The Open Book

Biblia latina.
[England (?): early 13th century]. (BRMS 1)

The traditional form of the Western book, known as the codex, developed during the early Middle Ages. Exemplified by this thirteenth-century Latin Bible, handwritten in various colored inks on parchment, the codex format enables the reader to proceed through a series of consecutive leaves, each bearing written content. Here, the facing pages of the open book display neatly arranged paired columns of text written within spaciously justified margins. European scribes of the Middle Ages generally organized their columns so that the written lines were of equal height, length, and number.

The scribe who transcribed this Bible helped the reader navigate the text by means of special markers. These include enlarged red and blue initials with penwork decoration that indicate the beginnings of individual books or chapters. In the exhibited opening, the large initial B introduces the Book of Psalms. Another marking system consists of rubrics, written in red ink, which serve as headings for each psalm. In other books of this Bible the scribe facilitated the reader’s search for specific passages by writing the name of the book across the top margin and by enumerating the chapters.

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The Text Takes Shape
The Open Book