The Work of Copying Manuscripts in Ancient Monsateries

The work of copying manuscripts was a primary activity of monasteries. It would be difficult to overstate the debt we owe to the careful writing of the monks who preserved the literature of the ancient world, the Bible and ecclesiastical documents, particularly in Ireland.

This was tedious, backbreaking work-even dangerous as monks worked with colors they knew to be toxic but which they thought necessary to preserving God’s Word in beauty and with permanence.

In this video you can get some idea of the work of actual copying in this video as an artist of today duplicates the monks’ copying method. Proceed to the 49:28 mark. The use of vellum, the skin of sheep, for copying gave books longevity. You could generally get two leaves of vellum per sheep. Vellum was a huge (as Trump would say) improvement on papyrus. It could weather all kinds of environments and was well suited to the production of the codex format, the book form in contrast to the scroll. Since it was more portable teachers in the church had ready reference to God’s Word wherever they went. Eventually with the Gutenberg press, Christian laymen would be able to afford their own Bible. Before the press the cost of a Bible in Paris would roughly cost the value of a home.

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