Find Other People’s Work

When researching my manuscript, trying to narrow down where and when it is from makes me feel like a detective. Finding out where to start is always the hard part when starting anything. Where I started was looking at the type of script my manuscript was prominently written in, and seeing if there were any other markers in my manuscript to give me any clues.

My script pointed my in the direction of Northern Gothic which is around 14th century. Then I noticed my rubrication (writing and accents in red) was what I thought was French. Turns out I was on the right track! Then I turned to Google.

I looked up “14th Century French Manuscript” and what popped up shows a similar font to mine which was encouraging. During this time I was slowly transcribing my manuscript and searching phrases of it into Google getting very little results which was discouraging. A lot of the phrases in my manuscript are very common, but not common together in the searches I was producing.

Finally I figured it out with some help. With this mystery finally solved, I started looking up “Spirit of the Hours Manuscript” and the name Otto Ege kept popping up. I then found out about book-breaking and manuscripts thought to have been broken up and sold. I then found

These site is on a journey to discover fragmented manuscripts and looking at the manuscripts they have found, they look really similar to mine. The text and illuminated letters look almost identical, but the decoration and floral design looks completely different. This gave me hope I was on the right track and helped me find others on an interesting journey to unfold the mysteries of medieval manuscripts.

Capturing the Music

This past weekend I decided to revisit some of the old material on medieval liturgical manuscripts and so I went back to those wonderful videos of Thomas Kelly describing the different developments in musical notation. I agree with Liv “he is a cute old man” and would add that he is a cute old man who loves medieval liturgical manuscripts, he’s passionate about them and that passion makes the viewer excited about them too. In one of the videos on Musical Notation, being the cute old man that he is, Thomas Kelly plugged his then new book Capturing Music which was published in 2015. Hmmm. I wonder if the library has a copy of it I thought to myself and lo and behold they did!! So, the past few days I’ve been reading through it and have been enjoying it immensely: Kelly is just as entertaining a writer as he is a speaker. He begins with a preliminary look at a chant from Switzerland recorded in the tenth century and explains the rough notations of the “quilisma” (PS. Kelly says that the quilisma, a small dot followed by three swiggles, was to be sung in “an authoritative shout” and disappeared in square notation- hmm I wonder why) and “liquescence” saying that these tell the singers “there are three notes ascending and how to sing them” but these notations did not convey the pitch or what the notes were: which is what our modern musical notation does[Thomas Kelly, Capturing Music, 12].

Kelly explains that the singers would have been familiar with the songs and that these notations were reminders, like rubrics-red-letter words, that explained how to vocally perform the notes. If you recall from a few weeks ago when Prof. Alexis Luko was in class she mentioned Guido of Arezzo and explained how he invented various methods for teaching music such as the Guidonian hand with its mnemonic device of ut-re-me-fa-so-la. But more importantly it was Guido who invented the musical staff notation to record pitch and it is these sorts of technological developments which Kelly deals with in the book: he explores everyone from Guido to Franco of Cologne. But even more useful for me, since my folio has musical notation, is that Kelly explains in detail what each of the square notations, which appear in my folio, mean and how the melody is constructed from them.

image provided expresses the square notation that was developed in the 12th and 13th century in Northern France and became the standard musical notation that replaced Aquitaine notation [Michal Olejarczyk, “The Origin of Square Notation”, Roczniki Teologiczne, 2015:127] Punctum “dot”, Virga “stick”, Pes “foot”, Clivis “slanted”, Torculus “little turn”, Porrectus “stretched”, Scandicus “climb”, and Climacus “Gk. ladder”.

If your folio has any musical notation I highly recommend that you take a look at Kelly’s book and there are also several fantastic articles on JSTOR that deal with Square Notation such as the one cited above. Happy to see the below blog post too, Yawhoo for medieval musical notation!!


Why can’t I sing these lyrics?

A very late blog post indeed, but I’ve been dwelling on this subject for a while now, and finally found some manner in which to talk about it: music! Perhaps the thing that drew me to my folio of choice the most was the musical notation, eerily similar to the notes & symbols I grew up with. As an inseparable love of my life, I was overjoyed to be able to undertake the transcription of medieval-era music, even if I had no idea how it was traditionally sung. Music was an important part of the liturgical process, linked to most if not all of its celebrations, and an accessible way for laypeople to participate (even if the meaning of the hymn was unclear to them).

