Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Miniature book of hours c.1420. From a private collection. Photographs © Dianne Tillotson.

This shows the recto and verso of a leaf from an early 15th century book of hours from Flanders. This is a very tiny leaf, only 8 cm tall in total, with the height of the written area only 4 cm. The vellum is extremely thin and worked to a fine texture. The tiny illuminated initials are like little jewels. In short, it looks like a very delicate and fine lady's accessory; the sort of thing that might have been wrapped up in a soft cover, to be carried around in a pocket and popped out at the appropriate times for a few minutes devotion.

Given how small it is, and how much of the page even so is not written on, it is hard to imagine that this could have come from a single codex containing all the usual elements that make up a book of hours; calendar, prayers, litany, office for the dead, as well as at least one version of the hours. It would have been a strangely thick and bulky work, even with its very thin pages, if it had contained all that. It makes me wonder whether it came from some sort of abbreviated portable pocket volume, containing the bare essentials for the daily devotions, that could be carried around if one wasn't handy to the chapel at the appropriate times. We will probably never know.

With all this feminine delicacy, it seems a pity that the text of this page is Psalm 117 (118 in a modern Bible), one of those thundering psalms that involve cursing and threatening to annihilate the enemies. The Bible, and medieval devotion, are both full of anomalies.

The script is a surprisingly precise and formal Gothic textura, given the size of the letters.

The Latin text of this Psalm can be found at Sacred Texts, but you will find a few little anomalies.

| 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 27/7/2005.