Insular Manuscripts

Methods of making: palaeographical problems, codicological challenges

The first of three workshops organised by the Insular Manuscripts Network took place at the British Library in London on 24 and 25 April 2017.


Monday 24 April 2017

10:30 Arrival, coffee and buns

11:00 Welcome: Claire Breay (British Library)

11:15 Theme I: Script – origins and evolution

  • 11:15   I.1 Jo Story: Insular MSS – project overview and key questions
  • 11:45   I.2 Julia Crick: What does ‘Insular’ mean?
  • 12:00   I.3 Tessa Webber: Lost manuscripts and the problem of Insular cursive minuscule
  • 12:15   I.4 Michael Gullick: Some observations on scribes and scripts
  • 12:30   Discussion

13:00–14:00 Lunch

14:00–15:30 Theme II: Methods of Making

  • 14:00   II.1 Chris Scheirer: Retrorsum Respicere: reconstructing an older relative of Kells
  • 14:15   II.2 Tim O’Neill: Imitating the Cathach and discovering minuscule – early adventures with the edged pen
  • 14:30    II.3 Richard Gameson: The Ceolfrith Bibles
  • 14:45   II.4 Jiri Vnoucek: Making Insular parchment
  • 15:00   Discussion

15:30–16:00 Tea and cake

16:00–17:00 Theme III: English & Irish books – provenance, movement

  • 16:00   III.1 Rosamond McKitterick: Insular interventions in Frankish MSS in Leiden
  • 16:15   III.2 Bernard Meehan: Irish gospel books – Macregol and BL Add. 40618
  • 16:30   III.3 Cornel Dora & Franziska Schnoor: Insular books in St Gallen
  • 16:45   Discussion

19:00 Workshop dinner

Tuesday 25 April 2017

9.30–12:30 Manuscript Session

12:30–14:00 Lunch

14:00–16:00 Session IV: Discussion

  • 14:00   Theme I: Script – Rosamond McKitterick (discussant)
  • 14:30   Theme II:  Methods of Making – Jo Story (discussant)
  • 15:00   Theme III: Irish / English – Bernhard Zeller (discussant)
  • 15:30   Interim conclusions and future agendas

16:00–17:00 Tea, cake and close,


 Jo Story   University of Leicester 
 Clair Breay   British Library
 Bernard Meehan   Trinity College Dublin
 Dáibhí Ó Cróinín  National University of Ireland, Galway 
 Charlotte Denoel    Bibliothèque nationale de France
 Bernhard Zeller  Institut für Mittelalterforschung, Vienna 
 Rosamond McKitterick   University of Cambridge
 David Ganz  Independent, MGH corresponding member 
 Michael Gullick  Independent
 Tim O’Neill  Independent
 Richard Gameson  Durham University
 Jiri Vnoucek  Royal Library, Copenhagen / York
 Julia Crick  King’s College London
 Coleen Curran  University of Oxford
 Tessa Webber  University of Cambridge
 Cornel Dora  St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek
 Franziska Schnoor  St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek
 Chris Scheirer  Notre Dame University
 Rebecca Lawton  University of Leicester / British Library
 Pragya Vohra  University of Leicester
 Alison Hudson  British Library


Making Insular Parchment

Speaker: Jiří Vnouček, Royal Library Copenhagen & University of York

Jiří Vnouček (JV) discussed his research on making Insular parchment, and explained the key differences in the manufacture of Insular calf parchment (often called vellum) and Continental sheep parchment. He demonstrated variations in their qualities with samples of modern parchment that he had made and brought with him.

JV has examined the membrane used in hundreds of manuscripts, including many early insular manuscripts. At the workshop, he announced an important discovery about the Codex Amiatinus, which was made at Bede's monastery of Wearmouth Jarrow in the early eighth century. The Codex Amiatinus was one of three complete Bible pandects made at the monastery, and is one of the most important early copies of the Bible, preserving one of the purest versions of the Vulgate Latin translation. Fragments of the other two Bibles from Wearmouth Jarrow survive in the British Library where they are known as the Ceolfrith Leaves. The Codex Amiatinus itself, however, is one of the treasures of the Medici collection in the Bibliotheca Medicea Laurenziana (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS. Amiatino I); Bede's abbot Ceolfrith left Jarrow for Rome in 716, taking the Amiatinus with him as a gift for the pope, Gregory II who had been in charge of the papal library before assuming St Peter's chair.

JV's research shows convincingly that the Amiatinus was not written on calf parchment, as previously thought, but on a mixture of sheep and, mostly, goat parchment, manufactured according to Italian methods. He argued that is likely the parchment was imported from Italy rather than produced in Northumbria. The decision to produce the Codex Amiatinus on Italian parchment matches the clear ‘Romanizing’ character of the book in script, illumination, and textual affiliation, as appropriate for a book intended for the Pope. This contrasts with the membrane used for the other Ceolfrith bibles made at Wearmouth Jarrow; for these books, 'traditional' insular calf parchment was used.

JV also pointed out that some other Northumbrian codices were made with mixtures of different types of parchment. His forthcoming paper detailing these discoveries is eagerly awaited.

Jiří Vnouček is a PhD student in at the University of York (supervised by Prof. Matthew Collins and Dr Mary Garrison) and is funded by the Department of Preservation at the Royal Library in Copenhagen where he is employed as a Conservator of parchment, paper and bookbinding.

Insular Manuscripts at St Gallen

Speakers: Cornel Dora and Franziska Schnoor, St Gallen Stiftsbibliothek

Dr Cornel Dora and Franziska Schnoor discussed the Insular Manuscripts that are extant in the St Gallen Stiftsbibliothek, and the range of evidence for contact with Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England, including famous list of Libri scottice scripti (860-865), and the 10th century entries in the St Gallen Liber Vitae referring to Æthelstan and his court.  Slides from their presentation are available here .

Dr Cornel Dora is Librarian (Stiftsbibliothekar), and Franziska Schnoor is Research Associate (Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin) at the St Gallen Stiftsbibliothek.

Back to top