Parchment (2 Cent. C.E.-10th Cent. C.E.)


Parchment was made from the skins of animals such as sheep and cows. Vellum is a special kind of parchment made from calf skins. After being soaked in lime water and scraped, the skin is stretched and left to dry. This stretching process distinguishes parchment from leather.

The parchment is treated and sometimes dyed (purple, for example). It can then be formed into a codex. To enable the scribe to write straight lines, the parchment is ruled by a combination of pin pricks and impressed lines. The scribe does not always write on the line, but often hangs the characters from the ruled line.

The Vatican Library Exhibit has images of manuscripts on parchment.

Picture of Manuscript Page

Codex Sinaiticus

Ancient Description of Process

Conradus de Mure, De animalium naturam (13th century)

Likewise concerning skin:

how parchment may be made from it:

The flayed skin from the calf is placed into water. Lime is mixed in which bites into all the raw skin. This should fully clean it and remove the hairs. The circular frame on which the skin is stretched is made ready. Let it be placed in the sun so that the fluid is removed. Approach with the knife which tears away the flesh and hairs. It quickly renders the sheet thin.

To prepare parchment for books:

First cut into rectangular sheets. Assemble the sheets over each other and join together. Next comes pumice which removes what is on the surface. Chalk comes next, so that the work will not run. Then puncture (each sheet) with dots (using an awl or needle) following with a line made by the lead.

Jerome's Comments about Parchment

Parchments are dyed purple, gold is melted into lettering, manuscripts are decked with jewels, while Christ lies at the door naked and dying. -- Jerome, Epistle xxii.32

Let her treasures be not gems or silks, but manuscripts of the holy Scriptures; and in these let her think less of gilding and Babylonian parchment and arabesque patterns, than of correctness and accurate punctuation. -- Jerome, Epistle cvii.12

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