Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Psalter or Breviary, 13th century. From a private collection. Photographs © Dianne Tillotson.

This shows the recto and verso of a rather scruffy little leaf, long lost from its parent book, and is one of my personal favourites as it has clearly seen life. It is a small page, about 9 x 11 cm, and comes from a portable psalter or breviary. It is impossible to tell which as it is only a fragment, displaying the text of Psalm 118:34-52 in the Latin Vulgate. This corresponds to Psalm 119 in a modern Bible. It does not come from an elegant display volume, but from a working service book which has probably travelled to many places. The parchment is no longer white, but brown with ground in dirt and it is rather greasy and worn. It dates from the era when the Dominicans were founded, one of their jobs being to combat the Cathar heresy, and it doesn't take too much imagination to see this little leaf as part of the working kit of a travelling Dominican rescuing souls for the legitimate church. That, of course, is speculation, not an authenticated statement of provenance, but we must be allowed a little imagination occasionally.

The script is a Gothic textura of squarish and rather chunky 13th century type, not heavily compressed, and not too formal in letter formation. It is surprisingly difficult to read, not helped by the fact that it is heavily abbreviated. We must remember though, that this was the text of the divine office, and the clergy were supposed to know it off by heart, so I guess a little working volume like this one mainly served as a reminder for well known texts. Nevertheless, it has an elegant decorative large gold leaf initial on each page, with alternating blue and gold capitals for each verse.

The transcript is supplied with a little help from Sacred Texts, but there are always a few little variants so watch out for them.

| overview | initials | text | alphabet | abbreviations | exercises | transcript | translation |

Click on each of the above to walk your way through the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 10/1/2010.