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Every book written by hand on flexible material and intended to be placed in a library is called a manuscript. We must therefore set aside from the study of manuscripts (1) books graven on stone or brick (Library of Assurbanipal at Ninive; graven documents discovered at Cnossus or Phæstos in Crete); (2) all public acts (diplomas, charters, etc.), the study of which constitutes the object of diplomatics. Manuscripts have been composed from the most remote antiquity (Egyptian papyri of the memphite epoch) down to the period of the invention of printing. However, Greek manuscripts were still copied until the end of the sixteenth century, and in the monasteries of the East (Mount Athos, Syria, Mesopotamia, etc.), the copying of manuscripts continued well into the nineteenth century. On the other hand the most recent Western manuscripts date from the last years of the fifteenth century.

Materials and form of manuscripts

The principal materials employed in the making of manuscripts have been papyrus, parchment, and paper. In exceptional cases other materials have been used (e.g. the linen books of Etruria and Rome, a specimen of which was found on an Egyptian mummy in the museum of Agram; the silken books of China, etc.). Besides, in ancient time and during the Middle Ages tablets dipped in wax on which characters were traced with a stylus were made us of for fugitive writings, accounts, etc.; these might be folding in two (diptychs), or in three (triptychs), etc. Papyrus (charta ægyptica) was obtained from a long-stemmed plant terminating in a large and elegant umbrella; this was the Cyperus Papyrus, which grew in the marshes of Egypt and Abyssinia. The stem was cut in long strips which were placed one beside the other. On the vertical strips others were placed horizontally; then after they had been wet with the water of the Nile they were submitted to strong pressure, dried in the sun, and rubbed with shells to render them solid. To make a book the separate pages (selides, paginæ) were first written on, then they were put end to end, the left margin of each page being made to adhere to the right margin of the preceding page. A roll (volumen) was thus secured, of which the dimensions were sometimes considerable. Some Egyptian rolls are forty-six feet long by nine or ten inches wide, and the great Harris papyrus (British Museum) is one hundred and forty-one feet long. The end of the last page was fastened to a cylinder of wood or bone (omphalos, umbilicus), which gave more consistency to the roll. The page having been ruled, the writing was done with a sharpened reed on the horizontal portion of the fibres. From being almost exclusively used in Egypt, the use of papyrus spread to Greece about the fifth century, then to Rome and throughout the West. Its price remained very high; in 407 B.C. a roll of twenty leaves was worth twenty-six drachmas, or about five dollars (Corp. Insc. Attic., I, 324). Pliny the Elder (Hist. Nat., XIII, 11-13) gives a list of its various grades (charta Augusta, Liviana, etc.). Egypt retained the monopoly of the manufacture, which furthermore belonged to the State. Alexandria was the principal market. In the first centuries of the Middle Ages it was exported to the West by the "Syrians", but the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs (640) stopped the trade. However it still continued to be used for diplomas (at Ravenna until the tenth century; in the papal chancery until 1057). The Arabs had attempted to cultivate the plant in Sicily.

