Glossary of Terms

Confused with all the manuscript jargon?  Here's a quick list of some terms that may help you. Definitions provided by Dr. Fred Porcheddu-Engel via the Otto F. Ege digital collection

Manuscript Terms:

  • Biblioclasty: The act of book-breaking or -tearing. While usually reviled (especially within the orbit of old or rare books), the action can be undertaken for more complex and altruistic reasons than censorship, theft, financial gain, or wanton destruction. Otto Ege's biblioclasty, for example, was intimately tied to his advocacy of popular art education.
  • Folio: A piece of paper or vellum; a single page in a book. When detached from a book, a folio is often called a leaf. In pre-modern practice folios are often only numbered on one side; modern page numbering would thus result in twice as many pages as folios in the same book. The term is also used in bookbinding to refer to a large paper size, which can cause some confusion.
  • Illumination: The use or presence of gold on a manuscript page. There are many recipes and application techniques for the material, but when successfully applied it allows light to reflect off the page (hence its symbolic value for reading and understanding).
  • Parchment: See Vellum.
  • Provenance: The places a book has traveled to and the owners it has had since the time it was made. Provenance is a key component of both academic manuscript studies and the rare book trade; Otto Ege is now a notable part of the provenance of the books he owned during his lifetime.
  • Recto: The front side of a page; what you see on the right-hand side of an open book. (See also Verso.)
  • Rubrication: From the Latin rubricare, "to color red," this is any text written in a different color than the main text. Red is by far the most common, but one can find blue or green "rubrications."
  • Scribe: A person who physically writes down a text. Throughout the Middle Ages it can refer to any of a number of activities, from the conservative (i.e, the exact copying of a Latin Bible) to the free (the spontaneous transformation of French prose into English poetry). In the case of the Ege leaves, which mostly come from liturgical books, scribe nearly always connotes a literate male who belonged to one of the Christian religious orders.
  • Vellum: The chief writing surface of the Middle Ages, made from animal skin (a sheep, goat, or cow). The animal's hair is scraped from the skin, and the dermis is carefully stretched and cleaned to provide a large, smooth surface which can then be folded and cut. While some experts observe a technical distinction between vellum and parchment, the terms are in general practice interchangeable.
  • Verso: The back side of a page; what you see on the left-hand side of an open book. (See also Recto.)

Liturgical Terms:

  • Antiphon, Antiphonal: A brief transitional sentence taken from the Psalms or elsewhere in the Bible, and sung or spoken in response to a Psalm during a religious service such as the Mass. It usually involves alternation between the presider or choir and the congregation. The word also refers to a kind of book (variously called an antiphonal, an antiphonary, or an antiphoner) which contain these texts and their music.
  • Bible: A large codex book containing the Christian scriptures. It is always divided into the Old and New Testaments with the division being the life of Christ; the latter is narrated in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
  • Book of Hours: A collection of prayers which were, at different times, obligatory or optional, and marked the canonical hours of the day such as Lauds or Matins. Books of Hours were a true bookmaking phenomenon of the later Middle Ages (from the 12th through the 15th centuries), and many thousands of them have survived into the 21st century.
  • Breviary: A book containing texts and instructions for the celebration of Mass and other canonical offices. Breviaries are usually structured according to the season (spring, summer, fall, and winter), within each of which are contained a Psalter, the Proprium de Tempore (the special office of the season); the Proprium Sanctorum (the special offices of saints); the Commune Sanctorum (the general offices for saints); and various extra services.
  • Epistolary: A book containing only lessons from the epistles (i.e., letters), that is the books in the New Testament.
  • Gradual: A book into which is gathered all the musical elements of the Mass; unlike a missal it does not contain spoken passages. It is sometimes called "the antiphonal of the Mass."
  • Lectionary: A book containing pre-assigned, scheduled readings from the Bible throughout the year.
  • Missal: A book which contains the prayers said by the presiding priest, as well as texts that are read or sung by the congregation, during the celebration of the Mass throughout the ecclesiastical year. It emerged in the 13th century as a hybrid book containing what had up to that time been texts and music located in various specialized books like sacramentaries, antiphonals, and Bibles. Like many medieval liturgical manuscripts, missals have highly variable contents.
  • Psalter: A book containing readings from the Psalms and sometimes from other poetic sources such as Ecclesiastes or the Song of Songs.