Monastic Scriptoria

by Fr. Landelin Robling OSB



OCCASIONALLY IN COURSES TREATING OF MEDIEVAL SUBJECTS AND MONASTICISM, in readings about Medieval history and literature, and in attending to the monastic table-reading of the Benedictine Martyrology, we meet with references to the scriptorium. Thus, for instance, for July the fourth we heard that Blessed William, Abbot of Hirschau, "appointed twelve monks to copy books in the scriptorium." And Ven. Angelrannus, the Wise, who "insisted upon strict observance of the Rule, encouraged studies and the transcription of books."

The simple conclusion that the scriptorium was a place for the copying and writing of books and manuscripts furnishes too little in the way of information and excites further investigation. This general notion is not much clarified by the definition which Du Cange gives in his dictionary of glosses, in which the scriptorium is described as a room in the monastery, set apart for the labor of writing books (cella in monasteries scriptioni librorum destinata). Maitland1 seemingly gives an opposing opinion and cites one example to show that any undesignated apartment, regardless of size, was a scriptorium, since "cells, or small rooms, or even larger apartments, which had no particular name or use, were commonly called scriptoria, even when not actually used or particularly intended, for the purpose of writing." Another author2 describes it as "a large, well-lighted, but usually unheated, room in which each of the copyists had a desk, parchment and the volume to be copyied." In another place the author also indicates its importance by referring to it "as a room in which certain scribes worked at the copying of ancient and modern manuscripts and by this laborious process not only placed them at the disposal of an ever increasing number of readers, but also lessened the danger of their disappearance from the world of books."3



1 The Dark Ages, London: John Hodges, 1890, p. 443.

2 O'Connor, OP, John, Monasticism and Civilization, N.Y.: Kenedy and Sons, 1921, p. 125.

3 Ibid., p. 116.

Table of Contents

OSB Index | General Information
Saint John's Abbey