Parchment (charta pergamena), made of the skin of sheep, goats, calves (vellum), asses, etc., was used by the Ionians and the Asiatics as early as the sixth century B.C. (Herodotus, V, 58); the anecdote related by Pliny (Hist. Nat., XIII, 11), according to which it was invented at Pergamus, seems legendary; it would seem that its manufacture was simply perfected there. Imported to Rome in ancient times, parchment supplanted papyrus but slowly. It was only at the end of the third century A.D. that it was preferred to papyrus for the making of books. Once prepared, the parchment (membrana) was cut into leaves which were folded in two; four leaves together formed a book of eight folios (quaternio); all the books formed a codex. There was no paging before the fifteenth century; writers merely numbered first the books (signature), then the folios. The dimensions of the leaves varied; the most in use for literary texts was the large quarto. An Urbino catalogue (fifteenth century) mentions a manuscript so large that it required three men to carry it (Reusens, "Paléographie", 457); and there is preserved at Stockholm a gigantic Bible written on ass-skin, the dimensions of which have won for it the name of "Gigas librorum". The page was ruled in dry point so deeply that the mark was visible on the other side. Parchments were written on both sides (opistographs). As parchment became very rare and costly during the Middle Ages, it became the custom in some monasteries to scratch or wash out the old text in order to replace it with new writing. These erased manuscripts are called palimpsests. With the aid of reacting chemicals the old writing has been made to reappear and lost texts have been thus discovered (the Codex Vaticanus 5757 contains under a text of St. Augustine the "De Republica" of Cicero; recovered by Cardinal Mai). Manuscripts thus treated have been nearly always incomplete or mutilated; a complete work has never been recovered on a palimpsest. Finally, by sewing strips of parchment together, rolls (rotuli) were made similar to those formed of papyrus (e.g. Hebrew Pentateuch of Brussels, ninth century, on fifty-seven sewn skins, forty yards in length; "rolls of the dead", used by the associations of prayer for the dead in the abbeys; administrative and financial rolls used especially in England to transcribe the decrees of Parliament, etc.)

Paper is said to have been invented in China in A.D. 105 by a certain Tsai-Louen (Chavannes, "Journ. Asiatique", 1905, 1). Specimens of paper of the fourth century A.D. have been found in Eastern Turkestan (expeditions of Stein and Sven Hedin). It was after the taking of Samarkand (704) that the Arabs learned to make paper, and introduced it to Bagdad (795), and to Damascus (charta damascena). It was known in Europe as early as the end of the eleventh century, and at this early date it was used in the Norman chancery of Sicily; in the twelfth century it began to be used for manuscripts. It was sold even then in quires and reams (Arabic, razmah) and in the thirteenth century appeared the filigranes or watermarks. According to chemical analyses, the paper of the Middle Ages was made of hempen or linen rags. The expression "charta Bombycina" comes from the Arab manufactory of Bombyce, between Antioch and Aleppo. The copyist of the Middle Ages used chiefly black ink, incaustum, composed of a mixture of gall nuts and vitrol. Red ink was reserved from ancients times for titles. Gold and silver ink were used for manuscripts de luxe (see EVANGELIARIA). The method of binding codices has varied little since ancient times. The books were sewn on ox sinews placed in rows of five or six on the back. These sinews (chordæ) served to attach to the volume wooden covers, which were covered with parchment or dyed skin. Covers of the manuscripts de luxe were made of ivory or brass, ornamented with carvings, precious stones, cut and uncut.


Montfaucon (Palæographia græca, 15) confesses that he never saw a papyrus manuscript. There were such, nevertheless, in some archives, but it was only in the eighteenth century, after the discover of the papyri of Herculaneum (1752) that attention was devoted to this class of documents. The first discovery took place in Egypt at Gizeh in 1778, then from 1815 the discoveries in the tombs have succeeded one another without interruption, especially since 1880. The hieroglyphic, demotic, Greek, and Latin papyri are at present scattered among the great libraries (Turin, Rome, Paris, Leyden, Strasburg, Berlin, London, etc.). The publication of the principal collections has been begun (see below) and the edition of a "Corpus papyrorum" is projected, which my be one of the greatest undertakings of erudition of the twentieth century. The importance of these discoveries may be estimated from the consideration of the chief kinds of papyrus published today.

Egyptian papyri

The greater number are religious documents relating to the veneration of the dead and the future life. The most ancient date from the epoch of Memphis (2500-2000 B.C.), the most recent belong to the Roman period. One of the most celebrated is the "Book of the Dead", of which several copies have been recovered. Moral and philosophical treatises have also been found (the Prisse Papyrus, in the Bibliothèque Nat., Paris) as well as scientific treatises, romances and tales, and popular songs.

