The Intimacy of Ink
Finding resources to imagine a medieval scriptorium.
A major part of our story in the making is the fact that the main character Erna (eventually the forgotten St Marnoch) will be trained in the scriptorium on Iona. A scriptorium is a latin word meaning a place for writing. It was a place where books were created, copied and illuminated (painted) most commonly in medieval monasteries.
The mystical island monastery of Iona is overseen by Colmcille who himself becomes the very remembered St Columba. He has a big thing for books and basically started a war in Ireland over the fact that he illegally copied one without the permission of its owner. When he arrives at Iona one of his most important projects is the creation of his own scriptorium.
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In the story the senior monks would not have trusted a young woman like Erna with copying the words, but she becomes unrivalled at the illumination work.
This week a post on Instagram (below) by the Book of Kells from Trinity College, Dublin writing about the ink compound used to make the stunning gold/yellow inks seen on this page of the manuscript sent me down a delightful wormhole about scriptoriums. How would they have been set up? What were the materials they used to make these beautiful and lasting works of art?
It lead me to find the delightful work of Sara Charles from the University of London. She’s a book historian who also immerses herself in the making process that medieval manuscript makers would have encountered. It’s a beautiful mash up of medieval manuscripts, art history and crafting. Sara you had me at book historian!
On her website Teaching Manuscripts Sarah does a project of parchment making and then illumination to really feel into the process. She captures poetry in the making—blowing on the gum arabic to make it sticky for the gold leaf application literally infusing the manuscript with your breath…
In her words at the end of the process:
That must have been such a close relationship that you have with that book. You have all the religious implications of that also, especially for small monasteries, when they did the whole process themselves. It makes you realise how strong that relationship has to be… remembering that I know that goat skin. I remember where I collected the oak galls to make the ink.
How moving and exquisite. Please go check out her work. I have written her a cheeky request to join us for a chat and dream an Iona Scriptorium into being with us.
I’ll keep you posted!