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Scriptorium (plural scriptoria) comes from the medieval Latin script-, scribere (to write), where -orium is the neuter singular ending for adjectives describing place. Thus, a scriptorium is literally "a place for writing".

'Scriptorium' is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes. Written accounts, surviving buildings, and archaeological excavations all show, however, that contrary to popular belief such rooms rarely existed: most monastic writing was done in cubicle-like recesses in the cloister, or in the monks' own cells. References in modern scholarly writings to 'scriptoria' more usually refer to the collective written output of a monastery, rather than to a physical room. Scriptoria in the conventional sense probably only existed for limited periods of time, when an institution or individual wanted a large number of texts copied to stock a library; once the library was stocked, there was no further need for a room to be set aside for the purpose. By the start of the 13th century secular copy-shops developed; professional scribes may have had special rooms set aside for writing, but in most cases they probably simply had a writing-desk next to a window in their own house.

The monastery built in the second quarter of the 6th century by Cassiodorus at Vivarium in southern Italy, contained a purpose-built scriptorium, because he was consciously attempting to collect, copy, and preserve texts.

The Plan of St. Gall is a sketch dating from 819-826 of an imaginary Benedictine monastery (not a real one), which shows the scriptorium and library attached the northeast corner of the main body of the church; this is not reflected by the evidence of surviving monasteries.

The mother house of the Cistercian order at Cîteaux, one of the best-documented high-medieval scriptoria, developed a "house style" in the first half of the twelfth century that spread with the order itself.<ref>Yolanta Załuska, L'enluminure et le scriptorium de Cîteaux au XIIe siècle (Brecht:Cîteaux) 1989.</ref> In 1134, the Cistercian order declared that the monks were to keep silent in the scriptorium as they should in the cloister. There is evidence that the existence of a separate scriptorium for communal writing was later untypical: in the 13th century, the Cistercians would allow certain monks to perform their writing in a small cell "which could not... contain more than one person".<ref>Geo. Haven Putnam, Books and their Makers During the Middle Ages, (New York: Hillary House, 1962), 405.</ref>

This miniature <ref>Christopher De Hamel, Scribes and Illuminators, (Toronto: U Toronto Press, 1992), 36.</ref> is a fanciful late fifteenth-century depiction of a scribe at work: he is shown copying a document or scroll from a bound book.



Further reading


  • Alexander, J. J. G. Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Bischoff, Bernard, "Manuscripts in the Age of Charlemagne," in Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne, trans. Gorman, pp. 20-55. Surveys regional scriptoria in the early Middle Ages.
  • Diringer, David. The Book Before Printing: Ancient, Medieval and Oriental. New York: Dover, 1982.
  • Lawrence, C.H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, Ed. 2. London: Longman, 1989.
  • Maitland, Samuel Roffey. The Dark Ages. London : J.G.F. & J.Rivington, 1844.
  • McKitterick, Rosamond. "The Scriptoria of Merovingian Gaul: a survey of the evidence." In Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th-9th Centuries, VII 1-35. Great Yarmouth: Gilliard, 1994. Originally published in H.B. Clarke and Mary Brennan, trans., Columbanus and Merovingian Monasticism, (Oxford: BAR International Serries 113, 1981).
  • McKitterick, Rosamond. "Nun's scriptoria in England and Francia in the eighth century". In Books, Scribes and Learning in the Frankish Kingdoms, 6th-9th Centuries, VII 1-35. Great Yarmouth: Gilliard, 1994. Originally published in Francia 19/1, (Sigmaringen: Jan Thornbecke Verlag, 1989).
  • Nees, Lawrence. Early Medieval Art. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2002.
  • Shailor, Barbara A. The Medieval Book. Toronto: U Toronto Press, 1991.
  • Sullivan, Richard. "What Was Carolingian Monasticism? The Plan of St Gall and the History of Monasticism." In After Romes's Fall: Narrators and Sources of Early Medieval History, edited by Alexander Callander Murray, 251-287. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1998.
  • Vogue, Adalbert de. The Rule of Saint Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary. Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1983.


See also

External links