Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton
In 1999, I completed my PhD thesis--a critical edition of a 13th century Dominican basic theology text by Simon de Hinton known from its incipit (first words) as Ad instructionem iuniorem (For the Instruction of juniors) It is thought that this text was originally used by Dominicans looking to obtain their license to preach. The contents focus on practical theology regarding the Credo, the Lord's Prayer, the Sacraments, the Beatitudes, the Virtues, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Vices. The manuscript had a remarkably long life, circulating until into the 16th century and even being printed (in a somewhat mutated version) in the early 18th century. There are 56 extant manuscripts, and during its life the text seemed to have evolved away from a text with a specific purpose to a more general one as sort of a quick guide to practical theology. Later copies become increasingly ideosyncratic. My PhD work focused on creating a critical edition--in this case, an attempt to establish what the original most likely looked like--based on four of the thirty manuscripts I viewed.
When one completes one's PhD work, a bound copy is prepared for the archives of the university granting the degree. It was in ordering this copy that I first had the idea: I had, essentially, produced the 57th copy of this work. Wouldn't it be wonderful to produce that copy in a truly medieval manner--copied by hand, as a 13th century scholar or stationer might have done?
It took me sixteen years to realize this dream. I have been practicing calligraphy for about 20 years. Utilitarian works, such as charters, have always been a favourite, and having studied Latin palaeography, I had been always eager to use the abbreviations I learned to read as part of my research. The Midrealm's Calf to Codex project was my inspiration (I contributed a small piece to this work, and in doing so saw the amazing things being done).
The proposal that was accepted was to copy the Ad instructionem iuniorem by hand. The bulk of the work would be done using modern substitutes for period materials – vegetable parchment paper (Fabriano Pergamon), Windsor and Newton India ink, and metal Brause nibs. However, the opening gathering would then be recopied onto manuscript vellum using hand cut quills and oak gall ink (both made by me). The final book would be bound with a limp binding.
Layout and Script
I wanted this manuscript to replicate the look on the page of a 13th century scholarly text. These books were meant for regular use by students, rather than as luxury items. Therefore, the illumination in these books is normally minimal, and the text itself is often highly abbreviated to both save on costs and time needed to produce such a manuscript. While I did not have any images of the manuscripts I had originally viewed during my initial research over 20 years ago, I did have access (thanks to the British Library) to similar theological treatises. The two-column layout I selected for the work is typical of these books in the 13th century.
Harley MS 3244, f19r
BL Harley MS 524 Theological tracts f 23v