Greek papyri

They are distributed over ten centuries (third century B.C.-seventh century A.D.) and contain registers from archives (giving a very exact idea of the administration of Egypt under the Ptolemies and the Roman and Byzantine emperors; their study has given rise to a new diplomatic science), literary works (the finest discovered are the orations of Hyperides found on papyri in the British Museum in 1847, 1858, 1891, and in the Louvre in 1889; Aristotle's "Republic of Athens" on a papyrus of the British Museum in 1891; the "Mimes" of Herondas, lyric poems of Bacchylides and Timotheus; and lastly, in 1905, 1300 verses by Menander at Kom Ishkaou by G. Lefebvre), and religious documents (fragments of Gospels, of which some remain unidentified, religious poems, hymns, edifying treatises, etc., e.g.: the Greek Psalter of the British Museum, of the third century A.D., which is one of the most ancient Biblical manuscripts we possess; the "Logia" of Jesus, published by Grenfell and Hunt; a hymn in honour of the Holy Trinity similar to the "Te Deum", discovered on a papyrus of the sixth century; etc.).

Latin papyri

These are rare, at Herculaneum as well as in Egypt, and we possess only fragments. A papyrus of Ravenna dated 551 (Library of Naples) is in Ostragothic writing (Catal. of Latin papyri in Traube, "Biblioth. Ecole des Chartes", LXIV, 455).

Chief collections

Louvre (Brunet de Presle, "Not. et ext. des manuscripts", XVIII), Turin (ed. Peyron, 1826-27); Leyden (ed. Leemans, 1843); British Museum (ed. Kenyon, 1898); Flinders Petrie (ed. Mahaffy, Dublin, 1893-94); University of California (Tebtunis Papyrus, ed. Grenfell and Hunt, London and New York, 1902); Berlin (Berlin, 1895-98); Archduke Renier (ed. Wessely, Vienna, 1895); Strasburg (ed. Keil, 1902); Oxyrhyncos excavations (Grenfell and Hunt, London, since 1898); Th. Reinach (Paris, 1905).

The making of manuscripts

In ancient times the copyists of manuscripts were free workmen or slaves. Athens, which was before Alexandria a great library center, had its Bibliographos, copyists, who were at the same time librarians. At Rome Pomponius Atticus thought of competing with booksellers by training slaves, for the most part Greeks, to copy manuscripts, their work to be afterwards sold. Some booksellers were at once copyists, calligraphers, and even painters. to the great libraries founded by the emperors were attached rooms for copyists; in 372 Valens attached to that of Constantinople four Greek and three Latin copyists (Theod. code, XIV, ix, 2). The edict of Diocletian fixing the maxima of prices sets down the monthly salary of the librarius at fifty denarii (Corp. Inscript. Latin, III(2) 831). Unfortunately, except for the Egyptian papyri, none of the works copied in ancient times has come down to us, and our oldest manuscripts date only from the beginning of the fourth century. The copyists of this century, several of whom were Christian priests, seem to have displayed great activity. It was by transcribing on parchment the works hitherto written on papyrus and in danger of being destroyed (Acacius and Euzoïus at Cæsarea; cf. St. Jerome, "Epist.", cxli), that they assured the preservation of ancient literature and prepared the work of the copyists of the Middle Ages. The most ancient and the most precious manuscripts of our collection date from this period; Biblical manuscripts: Codex Sinaiticus, a Greek fourth century manuscript discovered by Tischendorf at the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai (1844-59), now at St. Petersburg; Codex Alexandrinus, a Greek Bible executed at Alexandria in the beginning of the fifth century, now in the British Museum; Codex Ephræmi Rescriptus, a palimpsest of the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, containing fragments of a New Testament written in the fifth century; Latin Bible of Quedlinburg, fourth century, in the Library of Berlin; Fragments of the Cotton Latin Bible (Brit. Mus.), fifth century. Profane authors: The seven manuscripts of Virgil in capitals [the most famous is that of the Vatican (Lat. 3225), fourth century]; the "Iliad" of the Ambrosian Library, fifth century; the Terence of the Vatican (Lat. 3226) in capitals, fifth century, the "Calendar" of Philocalus written in 354, known only by modern copies (Brussels, Vienna, etc.).

