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Glossary of Terms

Antiphon, antiphonal

The proper text sung before and after a psalm or canticle. An antiphonal is the the book that contains the antiphons.


A cursive gothic letter form that developed as a quickly written script in France in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.


A cursive minuscule script developed in the eighth century around Benevento, Italy, particularly at Monte Cassino. The relative isolation of the region meant that the unique writing style as well as Beneventan chant, liturgy, and notation, survived into the fourteenth century.


A single sheet of parchment, paper, or papyrus that has been folded in two to form four writing surfaces.

Book of hours

A book intended for private devotion that contains the daily offices as well as the office of the Virgin, the office of the dead, and the seven penitential psalms. Books of hours were often sumptuously decorated with illuminations and historiated initials.


A book containing the seven or eight daily offices or series of prayers used within a religious institution.

Carolingian minuscule

A form of handwriting developed at the end of the eighth century in the Carolingian lands of Europe and used as a standard hand for several centuries. It was later used as a model for the humanist hand that developed in Florence in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


The office that prepared and sent out official letters and documents in a royal, noble, or ecclesiastical household. The handwriting known as chancery is a formal script used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


Sheets or papyrus or parchment folded and sewn together, the forerunner of the modern book.


Leaves or folios that follow in their appropriate order.


A note at the end of a manuscript indicating that it is complete.


A single manuscript leaf with two writing surfaces.


A group of folios or bifolia.


A word or words added to a text to explain or assist in understanding the text.


A form of handwriting that developed in northern Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It was characterized by the absence of curves, the extensive use of abbreviations, and acute angles in letter forms.


A book containing the choral chants for the proper of the Mass.


Distorted human or animal forms used to decorate the margins of manuscripts.


Initial capital letters embellished with detailed drawings illustrating an incident in the text they introduce.


A book containing a set series of homilies or sermons.


German musical notation of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, so called because of the resemblance to horseshoe nails.


A form of handwriting that developed in Florence in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was modeled on the simplicity and clarity of the Carolingian minuscule of the eighth and ninth centuries.


The initial words or a phrase from a substantial text that gives the reader a key to the contents of the text.


Glosses or notes written in the margin of a text, often by the reader rather than by a commentator.


Handwriting characterized by the use of unconnected lower case letters.


A book containing the priest's texts for the Mass. Later missals sometimes contained the complete Mass text as well as the appropriate music.


Musical notation used in Europe from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries primarily for liturgical chant.


Handwriting characterized by the use of letters with clubbed or rounded ends and ends. The Ottonian hand was evident in Germany and other parts of the Ottonian empire during the tenth and eleventh centuries.


Literally, "scraped again," a palimpset is a manuscript, usually parchment, that has been erased or scraped and reused.


A writing surface made of the pith of the papyrus plant, used primarily in Egypt and other arid climates for several thousand years, ending only when paper became readily available in the eighth century in Egypt.


The skin of a mammal, usually calf, goat, or sheep, scraped and dried under tension. When smoothed, it served as the primary writing surface from the fourth through the fifteenth centuries in Europe.


The outside leaves of a manuscript, both front and back, that are glued to the binding.

Pen trailings

Decorative elements added to initials, particularly in French manuscripts of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, consisting of a line or series of lines emanating from the initial and in the same color of ink as the initial. These flourishes presage heavier and more formal floral decoration of initials.


A book containing chants and prayers used in liturgical processions.


A book containing the psalms and canticles.


The front side of a folio or leaf. When looking at an open codex or book, the recto is the leaf on the right.


A circle or oval that frames an illumination or decoration.


An instruction, originally written in red (Latin ruber=red), in a liturgical book designed to tell the reader or officiant what to do during a service or office.


A book containing the parts of the mass needed by the celebrant. The sacramentary was superseded in the twelfth century by the missal.


A book containing material relating to specific saints and feast days. Its counterpart is the Temporale.


A book containing material relating to the seasons of the church year. Its counterpart is the Sanctoral.


A form of parchment made from the skins of very young lambs, goats, or calves.


The reverse side of a folio or leaf. When looking at an open codex or book, the verso is the leaf on the left.


A form of binding where the back board extends to enclose and cover the fore-edge of the volume.