On the Making of Medieval Manuscripts

In 1315, the modern classical musician, Shawn Kleiner, insists on staying with the Monks of Monadhliath for a month, until Niall returns.  He is assigned, among other things, the job of re-copying music that has become old and worn.

 “You’ll practice daily, in addition to copying.”  Brother William led him to a cavernous stone chamber, filled with rows of tall, spindly stools before desks on tall, spindly legs.  Tall windows let in rosy dawn.  He stopped before a particularly battered desk piled high with old, worn music.  “You may start.”  With a curt bow, Brother William turned on his stern heel and departed. 

With a sigh, Shawn took up his quill, grateful for Allene’s insistence on learning to use one.  A template to lay out staves would have been nice, but he managed to create a passing resemblance, on fresh, new parchment, to what was on the old.

The Water is Wide

Book Three, The Blue Bells Chronicles

One of the joys of writing is that we enter into the real lives, the hearts, and emotions, of those who lived before us, in part through experiencing their daily lives.  What was Shawn really doing in that scriptorium with those monks?  Where did his parchment, ink, and quill come from?

Below is the best video I’ve ever seen on the making of a medieval manuscript, from the process of creating the parchment itself from animal skins, to the process of lining each page in preparation for writing, the ability to erase, the addition of decoration, including in gold leaf, and the binding of the book.

Despite years of research into medieval times, I learned a great deal from this video.  (In my defense, ‘medieval times’ is about as small an area of research as ‘modern times!’)  For instance: In our time, when we see a clasp on a book, it’s usually a girl’s diary with a locking clasp.  (And those locks would, naturally, stop an entire Mongolian horde in its tracks!  Defeated!  We’ll never know the secret now!)  But in medieval times, the clasp was there to hold the book tightly together to prevent the tendency of the parchment to swell.

For sheer ability to pack a lot of great information in in only 6 minutes, this video is outstanding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aDHJu9J10o

To view the videos direction, to to Laura’s Blog, The World of the Blue Bells Trilogy.

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