The barbarian invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries brought about the destruction of the libraries and the scattering of the books. However, in the midst of barbarism, there were a certain number of privileged refuges, in which the copying of books went on. It is to these copyists of the Middle Ages that moderns owe the preservation of the Sacred Books as well as the treasures of classical antiquity; they veritably saved civilization. The chief of these copying centres were: Constantinople, where the library and schools continued to exist; the monasteries of the East and West, where the copying of books was regarded as one of the essential labours of monastic life; the synagogues and schools of the Jews, to which we owe the Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, the most ancient of which date only from the ninth century (British Museum, manuscripts Orient, 4445, ninth century; Codex Babylonicaus of St. Petersburg, copied in 916); the Mussulman schools (Medressehs), provided with large libraries (that at Cordova had 400,000 vols.) and copying rooms, in which were transcribed not only the Koran but also theological works and Arabic translations of Greek authors (Aristotle, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, etc.). The most important works undoubtedly was done by the monasteries; its history is identical with the history of the transmission of sacred and profane texts of antiquity.

Oriental Christendom

From the very beginning of Egyptian monasticism copying rooms were installed in the monasteries, as is shown by the Coptic chronicle on papyrus studied by Strzygowski ("Eine Alexandrinische Weltchronik", Vienna, 1905). In Palestine, Syria, Ethiopia, and Armenia, in Melchite, Jacobite, or Nestorian monasteries, the copying of manuscripts was held in esteem. We know the name of one scribe, Emmanuel, of the monastery of Qartamin on the Tigris, who copied with his own hand seventy manuscripts (one of them the Berlin Nestorian Evangeliarium; Sachau, 304, tenth century). At the Nestorian school of Nisibis the students copied the Holy Scripture, the text of which was afterwards explained to them. Indeed the Bible was copied by preference, hence the numerous Biblical manuscripts, whether Syriac (text of the "Peshitto" preserved at Milan; end of the fifth century), Coptic (fragments discovered by Maspero at Akhmin; see "Journal Asiatique", 1892, 126), Armenian (Gospel in capitals, Institute Lazarev of Moscow, dated 887; the most ancient complete Bible belongs to the twelfth century), Ethiopian, etc. Commentaries on Holy Scripture, liturgical books, translations from the Greek Fathers, theological or ascetical treatises, and some universal chronicles constitute the greater number of these manuscripts, from which the classic writers are excluded.

Greek Church

In the Greek monasteries St. Basil also recommended the copying of manuscripts and his treatise "On the usefulness of reading profane authors" bears sufficient witness that side by side with the religious texts the Basilian monks assigned an important place to the copying of classical authors. That a large number of texts have perished is not the fault of the monks, but is due to the custom of Byzantine scholars of composing "Excerpta" from the principal authors, and afterwards neglecting the originals (e.g. Encyclopedia of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in the library of Photius. See Krumbacher, "Gesch. der Syzant. litter.", p. 505). Wars, and especially the taking of Constantinople in 1204 also brought about the destruction of a great number of libraries. The work of the Byzantine copyists from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries was considerable; and to convince ourselves it is enough to peruse the list of three thousand names of known copyists recovered by Maria Vogel and Gardthausen from Greek manuscripts ("Beihefte zum Zentralblatt für Bibliothekwesen", XXXIII, Leipzig, 1909). It will be seen that the greater number of copyists are monks; at the end of the manuscript they often place their signature and the name of their monastery. Some of them through humility preserve anonymity: Graphe tis; oide theos ("Who wrote this? God knows"). Others on the contrary inform posterity concerning the rapidity with which they have completed their task. The scribe Theophilus wrote in thirty days the Gospel of St. John (985). A manuscript of St. Basil begun on Pentecost (28 May) of 1105 was ended 8 August of the same year. With the monks there were some secular copyists known as notarii, tabularii, among them a tax collector of the eleventh century (Montfaucon, "Palæog. gr.", 511), a judge of the Morea (Cod. Paris, gr. 2005, written at Mistra in 1447), and even emperors. Theodosius II (408-450) had earned the surname of "Calligrapher" (Codinus ed. of Bonn, 151) and John V Cantacuzenus, having in 1355 retired to a monastery, copied manuscripts. Among copyists is also mentioned the Patriarch Methodius (843-847), who in one week copied seven psalters for the seven weeks of Lent (Pat. Gr. G. 1253).

