript 61’.)

Before proceeding further, we should usefully recognize that the sequence established by the added numbering does not necessarily record the sequence in which the different texts with these leaves formerly stood in the volume.  The newly imposed sequence could reflect an assembly, as if at random, gathering some of the scraps left over from the larger spoliation, without regard to the former order.

Backs to the Future

Turning their backs, the leaves have no identifying numbers.  Nor are there catchwords or quire signatures, which could provide indicators for the continuing sequence of text or the location of sections within the full course.  Until other leaves from the book become recognized, the available evidence remains upon these surfaces, as well as what their elements may reveal.

And here are the versos.  The arrangement of the leaf within the manuscript turned the hair side of the animal skin onto this side of Folio ‘8’, but turned the flesh side onto this side of both Folios ‘6’ and ‘7’.

The versos of Folios '6', '7', and '8' from a dismembered religious handbook. These leaves are non-consecutive, as their texts show. Reproduced by permission. The Texts, Script & Layout, Plus Bits of Color

The text is written in 14th-century Gothic ‘rotunda’ script, with simple initials alternately in red and blue pigment.  There is no pen-flourishing, nor other forms of ornamentation, apart from a few extended strokes for letters and the simple dotted centers (in brown ink) for most of the initials.  Consequently, the remnants lack such features as decoration or illustration, by which it might be more readily possible to assess the date and place of origin of the manuscript more closely.

To judge by the rotunda script, the manuscript may have been made, and/or its scribe trained, in Southern France.  So observed one manuscript specialist, skilled in liturgical books of the High Middle Ages.  Another manuscript specialist, based in England, and learning of the identification of the text on the third leaf and its author, opined that the script could be English.  Further research may clarify the options, just as a discovery of other parts of the manuscript, or manuscripts written by the same scribe, could clinch the case.

The leaves measure at the most circa 111 mm high × 83 mm wide, with a written area of circa 69 × 50 mm.  Rendered apparently in graphite, the rulings for the columns and the lines of script produce ladder-like formations.  For each column, the verticals at either side extend into the margins far above and below the columns themselves, while the horizontals remain mostly confined between the verticals, with a few extensions, or overrides, to the right.

The small-format leaves are laid out in double columns (column ‘a’ at the left and b’ at the right) of 30 lines each, with the first line of script set below the top ruled line.  The lowered approach corresponds with a notable, gradual change in habits of laying out texts within the pre-arranged rulings for their lines and columns.  As observed and described by the palaeographer N. R. Ker, the change occurred in Western Europe in the 13th century, and came to dominate book-production for most types of text.  His observations appeared in the article entitled ‘From “Above Top Line” to “Below Top Line”:  A Change in Scribal Practice’, published in Celtica, 5 (1960), pages 13–16, and reprinted as Number 7 in Ker’s collected essays, edited by our Associate, Andrew G. Watson (1985).  The result enclosed the text within a box-like structure, no longer open-topped.  Moreover, often — as here — the line of script was raised above the ruled line.

Written more-or-less efficiently by a single scribe, the text has many abbreviations.  Noteworthy is the extended tail of the letter g in the last line of one column per page on 4 of the 6 pages — that is, at least once in each of the 3 different texts.  It is one of the characteristic features of this scribe’s approach shared across all 3 samples.  In each text, too, some of the lines of script extend slightly beyond the ruled vertical bounding line, usually only in one letter or abbreviation mark, imposing a partly ragged edge to the normally rigidly straight left- and right-hand edges of the columns of text.

A few elements appear in color against the brown ink.  In-line initials, 1-line high, occur alternately in red and blue pigment on one leaf.  There are several lines of rubricated directions on the verso of another, at the end of one text which keeps blank the remaining 7 ruled lines of the column, as well as all of the next column.  Apart from this case, the texts on the leaves both begin and end abruptly, with gaps in their courses before and after the individual represented span. The blank spacing on the last verso presumably allows scope for a next text to begin on its own recto.

The red pigment of initials or rubrications alike remains bright.  This condition is generally a sign of vegetal pigment, rather than metallic pigment, which, over time and through exposure, usually oxidizes and darkens or spreads beyond the original strokes.

One by One

Each leaf represents a single different text.  Their combination as a surviving group allows for a wider glimpse of the character of the volume, although, of course, the full book could have encompassed other, even many other, types of texts as well.

