Insular Manuscripts

About the project

In the period between c. AD 650 and c. AD 850 manuscripts made in Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, and in monasteries on the Continent founded by English or Irish missionaries, used ‘Insular’ styles of script, decoration, and methods of making that are distinctive and diagnostic.

Some individual books are very well known and have been studied in great detail, often as extraordinary treasures; but there is no synthetic or detailed analysis of what these books reveal en masse about networks of knowledge, movement of people, ideas and technology in the post-Roman West. As a group these manuscripts reveal the deep and extensive contribution of the islands of Britain and Ireland to medieval European culture.

Our preliminary survey collated data about 500 extant Insular manuscripts, of which 75% are in libraries on the European continent (including 42% in Germany, 9% in France), a further 24% are in Ireland or the UK, and 3% are in Russia or the USA. Among those in European libraries are books that were written in England or Ireland and exported not long after they were made, as well as books that were copied on the Continent in Insular style. Our revised list has increased significantly the numbers of manuscripts written before c. 850 in Insular script or with substantial intervention by Insular scribes. 

A summary analysis is now available: Joanna Story, 'Insular Manuscripts in Carolingian Francia', C. Breay and J. Story, eds., Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2021), pp. 66–85. 

The revised list has added considerably to this number, with about 850 manuscripts in Insular script or showing significant insular interventions. A listing of all known Insular Manuscripts dating before c. 850 will be made available here.

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