Medieval Writing
Insular Minuscule - Irish

Script Type : minuscule

Date : This example is from the early 12th century, representing a tradition which survived in Ireland until modern times.

Location : Ireland

Function : book hand

The beginning of the Gospel of St John from The Gospels of Maelbrigte, a codex of 1138 from Armagh, Ireland (British Library, Harley 1802, f.128). By permission of the British Library.
The text is Latin and the script is an elegant insular minuscule.
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : This very elegant version of insular minuscule initially looks very difficult to read because of unfamiliar letter forms, ligatures and a great deal of abbreviation. However, the letter forms, while tricky to our eyes, are consistent. The letters r, s and, surprisingly, f all appear very similar and they all project below the line; s looks like a conventional r, while r is broader and more open, and f looks rather like an r with a cross stroke. Once you sort those out, you're winning. The letter g is the open, lightning bolt form. The ascender of d is bent nearly flat. All letters are very angular, with strongly wedged tops.

There are two forms of a, an open topped form occasionally appearing, and two variants of q.

The letters u and v are identical, as are i and j. There are no examples of k, w, y or z.

In addition, there are numerous ligatures. In particular e becomes tall in certain combinations, such as

ei em en er es et.

The letter i is extended below the line in ligature, as in


There are many abbreviations, some of them usually only encountered in insular minuscule script. To examine these in more detail, work through the paleography exercises for this example.

For a quick preliminary glance, pass the cursor slowly over the sample on this page.

Script Index

Paleography exercises for this example using Flash

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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 22/8/2011.