Text ‘I’.  Folio/Item 6
Part of Vulgate Psalm 77 [or Vulgate Psalm 77 in other editions] = Psalm 78 in the King James Version

Recto (flesh side) and Verso (hair side)

Folio 6 recto, with part of Vulgate Psalm 77, extending from within Verse 6 ('narrabunt') to the end of verse 27. Reproduced by permission.575 6v rotatedThe text on the recto extends from within verse 6 (narrabunt) to the end of verse 27 (pennata), while the verso continues directly from the beginning of verse 28 (Est) to within verse 49 (angelos).  Given this sample, the previously adjacent leaves would, if consistent with the textual standard, have ended with the words et surgent et (leading to narrabunt) on the one hand, or begun with malos (following from angelos) on the other.  If those leaves survive somewhere, it could be possible to learn whether, for example, as might be expected or hoped, this Psalm 77 opened with a more prominent initial.

Folio 6 recto, with the top lines of the double columns carrying parts of the text of the Vulgate Psalm, with alternately colored initials beginning the verses, which run together in long lines. Reproduced by permisison.This leaf is the one with the colored text-initials.  Each initial Q (6rb7 and 15) has an extended horizontal tail which runs below the full length of the word and more — into the next word or even for its full length as well, continuing with it beyond the edge of the ruled column (Quoniam percussit).  One of the Is (6va28) stands incomplete, with the parallel outline of its stem remaining ‘hollow’ without the infill of the same pigment to build its form, as with the other initials, the Is included (6ra19 and 23).

Some ‘cue’ or ‘guide’ letters, inset within the space skipped for the initials, direct their forms for the entry.  Sometimes the strokes of the initial overlaps and obscures part, or all, of the guide (as with Q in 6rb7 and M in 6vb28).  Sometimes they avoid it, and allow it to stand free, nested within their shape (as with C in 6ra19 and 6va25).

Folio 6 verso bottom, with part of the Psalm text in double columns and alternately colored initials in blue and red. Reproduced by permission.
The initials signal the openings of the Biblical verses, which do not stand on their own, in a separated vertical series, but run together in long lines, one right after the other, forming a dense, parti-colored, block of text.  Such layout was developed especially for the technologically important phenomenon of pocket-sized Bibles from the thirteenth century onward (examined, for example, in our post on one of them).  It allows for more closely packed text per column and per page, and thereby much more coverage within a restricted space.  Good for mobility and portability.

The strategy is useful for a small-format book which, thus, can carry much more text within its frame.  It also differs from the customary layout of Psalm texts within Books of Hours, so that, even by itself, the presentation of this portion of the manuscript makes it clear that the original volume did not belong to that widespread genre among late-medieval books. Another genre, or set of genres, must be considered instead.

Text ‘II’.  Folio/Item 7
Text on Christian Liturgical Observance

Recto (flesh side) and Verso (hair side)

Folio 7 recto, with a portion from a text as yet unidentified. Reproduced by permission.Folio 7 verso with a portion of text as yet unidentified. Reproduced by permission.Beginning and ending abruptly, Leaf ‘7’ contains part of a text describing liturgical observance for different occasions and times of the Christian calendar year.  Among those mentioned are the Visitation between the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth (celebrated on 31 May), the Vigil of the Nativity (24 December), the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August), and the Octave of the Apostles Peter and Paul (that is, 8 days before their Feast on 29 June).  The author or compiler is, so far, unknown to me, and the text might as yet be unedited.

Written in the same ink and during the same course as the text, the somewhat enlarged 1-line initials for the different statements or run-on paragraphs have dotted centers.  These few initials concern the letters Q (ra5 and 8, va6), O (ra10–12), h (ra27 and b1), E (rb27, vb13), n (va9), d (va16), S (vb6), and a (25).

Folio 7 verso, with the last lines of both columns of text, including the extended, exaggerated tail of a 'g' in the last line, as characteristic of this scribe. Reproduced by permission.On the recto, parts of the script in column rb, are smeared, perhaps in damage shared on the formerly facing page.  Many strokes of ink, especially in most of column a, seem fuzzy, perhaps through partial lifting of the ink through moisture under pressure.  These features, too might have been shared with the facing page now lost or dispersed elsewhere.

Text ‘III’.  Folio/Item 8
Part of Eadmer’s Tractatus de Conceptione Beatae [or Sanctae] Mariae
(‘Treatise on the Conception of the Blessed [or Holy] Mary’)

Recto (hair side) and Verso (flesh side)

Folio 8r with the headless third text. Reproduced by permission.Folio 8v completing the section of text, with a blank column to follow. Reproduced by permission.
This text is the only survivor in the present set which comes to its intended end, without an amputation in the dispersal of leaves.  Its present span opens abruptly with ‘ut ab eius filio digna mercede remuneremur. . . . ‘ and extends to ‘annuatim cum propriis octauis diligenter celebrauit, et ubique celebrandum [cunctis] praedicauit‘.  There follows directly, rounding off the treatise, a partly rubricated set of directions in 8 lines for liturgical reading and chant.  The directions are written in bright red pigment, with the opening words of the requisite texts in ink.

