Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
The Gospels of Maelbrigte, 12th century, Irish (British Library, Harley 1803, f.128). All images by permission of the British Library.
This page is from an Irish gospel book, from Armagh, of 1138. The page shown is the beginning of the Gospel of St John, a particularly significant passage as it attempts to enunciate the nature of Christ and his relationship with God and man. This passage is often singled out for special treatment in manuscript Bibles. The text is something of a word puzzle, particularly noticeable in the Latin form, as it constantly repeats phrases while intertwining them with the next section. There is undoubtedly a name for this form of word play, and it may represent a form of chiasmus.
One wonders what the function of this word play was intended to be. Those with mundane minds may suggest it is simply a device for making the text easy to remember for oral delivery. I can't help but think that it must also represent a means of emphasising the significance of the passage and that the twining threads are meant to make some kind of visual pattern in the mind. Nevertheless it represents my favourite Biblical passage and here is written in my favourite script, an elegant insular minuscule.
The text of the Vulgate Bible can be obtained from Biblia Sacra Vulgata (1969), among other editions. There is a searchable version on the web at the Multi-lingual Bible site or a plain text version at the Vulgate (Latin Bible) Index..
The transcript has been updated with a small correction as a result of a communication from an eagle-eyed user with a better knowledge of insular abbreviations than I have.

| overview | initial | text | alphabet | abbreviations | ligatures | 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 26/2/2008.