The monasteries of Constantinople remain the chief centres for the copying of manuscripts. From them perhaps proceeded in the sixth century the beautiful Gospels on purple parchment in letters of gold (see ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS). In the ninth century the reform of the Studites was accompanied by a veritable renascence of calligraphy. St. Plato, uncle and master of Theodore of Studion, and Theodore himself copied many books, and their biographies extol the beauty of their writing. Theodore installed at Studion a scriptorium, at the head of which was a "protocalligrapher" charged with preparing the parchment and distributing to each one his task. In Lent the copyists were dispensed from the recitation of the Psalter, but rigorous discipline reigned in the work-room. A stain on a manuscript, an inexactness in copy was severely punished. All the monasteries which came under the influence of Studion also adopted its method of copying; all had their libraries and their copying rooms. In the eleventh century St. Christodoulos, another monastic reformer, found of the convent of St. John of Patmos, ordained that all monks "skillful in the art of writing should with the authorization of the hegoumenos make use of the talents with which they had been endowed by nature". There has been preserved a catalogue of the library of Patmos, dated 1201; it comprised two hundred and sixty-seven manuscripts on parchment, and sixty-three on paper. The majority are religious works, among them twelve Evangeliaries, nine Psalters, and many Lives of the saints. Among the seventeen profane manuscripts are works on medicine and grammar, the "Antiquities" of Josephus, the "Categories" of Aristotle, etc.

In the monasteries located at the extremities of the Hellenic world are found the same occupations. The monastic colony of Sinai, which has existed since the fourth century, formed an admirable library, of which the present remains (1220 manuscripts) afford but a faint idea. In Byzantine Italy from the tenth to the twelfth century, the Basilian monks also cultivated calligraphy at Grottaferrata, at St. Salvatore at Messina, at Stilo in Calabria, at the monastery of Cassola, near Otranto, at St. Elias at Carbone, and especially at the Patir of Rossano, founded in the eleventh century by St. Bartholomew, who bought books at Constantinople and copied several manuscripts. The library of Rossano became one of the sources from which the manuscripts of the Vatican library were drawn. Besides, from the end of the tenth century the great monasteries of Mt. Athos, the great laura of St. Athanasiu, Vatopedi, Esphigmenou, etc., became most important centres for the copying of manuscripts. Without speaking of the treasures of sacred and profane literature which are still preserved there, there is not a library of Greek manuscripts which does not possess some examples of their work. Finally the monasteries founded in the Slav countries, in Russia, Bulgaria, Servia, on the model of the Greek convents, also had their copying rooms, in which were translated into the Slavonic language, with the help of the alphabet invented in the ninth century by St. Cyril, the Holy Scripture and the most important works of the ecclesiastical literature of the Greeks. It was also in these monastic study halls that the first monuments of the national literature of the Slavs were copied, such as the "Chronicle of Nestor", the "Song of Igor", etc.

The West

The work of the Western copyists begins with St. Jerome (340-420), who in his solitude of Chalcis and later in his monastery of Bethlehem, copied books and commended this exercise as one most becoming to monastic life (Ep. cxxiii). At the same time St. Martin of Tours introduced this rule into his monastery. The copying of manuscripts appears as one of the occupations of all the founders of monastic institutions, of St. Honoratus and St. Capresius at Lérins, of Cassian at St. Victor's at Marseilles, of St. Patrick in the monasteries of Ireland, of Cassiodorus in his monasteries of Scyllacium (Squillace). In his treatise "De Institutione divinarum litterarum" (543-545) Cassiodorus has left a description of his library with its nine armaria for manuscripts of the Bible; he also describes the copying room, the scriptorium, directed by the antiquarius. He himself set the example by copying the Scriptures and he believed that "each word of the Saviour written by the copyist is a defeat inflicted on Satan" ("De Institut.", I, 30). The work of the copyists was also considered meritorious by St. Benedict. In the sixth century copying rooms existed in all the monasteries of the West.

