The Order of Saint Benedict

Monastic Scriptoria

by Fr. Landelin Robling OSB



The customary provisions for each scribe included the parchment, ink, quills and knife that was used to smooth the rough spots on the vellum, to erase and to sharpen the pens. The volume to be copied was close at hand, often on a reading frame, at the front of the desk. In scriptoria where several copies of the same manuscript were made by a group of scribes, one would dictate the words as the others sat at a long bench or table taking down the dictation. Individual desks in the library-scriptorium were frequently placed between the book presses and cupboards.

Silence was a necessary rule, since each scribe must concentrate on his task. Of course silence did not prohibit a sign language, which, as de Roover remarks, was employed quite generally. Other rules are also indicated in her summary paragraph:

To prevent disturbances and noise, no scribe was permitted to leave the scriptorium during the hours of work without the permission of the Abbot. Only the abbot, prior, subprior, and librarian could enter the scriptorium. If a message had to be delivered to a scribe while he was working, the precentor or librarian could bring him into the conversation room (parlor) and give him the message. Such was likewise the custom when it was necessary to have an oral examination of what had been copied. To further insure silence in the library and in the scriptorium, an elaborate system of signs was worked out.15

In St. Benedict's Holy Rule a sign is preferred to the breaking of silence. When speaking of the reading at table (ch 38) St. Benedict desires his monks to maintain the deepest silence (et summum fiat silentium). And he continues: "If, however, anything should be wanted, let it be asked for by means of a sign of any kind rather than a sound."



15 Ibid., p. 604

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