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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: November 2008

7 - Monastic and cathedral book production

from Book production


Throughout the period covered by this book, as well as both earlier and later, English manuscripts were written in monastic communities, and by individual monks both within and outside of them. But it was the period c.1100–c.1175 that was dominated by the production of monastic scriptoria. This period, approximating to the first century after the Norman Conquest, was described by Neil Ker as

the greatest in the history of English book production. Manuscripts were perhaps better written in the eighth century and in the tenth, but they are not numerous. It is no exaggeration to say that a well-written English twelfth-century manuscript is something we have a good chance of being able to see in many of our towns… They are the considerable remains of the large number of books produced by the scribes of this period; accurately copied, competently and often beautifully written and decorated, well spaced, fully punctuated, and neatly corrected.

These qualities were the direct consequences of the aims and organization of monastic life, and of the monastic notion of the role and status of the book within it. Books were vehicles for sacred texts, the most central and fundamental ones biblical and patristic, or for writings that were at least aids to the study of those texts, such as primers of grammar and exemplars of rhetoric. The central texts were regarded as of enormous value, to be read meditatively (lectio), whether sub voce, privately, or out loud in the monastic church or refectory.