Since the time of Damasus, the popes had a library which was probably provided with a copying room. The missionaries who left Rome to evangelize the Germanic peoples, such as Augustine in 597, brought with them manuscripts which they were to reproduce in the monasteries founded by them. In the seventh century Benedict Biscop made four journeys to Rome and brought thence numerous manuscripts; in 682 he founded the monastery of Jarrow which became one of the chief intellectual centres of England. Theodore of Tarsus (668-680) accomplished a similar work when he reorganized the Anglo-Saxon Church. The first period of monastic activity (sixth-seventh centuries) is represented in our libraries by a large number of Biblical manuscripts, many of which come from Ireland ("Liber Armachanus" of Dublin), England ("Codex Amiatinus" of Florence, copied at Wearmouth under Wilfred, and offered to the pope in 716; "Harley Evangeliary", Brit. Mus., seventh century), some from Spain ("Palimpsest of Leon", cathedral archives, seventh century). Finally the library of the University of Upsala possesses the "Codex Argenteus", on purple parchment, written in the fifth century, which contains the Bible of Ulphilas, the first translation into a Germanic language of the Holy Scripture.

At the end of the seventh and during the eighth century Gaul became more and more barbarous; monasteries were destroyed or ravaged, culture disappeared, and when Charlemagne undertook the reorganization of Europe he addressed himself to the countries in which culture was still flourishing in the monasteries, to England, Ireland, Lombardy. The Carolingian renaissance, as the movement has been called, had as its principle, the establishment of copying rooms at the imperial court itself and in the monasteries. One of the most active promoters of the movement was Alcuin (735-804), who after having directed the library and school of York, became in 793 Abbot of St. Martin of Tours. Here he founded a school of calligraphy which produced the most beautiful manuscripts of the Carolingian epoch. Several specimens distributed by Charlemagne among the various monasteries of the empire became the models which were imitated everywhere, even in Saxony, where the new monasteries founded by Charlemagne became the foremost centres of Germanic culture. M.L. Delisle (Mém. de l'Acad. des Inscript., XXXII, 1) has compiled a list of twenty-five manuscripts which proceeded from this school of Tours (Bible of Charles the Bald, Paris, Bib. Nat., Lat. No. 1; Bible of Alcuin, Brit. Mus., 10546; manuscripts at Quedlinburg relating to the life of St. Martin; Sacramentaries of Metz and Tours of the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale, etc.)

Among the works proceeding from the imperial scriptorium attached to the Palatine School is mentioned the Evangeliary copied for Charlemagne by the monk Godescalc in 781 (now at the Bibliothèque Nationale), and the Psalter of Dagulf presented to Adrian I (now at the Imperial Library of Vienna). Other important scriptoria were established at Orléans by Bishop Theodulfe (whence issued the two beautiful Bibles now kept in the treasury of the cathedral of Puy Amand (where the copyist Hucbald-Amand contributed eighteen volumes to the library), at St. Gall, under the Abbots Grimaldus (841-872) and Hardmut (872-883), who caused the making of a complete Bible in nine volumes; there are extant ten Biblical manuscripts written or corrected by Hardmut. At St. Gall and in many other monasteries the influence of Irish monks is very marked (manuscripts of Tours, Würzburg, Berne, Bobbio, etc.). Besides numerous Biblical manuscripts there are found among the works of the Carolingian epoch many manuscripts of the classical authors. Hardmut had had copied Josephus, Justin, Martianus Capella, Orosius, Isidore of Seville; one of the most beautiful manuscripts of the school of Tours is the Virgil of the library of Berne, copied by the deacon Bernon. Many of these works were even translated into the vulgar tongue: at St. Gall there were Irish translations of Galen and Hippocrates, and at the end of the ninth century King Alfred (849-900) translated into English the works of Boethius, Orosius, Bede, etc. At this epoch many monasteries possessed libraries of considerable size; when in 906 the monks of Novalaise (near Susa) fled before the Saracens they carried to Turin a library of six thousand manuscripts.

