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Insular Manuscripts: Paleography

Section 3: Uncial in Anglo-Saxon England


Centers in Anglo-Saxon England that received Christian book culture directly from Rome, rather than filtered through Irish missionaries, imitated the high-grade Christian books in Uncials that the Roman missionaries brought with them. The books these Anglo-Saxons used as models would have resembled the sixth-century Italian Uncial manuscripts we looked at in the Christian Late Antiquity unit, like these, both written around the year 600:

Uncials written in Italy, ca. 600

© Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 210, f. 4r.

Uncials written in Italy, ca. 600

The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford, Auct. D. 2. 14, f. 130r.


In imitation of these Italian books, Anglo-Saxon scribes created Uncial Gospel books which in some cases so closely resemble their models that they were mistaken for Italian books well into the modern era. This one, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, was written at the end of the 7th century, probably in Wearmouth-Jarrow, the Roman-oriented center on the northeastern coast of England:

Northumbria, 698 CE

© The British Library Board, Add. 89000, f. 1r.

All the guidelines for identifying and dating Uncials that we studied in the unit on Christian Late Antiquity apply to Uncial manuscripts created in England. The telltale difference is that manuscripts written in England have much more advanced word separation.