Frankenfolio: A Fragment from Conception Abbey

A single folio with faint get and several large holes indicating it’s use as material for book binding. It also has several tears that have been roughly repaired with green thread.

Fragment from Conception Abbey (MS CA 08, Conception Abbey and Seminary)

This single fragment demonstrates the tremendous teaching potential in even a single bit of binding waste. The cutting hails from Engleberg, Switzerland and is housed today in a collection at Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Missouri, founded in 1873 as an offshoot of the Swiss monastery, Engelberg Abbey. Originally, this scrap was part of a Sacramentary containing the prayers for the mass of Peter and Paul and other religious texts.

The leaf’s scars and Frankenstein repairs provide only hints at its past. To prepare this leaf for its final use in binding, slits were cut away to allow the binding supports to poke through without bunching up. Zigzags of green thread make striking repairs though it is difficult to reconstruct the reasons for the cuts in the first place. One can easily see the ridges of the dry-point ruling, but the cuts do not occur near the ruling. All three cuts lead toward the binding slits, but why would they have been made there? The cuts were clearly made after the original book from which the leaf came was dismantled, but likely before the scrap was used as binding waste.

The hand is a beautiful late Caroline hand—clear, sophisticated, with very few abbreviations. The first initial letter has a rare abbreviation: a capital D with an S in the bow and a macron over the S for Deus. The abbreviation of a letter within a letter is not common and may speak to a regional practice. After the scrap was removed from the binding, a conservator has written the date at the top in what looks to be an eighteenth or nineteenth century hand (Saec.XJ) and a later, likely twentieth century hand, has written additional numbers at the top in pencil.

The fragment demonstrates the many layers of history reflected by its changed use through changed historical circumstances. Now it helps students discover how books were made and used in the Middle Ages and then preserved for their material richness and in this last stage, how they are preserved as artifacts for historical inquiry.