Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 28 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Wenceslaus
home iconTravel
line break icon

You can make your own “medieval” manuscript. Here’s a video guide.


Public Domain

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/09/19

In the era of PDFs and mass printing, there is something the monastic art of calligraphy and illumination can teach us about work, time, and beauty.

Click on that icon on the top left of your document, and voilà. You just got yourself some nice text printed, in a blitz. But is it a thing of beauty?

It might be hard to imagine for some, but for many centuries reproducing any given text was far from being an easy, quick thing. In the days of yore, way before the era of desktop inkjet printers, patient, laborious, attentive monks would engage in the painstaking work of creating a manuscript from scratch, moved by religious zeal and devotion as well as a profound understanding of beauty and truth and the need to preserve them in a volume able to endure the passing of time. In fact, the word “manuscript” derives from the Latin for “written” (scriptus) “by hand” (manus): it was all handmade, patiently, sometimes taking years.

In more than a sense, these craftsmen knew the preservation of wisdom, knowledge, and faith depended on them doing their job properly – something the ease with which we download and print PDFs nowadays probably makes it difficult to comprehend for us, used as we are to mass production and best-sellers.

The kind of specialized craftsmanship these medieval copyists and artisans had to put into the making of every manuscript can be properly appreciated in a series of seven videos the British Library has released. In them, the professional calligrapher and illuminator Patricia Lovett reproduces the many different processes and techniques these monastic craftsmen had to use when designing an illuminated manuscript page, from making a quill pen and ink to the line marking of a medieval book.

We probably don’t need to go through such painstaking processes to get our work done nowadays, but we can certainly learn a lot about attentiveness to detail, focus, work ethics, and caring for the most minute things (all these being most important tools for our spiritual and moral lives) from these monastic craftsmen.

CultureMedievalSpiritual Life
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
The Sinai Peninsula and the Dead Sea Rift
J-P Mauro
Experts now believe Sodom was destroyed by a meteor
J-P Mauro
Chicago architect models Vatican City from 67,000 LEGO bricks
Giovanna Binci
He’s autistic, she has Down syndrome, and they’re wonderfully hap...
Fr. Michael Rennier
The purpose of life according to J.R.R. Tolkien
Bret Thoman, OFS
Exclusive photos: Meet Padre Pio and the place he lived
crisis man
Marzena Devoud
Advice from 3 monks for overcoming acedia
Christ and the woman taken in adultery
Daniel Esparza
What Jesus wrote
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.