Books in medieval Europe

Making the medieval book

For much of the Middle Ages dead cows were the main ingredient for books. What was frolicking in the meadow one month, may have been a page in a Bible the next.

videos + essays

We're adding new content all the time!

Making manuscripts
Making manuscripts

From scraping skin and cutting quills to painting and bookbinding, making a manuscript is a long, complex process.

An introduction to medieval scripts
An introduction to medieval scripts

Angular or rounded? Medieval script reveals not only what the author wrote, but when and where the book was made.

Listening to the medieval book
Listening to the medieval book

Go on, judge a book by its sound. The thinner the parchment, the higher the pitch—and the price.

A medieval textbook
A medieval textbook

This 1000-year-old math primer is nothing fancy, but it took months for a scribe to make.

Medieval books in leather (and other materials)
Medieval books in leather (and other materials)

Animal skin lent a durable writing surface to medieval scribes. When tanned and tooled, it also protected books.

Clasps: hugging a medieval book
Clasps: hugging a medieval book

Is that a body, or a book? Arms, hands, feet, skulls—all can feature in the anatomy of a medieval manuscript.

Binding the book
Binding the book

Medieval libraries hid a forest in their shelves—wood boards, covered and clasped, protected precious parchment.

Medieval supermodels
Medieval supermodels

Decorators drew inspiration from design books, from enlarged capitals to elaborate figures in the margins.

Decorating the book
Decorating the book

From penwork and gilding to one-letter stories, decorators offered a range of services to dazzle medieval readers.

Making books for profit in medieval times
Making books for profit in medieval times

Like modern marketers, medieval scribes advertised on posters and even inserted “spam” pages into texts.

Words, words, words: medieval handwriting
Words, words, words: medieval handwriting

Caroline Minuscule, the main script of the early Middle Ages, was replaced by Gothic—and later, “Times Roman.”

The work of the scribe
The work of the scribe

Long before ruled notebooks hit the shelves, medieval writers lined, laid out, and folded their own parchment.

Selected Contributors | Making the medieval book