Winners & Finalists of St John’s College’s Digital Inspire Competition – Carolingian Minuscule


by Petra Hofmann, College Librarian

I have been delighted to contribute a short piece entitled The Evolution of the Book: A Brief History to “Class 2: Evolution as Metaphor” of St John’s College’s 2020/21 Inspire Programme for Year 10 & 11:

See here for the entire Class 2 material.

The contribution included a competition centring around the Carolingian minuscule, my favourite medieval script, as it appears in the oldest book held at St John’s College’s library: a Gospel from late 9th-century Brittany. It is now my pleasure to share the answers submitted by the prize winners and finalists. The prizes have been given for a combination of engagement with the question, creativity, and quality of the written response.

I am sure readers of this blog with palaeographical expertise will remember how challenging their first attempts at reading medieval manuscripts were. I certainly remember my first encounter with these fascinating but strangely written texts – mostly written in Latin of all languages! It takes a lot of time and intensive training to become a fluent reader of medieval manuscripts and some handwritings can frustrate even the most experienced palaeographer.

The competition has, as it were, thrown the Year 10 and 11 students into the deep end without a life-safer and they have risen to the challenge admirably. They all made impressive efforts at analysing and understanding a subject matter that is extremely difficult to discuss without prior training. They can all be very proud of themselves!

The Competition: MS 194 (“Brittany Gospel”)

St Johns’ oldest book is this late 9th-century Brittany Gospel, written in a style of handwriting (script) called “Carolingian minuscule”. This most important of all scripts was created during the educational reform initiated by Emperor Charlemagne (748-814) as a uniform standard to supersede all “national” scripts. Even today’s basic letter forms (except for our round ‘s’) echo this script. Can you identify individual letters or even entire words? Try to transcribe the section below using today’s alphabet, and discuss anything you find interesting or noteworthy about this transcription.

Year 10: Winners

First Prize: Caitlin D. & Jessica T.

Caitlin D. (Year 10 First Prize)

Caitlin D. (Year 10) – Page 1-
Caitlin D. (Year 10) – Page 2-

Jessica T. (Year 10 First Prize)

Second Prize: Angelina D. & Luca S.

Angelina D. (Year 10 Second Prize)

Angelina D. (Year 10) – Page 1-
Angelina D. (Year 10) – Page 2 –

Luca S. (Year 10 Second Prize)

Year 10 Finalist with a Special Recognition Prize

Lili S. submitted an impressive artistic engagement with the task.

Year 11: Winners

First Prize: Victoria K.

Due to technical reasons it has not been possible to convert Victoria’s entry into an image file. Please click on download to view this very impressing entry which presents an engagement with the task palaeographers will recognise.

Second Prize: Alison C. & Emma F.

Alison C. (Year 11 Second Prize)

Alison C. (Year 11) – Page 1 –
Alison C. (Year 11) – Page 2 –

Emma F. (Year 11 Second Prize)

Year 11 Finalists

Usha B.

Alessandro G.

Amelia T.

Due to technical reasons it has not been possible to convert Amelia’s entry into an image file. Please click on download to view this visually clever entry.

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