The period of the eleventh and twelfth centuries may be considered as the golden age of monastic manuscript writing. In each monastery there was a special hall, called the "scriptorium", reserved for the labours of the copyists. On the ancient plan of St. Gall it is shown beside the church. In the Benedictine monasteries there was a special benediction formula for this hall (Ducange, Glossar. mediæ et inf. latin.", s.v. Scriptorium). Absolute silence reigned there. At the head of the scriptorium the bibliothecarius distributed the tasks, and, once copied, the manuscripts were carefully revised by the correctores. In the schools the pupils were often allowed as an honour to copy manuscripts (for instance at Fleury-sur-Loire). Everywhere the monks seem to have given themselves with great ardour to the labour which was considered one of the most edifying works of the monastic life. At St. Evroult (Normandy) was a monk who was saved because the number of letters copied by him equalled the number of his sins (Ordericus Vitalis, III, 3). In the "explicit" which concluded the book the scribe often gave his name and the date on which he wrote "for the salvation of his soul" and commended himself to the prayers of the reader. Division of labour seems as yet not to have been fully established, and there were monks who were both scribes and illuminators (Ord. Vital., III, 7). The Bible remained the book which was copied by preference. The Bible was copied either entire (bibliotheca) or in part (Pentateuch, the Psalter, Gospels and Epistles, Evangeliaria, in which the Gospels followed the order of the feasts). Then came the commentaries on the Scriptures, the liturgical books, the Fathers of the Church, works of dogmatic or moral theology, chronicles, annals, lives of the saints, histories of churches or monasteries, and lastly profane authors, the study of which never ceased entirely. Rather a large number of them are found among the ne thousand manuscripts in the library of Cluny. At St. Denis even Greek manuscripts were copied (Paris, Bib. Nation., gr. 375, copied in 1033). The newer religious orders, Cistercians, Carthusians, etc., manifested the same zeal as the Benedictines in the copying of manuscripts.

Then beginning with the thirteenth century the labour of copyists began to be secularized. About the universities such as that of Paris were a large number of laymen who gained a livelihood by copying; in 1275 those of Paris were admitted as agents of the university; in 1292 we find at Paris twenty-four booksellers who copied manuscripts or caused them to be copied. Colleges such as the Sorbonne also had their copying rooms. On the other hand at the end of the thirteenth century in the greater number of monasteries the copying of manuscripts ceased. Although there were still monks who were copyists, such as Giles of Mauleon, who copied the "Hours" of Queen Jeanne of Burgundy (1317) at St. Denis, the copying and the illumination of manuscripts became a lucrative craft. At this juncture kings and princes began to develop a taste for books and to form libraries; that of St. Louis was one of the earliest. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries these amateurs had in their pay veritable armies of copyists. Thenceforth it was they who directed the movement of the production of manuscripts. The most famous were Popes John XXII (1316-34), Benedict XII (1334-42); the poet Petrarch (1304-74), who was not satisfied with purchasing the manuscripts in convents but himself formed a school of copyists in order to have accurate texts, the King of France, Charles V (1364-1380), who collected in the Louvre a library of twelve hundred volumes, the French princes Jean, Duke of Berry, a forerunner of modern bibliophiles (1340-1416), Louis Duke of Orléans (1371-1401) and his son Charles of Orléans (d. 1467), the dukes of Burgandy, the kings of Naples, and Matthias Corvinus. Also worthy of mention are Richard of Bury, Chancellor of England, Louis of Bruges (d. 1492), and Cardinal Georges d'Amboise (1460-1510).

