Corrigan MS Lat 001: A Book of Exorcisms

When I finished Codex Annamiticus, I decided I would rather keep it in a modern binding than in a medieval one. I also said to myself that I would soon learn medieval bookbinding. This is the goal of my third book project: to create an object belonging totally to the 14th century.

I have selected Harvard MS Lat 134 as a model. In all respects, it is a small book: 16 cm high, 25 leaves (50 "pages") long, written in a Gothic bookhand and decorated with simple red capitals. The text is highly abbreviated, but the medieval Latin uses simple grammar and syntax. I hope this book will be a springboard to longer and more elaborate projects.

Text & Ritual

Codex Annamiticus was written in modern English, which was very easy on me, but not accurate to its period. This time, I am doing the whole book in Latin. Specifically, I am copying the content of the original MS Lat 134 into C003. This is more complicated than just making each of my pages look exactly like the original; because of the standard sizes of modern paper, my pages will be differently sized than the original. It's more in keeping with period to reduce waste than to make an exact copy, anyway. Besides that, I also want to fully understand the text I will be copying.

To better understand the exorcism manual, I read Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages by Nancy Caciola. The book contains a lot on the theological and social role of exorcism in Medieval Europe. About exorcism manuals themselves, Caciola says "They all have similar basic structures, were aware of one another's existence, and assumed the ready availability of other such manuals. When, for example, a scribe found that part of the exorcism manual he was copying had been lost, he simply directed the reader to find another one, apparently assuming that this would not be difficult." (238) I experienced this myself in trying to decipher the text. MS Lat 134 is heavily abbreviated, and the scribe was not exceptionally careful to distinguish the "minimum" letters; m, n, i, and u, which can look very similar or blend into one another in sequence. Luckily, I found that if I Googled the intelligible parts, the search results turned up transcriptions of the same formula in other manuscripts. Bibliothèque Nationale de France MS Lat 14833 contains many exorcisms identical to those in MS Lat 134. Msgr Raphaël Marie has transcribed this book in a modern typeface and standardized Latin spelling.

Many phrases in these exorcistic formulae are also similar to the language of the Latin Vulgate Bible. I use BibleGateway to search the Vulgate, which often turns up not only the word I was looking for, but often the word in the same grammatical form. Often a passage in an exorcism even starts with tu dixisti "You said", which introduces the words of Jesus from one of the Gospels.

I spent a while thinking about how I wanted to go about the practical work of getting exorcism text onto the page. I started typing several different transcriptions and guides, but I consistently worried that I was playing a game of telephone with myself, just introducing another way for errors to slip into the work. At the same time, all of this prep made me very familiar with the attributes of the text. Eventually I decided to just get Staples to print me a high quality black and white copy of the entire MS. I count this as a period method because I am literally copying one medieval book from another. Other benefits of this are (1) the ability to leave preparatory sticky notes all over the text (2) a nice addition to the eventual exhibition at an SCA event.

The Page

When I visited MS Lat 134, I took the vital measurements that form the base of my reproduction. The page itself is 105 mm wide by 155 mm high. The margins are 10-15 mm on the top, 25-30 on the bottom, ~20 on the outside, and ~10 on the inside. A line is 6 mm high, and a lowercase O is 3-4 mm. A decorated capital is two lines high, and square.

C003 dimensions result from the size of the paper used. A C003 page is 85 mm wide by 140 mm high. The left, right, and top margins are all 10 mm. The lines are 6 mm each, though when I actually rule the page I make each a quarter inch high. 18 lines down from the top margin leaves a 15 cam bottom margin. Using a Speedball C5 nib, I can reproduce the 3-4 mm O-height, and base the rest of the letter proportions off it. I will be using the same proportions for a decorated capital as are in 134.

Calligraphy & Illumination

134 is written in Gothic bookhand, a style I am well familiar with. I plan on doing it in a modern calligraphy ink on pergamenata, a paper which imitates the look of parchment.

I found I got the hang of the majority of the scribal abbreviations after a few pages of just reading and transcribing, without needing to reference a guide. This would have been much harder without a knowledge of both Latin and Catholicism, so C003 will come with a list and description of abbreviations, which I hope other SCAdians will be able use to further their own scribal development.

134 is only lightly decorated, with plain large red capitals at the beginning of each exorcistic formula. There are a few small red crosses inline with the text. According to Discerning Spirits, these are prompts for the exorcist to make the Sign of the Cross over the possessed person. I plan on doing these in red gouache.

Error correction

Some of the scribal errors in the book are simply left in as if overlooked. With others, I was able to pivot the sentence so that the error was a new grammatical sentence based off a previous formula. Belatedly, however, I realized that my thick pergamenata would most likely be strong enough to resist being scraped, similarly to medieval parchment. This gave me an opportunity to correct my errors in a very period way. For now, only f.11v. has one of these corrections, with latheat corrected to liceat.


134 is bound on three supports, but what material is not apparent to me. I will be using hemp cords. It has wooden boards and a thin leather cover. I will be using basswood for ease of woodworking, and a leather which has been pre-thinned to be easy to work with. Having seen 134 in person, the leather looks very similar to my eye. The pastedowns appear to be separate from the text block.

This will be my first time executing several techniques: binding on supports, cutting channels into wood, and covering in leather. I will most likely typeset a practice text block - maybe a Lovecraft story - in a Gutenberg-like font, so that a successful practice book can come out looking reasonably period, while a failed one won't destroy two months or more of calligraphy and illumination.