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Creation and Use of Monastic Books in 15th Century Spain

Writing and Decoration

Before writing started, guidelines for the margins and text spacing were added with copying in the text following. However, in the case of this gradual, the music lines were likely added before the text.

Unlike the plethora of fonts we have available on our computers, a monk probably learned 2-3 fonts and was responsible for copying them exactly. This allowed multiple monks to work on a single text without it being obvious when the writer changed. In our example, the monks used a script called Rotunda. This script is less angular than Gothic script and less compressed than its predecessor, Caroline minuscule, making it much easier to distinguish m’s, n’s, and u’s.

As the monk wrote out the text, he would have left spaces for the decorative letters. The letters in red are called rubrics and are used like a highlighter to call out important words and phrases. Decorated initials were used to note the beginning of new sections. Some manuscripts also include illuminations, highly decorated letters or small paintings that could provide context for the text, but were uncommon in work-a-day documents like this one.

Creating a book in the 15th century was a time consuming and expensive process that wasn’t undertaken lightly. Outside of the monasteries, their expense made books a luxury item limited to the upper classes, but their great value also ensured that they would be preserved in monasteries and personal libraries. The development of the printing press revolutionized book production, and books soon became much more accessible. Nonetheless, due to the quality of the craftmanship of the medieval monks their manuscripts still exist hundreds of years later.