They specify the C[apitulum] of the opening of the Gospel of Matthew (Liber generationis iesus christi fili Dauid et c.) for His Nativity (25 December), with its ‘homily’ (which one is unspecified) at Lauds and the liturgy of the Hours (ad laudes et per horas), plus the Antiphon Conceptio gloriosae virginis Mariae [presumably = CANTUS ID 003850], along ‘with the rest [to be spoken or sung] according to the Order’ of the Ritual.  The opening text of the antiphon as cue or prompt is entered in a smaller, more compact version of the text script, with a narrower pen-nib, as if the inscribing of the liturgical directions had to pause to search the correct specification.

An uneven mixture of ink or starts and stops within the process of writing render variable other parts of the script on this page.  For example, redipping the pen may account for the stretches of darker ink (as with diligenter) here and there in the lines, contrasting with the fainter or rubbed portions.  That the rubrication in red pigment seems unaffected encourages us to regard the variability as a function of the ink and the pen spreading it, rather than as damage to the page.  Perhaps in a drive to complete the section, the scribe chose to let the inconsistent mixture run its course without refreshment.

Apart from the rubricated concluding portion (8va16–23), the layout resembles the monochrome text on Folio ‘7’.  The long lines of text have slightly enlarged initials written in the same ink.  A few have minor embellishment, as with the hooked or banner-like extensions to the left of h (8rb27) and the L of Liber for the Nativity reading (8va17).  Dotted centers occur in the bows of some initials (as with the open-topped A in 8rb6, U in 8rb8, and d in 8rb10).  A pair of horizontal strokes rise within the base of the bow of some others, as with the Cs (8ra24, 8rb30, and 8va22) and the broad T of Temporibus in 8ra4.  These small details add to the ‘legibility’ of the different sections or statements by adding a bit of emphasis to their openings.

Folio 8 verso, lower portion of both columns of text, with the end of Eadmer's text and rubricated liturgical directions in one column, plus a blank final column. Reproduced by permission.
The partial text on the leaf represents an excerpted version (with variants) of the ‘Treatise on the Conception of the Blessed [or Holy] Mary’ by the Anglo-Saxon (Eadmer (circa 1060 – circa 1126), ecclesiastic, theologian, historian, and biographer of his friend Anselm, renowned theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury (1093–1109). The lost beginning of this copy prevents us from knowing (until, say, it turns up) how, or if, it cited the title and attributed authorship; the extant witnesses exhibit variations.  Sometimes this text has been attributed to Anselm, as in the edition by Gabriel Gerberon in the monumental Patrologia Latina, volume 159 (1854), extending from column 0319A onwards (with a transcribed version freely online via

Bust Reliquary of Charlemagne, made circa 1350, at Aachen, Cathedral Treasury. Via Creative Commons

Bust Reliquary, circa 1350, of Charlemagne, containing his skullcap. Via Creative Commons.

Composed perhaps circa 1125, Eadmer’s treatise has a more recent edition by Herbert Thurston and Thomas Slater (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1904) [which I have not yet seen]. Studies of the treatise and its impact include a brief evaluation (conveniently online) by William Burridge (1954) and his detailed examination of “L’Immaculée Conception dans la théologie de l’Angleterre médievale” in the Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, volume 32 (1936), pages 570–597.  Otherwise it appears to be little studied, perhaps because the subject seems to have fallen out of favor as obscure and seemingly irrelevant.

The portion of text in this fragmentary copy picks up mid-sentence in the Patrologia Latina edition within its column 0320B, directly following dignis obsequiis et officiis celebrabimus (with which the preceding page presumably broke off).  Already in its first few lines (see the top of this post), the text mentions the ‘times’ of Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor (died 814). With certain variants from the edition, this version ends within column 0321A, leaving aside all the rest of the treatise, apart from giving a variation upon the liturgical directions which appears at its end — but not, however, varying the Matthew Gospel reading.

The adjusted liturgical details in ‘our’ copy could point to the practices expected for the specific center which would perform them.  Along with other features on the leaves, such cues might illuminate the place of origin of this copy and/or its exemplar.  Further research might reveal more connections.

An Author and His Text

Scribal portrait presumably of the author Eadmer. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. MS Ludwig XI 6, folio 44 verso. Via Wikimedia, reproduced by permission.