For myself, even if this folio was from sometime in the middle of the last millennium, I was drawn to it because I could recognize some of the notes. Or at least, I thought I could…

Following our guest lecture on the subject, I was quickly shocked by how much compression/omission was used before our modern notation system took hold: notes within notes, hidden slurs, ‘catchnotes’ (for lack of a better term), etc. Saving space was as much a concern for music as for text, in order to maximize precious writing supports, so it stands that this kind of musical compression would have happened. Even the notes I thought I could recognize were not at all what I imagined…

For example, when notes were slurred upwards, the notes were nested within one another & linked by a vertical line, rather than side-by-side as is done ‘today’, called a ‘podatus’:



But this rule was different when slurring downward, without nesting, & called a ‘clivis’:




Oh! Don’t forget the ‘climacus’ when it’s three or more notes (but only downward), using diamonds and not squares:


Besides these odd differences in notation, and in trying to transcribe the music into the modern system, I encountered two additional problems:

  • Were the notations I was seeing exactly the same as in our guest lecture’s slides?
  • Was it standardized, or did this particular folio use different rules?
  • There was no time signature, so what tempo did the hymn follow, if any?

A search on the CANTUS melody engine unfortunately did not reveal any similarities between my folio and existing manuscripts, but I have not given up! Using some youtube videos of Gregorian chants (with accompanying sheet music), I intend to fully (& accurately) transcribe the music.


Maybe I could sing it at the end of the year?

The Medieval Calendar

Medieval calendars are deceptively simple looking, but jam packed with potential information. They list events in Christ’s life and saints’ days (which occur on their date of death). My folio is a calendar for December, that takes up both recto and verso. Because of its size and the recto/verso thing, I believe it comes from a book of hours. I have been dedicating the majority of my efforts to transcribing and expanding the manymanymany abbreviations.

Liturgical manuscripts is a vast genre comprised of several different types of manuscripts with different functions. Books were written to serve specific purposes in Mass and in the Daily Offices and were arranged chronically according to the liturgical calendar, which had two cycles of time, the temporale and sanctorale. Calendars are most often found at the beginning of liturgical books, meant as an efficient means of identifying which events in Christ’s life and which saints’ days are celebrated on a given date. Many books in a liturgical library would contain calendars, especially missals, sacramentaries, and breviaries. The temporale, also referred to as the Proper of Time, is the basic church year, based on key events in Jesus’ life. In this cycle, the beginning of the year is 4 weeks before Christmas day on Advent Sunday. Christmas would always fall on December 25, Epiphany on January 6, Candlemas  etc. Easter was the high point of the church year as it commemorates the resurrection of Christ after the crucifixion. The date of easter changed annually, because the timing depended on the Jewish lunar calendar. Easter always falls on the same date as Pesach, which is celebrated on the first full moon after the spring equinox. The sanctorale, also referred to as the Proper of Saints, provides the information for celebration of saints’ days. Often the sanctorale began with the Feast of St. Andrew (Nov 30) and end with the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria (25 Nov), mirroring the advent- to- advent structure of the temporale. It should be noted that especially important saints are celebrated for eight days, known as an octave. My calendar contains two- On December 7, “Oct(avue) s(an)cti andree” represents the end of the octave of Saint Andrew. December 6 begins the feast of Saint Nicholas (“nvcholai epi(scopus)) and it ends eight days later when “nichalii epi(scopus) is repeated on December 14.

Trying to wrap my brain around the medieval conceptions of time and calculating dates has been a lengthy and frustrating process. Medieval calendars most often used the Roman method of counting days, which has three fixed points throughout the month- Kalends (always the first), Nones (5th-7th), and ides (13th-15th). The days in between these three points are referred to as how many days until the next fixed day. So, since Nones occurs on December 5th, December 4th would be referred to as II Nones. The left side of the calendar contains two columns for the Dominical Letters and Golden Numbers. Dominical Letters refer to the day of the week, and are represented by the letters A through G. I initially assumed A always meant Sunday, but the way it works is slightly more convoluted. The dominical letter gets assigned to a year based on the first Sunday. So in a given year, if Jan 1 is a Sunday, the dominical letter  is A, and all As throughout the calendar would be Sundays, Bs would be Mondays and so on. But, if the first Sunday is Jan 2 the Dominical Letter would be B, Mondays: C Tuesdays D and so on. Knowing the Dominical Letter allows the reader to match the dates to days of the week, but you must know the Dominical letter assigned to the year.

To the left of the dominical letters are roman numerals known as Golden Numbers which show the day of the month on which the new moon will fall. These numbers are based on a 19 year cycle where the annual cycles of the sun and moon are reconciled. The Golden Numbers have the potential to be incredibly useful, however the reader has to know the current year, and what year in the nineteen year cycle the given year fell.

Can you believe I originally picked the calendar for its perceived simplicity???? I’ve played myself.