The copying rooms were made more perfect, and Trithemius, Abbot of Spanheim (1462-1513), author of "De laude scriptorum manualium", shows the well-established division of labour in a studio (preparation and polishing of parchment, ordinary writing, red ink titles, illumination, corrections, revision, each task was given to a specialist). Among those copies religious manuscripts, Bibles, Psalters, Hours, lives of the saints, were always represented, but an increasingly important place was accorded the ancient authors and the works of national literature. In the fifteenth century a great many Greek refugees fleeing before the Turks came to Italy and copied the manuscripts they brought with them to enrich the libraries of the collectors. A number of them were in the service of Cardinal Bessarion (d. 1472), who after collecting five hundred Greek manuscripts, bequeathed them to the Republic of Venice. Even after the invention of printing, Greek copyists continued to work, and their names are found on the most beautiful Greek manuscripts of our libraries, for instance Constantine Lascaris (1434-1501), who lived a long time at Messina; John Lascaris (1445-1535), who came to France under Charles VIII; Constantine Palæocappa, a former monk of Athos, who entered the service of Cardinal de Lorraine. John of Otranto, the most skilful copyist of the sixteenth century.

But the copying of manuscripts had ceased long before in consequence of the invention of printing. The copyists who had toiled for long centuries had completed their tasks in bequeathing to the modern world the sacred and profane works of antiquity.

Present location of manuscripts

Save for some exceptions, which are becoming more and more rare, the manuscripts copied during the Middle Ages are at present stored in the great public libraries. The private collections which have been formed since the sixteenth century (Cotton, Bodley, Christina of Sweden, Peiresc, Gaignières, Colbert, etc.) have eventually been fused with the great repositories. The suppression of a great number of monasteries (England and Germany in the sixteenth century, France in 1790) has also augmented the importance of storehouses of manuscripts, the chief of which are,

The dangers of all kinds which threaten manuscripts have induced the greater number of these libraries to undertake the reproduction in facsimile of their most precious manuscripts. In 1905 an international congress assembled at Brussels to study the best practical means of reproduction. This is a great undertaking, the accomplishment of which depends on the progress of photography and of colour photography. By this means will the works of the copyists of the Middle Ages be preserved. (See LIBRARIES.)


Revue des bibliothèques (Paris, since 1890), a periodical devoted to bibliography, contains numerous unedited catalogues, and critical studies of manuscripts; Zentralblatt für Bibliothekwesen (Leipzig, since 1884), treats of periodical bibliography in the supplement; GRAESEL, Fr. tr. LAUDE, Manuel de Bibliothéconomie (Paris, 1897) deals with the material arrangements of manuscript cabinets; EHRLE (prefect of the Vatican), Sur la conservation et restauration des anciens MSS. in Rev. des Biblioth. (1898), 152; OMONT, Liste des recueils de fac-similes conservés à la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris, 1903); GILBERT, The National manuscripts of Ireland (Southampton, 1874), 3 vols.; KOENNECKE, Bilderatlas der deutschen Nationalliteratur (Marburg, 1894).

On the history of copyists and the production of MSS.: Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes (Paris, since 1839), contains numerous bibliographical articles; LECOY DE LA MARCHE, L'art d'écrire et les calligraphes in Revue des questions historiques (1884); DELISLE, Le Cabinet des manuscrits de la Bib. Nat. (Paris, 1868-81), 3 vols. and album, a fundamental work for the history of medieval libraries; GARDTHAUSEN, Griechischen Schreiber des Mittelalters under der Renaissance (Leipzig, 1909); BERGER, Histoire de la Vulgate pendant les premiers siècles du moyen Age (Nancy, 1893); FAUCON, La librairie des papes d'Avignon (Biblioth. Ecole Franc. de Rome, XLIII and L); MÜNTZ, La bibliothèque du Vatican au XVe siècle (ibid., XLVIII). A large amount of information concerning papyri will be found in Archiv für Papyrusforschung (Leipzig, since 1900). See also HOHLWEIN, La papyrologie grècque (Louvain, 1905), Studien zur Palaeographie und papyrusurkunde (Leipzig, since 1901, edited by WESSELY).

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APA citation. Bréhier, L. (1910). Manuscripts. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bréhier, Louis. "Manuscripts." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Bryan R. Johnson.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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