Scribal portrait presumably of the author Eadmer. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. MS Ludwig XI 6, folio 44 verso. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A lively image, in the form of a framed and partly drawn, partly painted frontispiece portrait, apparently depicts Eadmer as both scribe and author.  Lacking an inscription naming him, the identification progresses by context.

The full-page image of a monastic scribe precedes Eadmer’s biographical masterwork De Vita et Conversatione Anselmi Cantuariensis (‘On the Life and Way of Life of Anselm of Canterbury’), and faces its opening page.  It seems reasonable to view this figure as its transcribing author, and not only any one or other of its scribes.  Seen here, the ‘portrait’ appears in a copy of that text made circa 1140–1150 in Flanders,  and now at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Seated between parted curtains within an architectural setting, dressed rather sumptuously in ecclesiastical garments, and endowed with a (somewhat lopsided) tonsure, our authoritative scribe appears pensive as he turns to approach his text.  With one in each hand, he holds the customary scribal implements of knife and quill pen and dips pen to inkwell.

The unusually long quill pen — in its own way as dominant as the outsize pen held vertically at one side by the enthroned evangelist author John in the 9th-century Book of Kells — emphasizes the scribal process by which the author’s words came to enter flesh (and hair side) in the parchment book.  Such transfer is implied here in the reach of the pen to ink as its pointed feather tip stretches close to the scribe’s mouth.

Thus he tends to the blank pages of a small-format opened book, whose proportions seem dwarfed by the scribal implements.  One might think that its diminutive size resembles a pocket-sized exemplar, as is represented, in real life, by our 3 dismembered and dislocated leaves — that is, once upon a time when they fitted into their original home.

Round Up

The 3 small samples from the manuscript and its unknown whole span make it premature to evaluate its original character in full.  Identifying other leaves from this religious ‘miscellany’ of some sort could advance the process.  Sometimes the discovery of a catalogue or other forms of description for a manuscript before its dismemberment — as with ‘Otto Ege Manuscript 14’ (also without folio-numbers) — can provide a framework for glimpsing the nature of the entity and for reconstructing the sequence of surviving parts (if they exist), possibly spread among multiple collections, private and/or public.

For now, the contents establish a focus of interest upon Christian religious and liturgical practices.

Text ‘I’ with part of the long Psalm 77 (78), second longest among all the Psalms. The span covers most of 43 of the full 72 verses. If complete the text would have extended in a few verses onto the preceding verso and into more verses on the following recto, perhaps in a full page or so.

This Psalm, one of the 12 Psalms ‘of Asaph’, expresses concern with God’s wrath against the incredulous, his deliverance of (some of) them from their enemies, and his choice of the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, David, and Israel. Its liturgical use, along with Psalms 105 and 106, may pertain specifically to the seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter, for its relevant ‘historical’ theme of Old Testament salvation in practice, as forerunner for New Testament promise.

Text ‘II’ with part of a treatise on liturgical practices for a variety of occasions.  Its original length is unknown.

Text ‘III’ with the last part of an excerpt from Eadmer’s ‘Treatise on the Conception of the Virgin’.  The extract provides accounts of liturgical practices both in earlier times and for current custom.  It is uncertain how much of the earlier portion of Eadmer’s text found expression on the preceding page(s) of this copy, and how (or if) the text presented a title and citation of authorship.

Recognizing that the added folio-numbers might reflect an order which reshuffled the deck, as well as imposing gaps upon it, we need not assume that the 3 represented texts occurred in this sequence, whether directly or indirectly, within the volume.  It seems premature, also, to presume that the volume solely contained religious, liturgical texts.

Exhibiting its fragments, with an account of their contents and stylistic features, may lead to further recognition of their siblings and to the character of the volume, its possible provenance, and its place in the transmission of its texts and its genre(s).  For now, it comes forward as a fragmented example of a pocket-sized Latin handbook of Christian religious and liturgical texts, including some by the Psalmist and by Eadmer of Canterbury.


We thank the owner of the leaves for permission to study and to publish them. We also thank our Associate Karl Morrison and our Trustees Adelaide Bennett and David Ganz for observations about the text and script.  Bringing these leaves to light and beginning to set them into context may set the stage for further discoveries.

Perhaps sometime the companion leaves, or some of them, from the former manuscript might be identified, so as to extend knowledge of its original characteristics and, perchance, its travels across time and space from the medieval Gothic world to the present.  Do you know of any of them?  Please let us know: Contact Us.


Next:  More manuscript fragments: A Part-Leaf from the Life of Saint Blaise.


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