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Middle Ages – Paper Models

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The Middle Ages in Western Europe
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Rag paper is manufactured as follows. White rags are sorted and washed thoroughly in a tub pierced with drainage holes and they are then allowed to ferment for four or five days.

Then the wet disintegrating pieces are cut into scraps and beaten for some hours in clean running water, left to fester for a week, beaten again, and so on, several times over, until the mixture disintegrates into a runny water-logged pulp. It is then tipped into a huge vat. A wire frame is scooped into the vat, picking up a film of wet fibres, and it is shaken free of drips and emptied onto a sheet of felt. Another layer of felt is laid over it. As the soggy sheets emerge and are tipped out, they are stacked in a pile of multiple sandwiches of interleaved felt and paper.

Then the stack is squeezed in a press to remove excess water and the damp paper can be taken out and hung up to dry. When ready, the sheet is 'sized' by lowering it into an animal glue made from boiling scraps of vellum or other offcuts.

The size makes the paper less absorbent and allows it to take ink without running. The sheets may have to be pressed again to make them completely flat. Sometimes, especially in north-east Italy doubtless under the influence of Islamic paper manufacture the paper was polished with a smooth stone to give it a luxurious sheen. It happens that the wire frame leaves lines where the soft paper pulp is thinner, and by at least European paper-makers began twisting little patterns out of wire and attaching them to the grid so that amusing or emblematic pictures were coincidentally transferred into the thickness of the paper, invisible when the paper was stacked or folded in a book but quite clear when held up to the light.

Thus watermarks came into being as a means of distinguishing paper stocks and their makers. Before a late medieval scribe could begin to write out a manuscript, a decision had to be made whether to use paper or parchment. Paper was cheaper and lighter and had the advantage of being supplied in sheets of an exact format. Parchment was thought to be stronger and has a slightly springy writing surface which gives an agreeable flexibility to pen strokes as compared with the unyielding flatness of writing on paper.

The most beautiful and elaborate manuscripts were always on parchment, which was used for Books of Hours and other traditional books intended for a long life. Parchment and paper as finished by the parchmenter or paper-maker are supplied in large rectangular sheets. A book is not made up of single pages, but of pairs of leaves or bifolia. Several pairs of leaves are assembled one inside another, folded vertically down the middle and they can be stitched through the middle of the central fold to make a book in its simplest form.

Each clutch of folded bifolia is called a gathering or quire. All standard medieval manuscripts are made up of gatherings. A manuscript is a unit formed by assembling in sequence a series of smaller units. Scribes and illuminators worked on a gathering at a time.

If one is examining a medieval manuscript carefully today, the first task will often be to peer into the centre of the folded pages looking for the sewing threads and sketching out a physical plan of where each gathering begins and ends. A gathering is usually of eight leaves, or four bifolia. In early Irish manuscripts and in fifteenth-century Italian books a gathering was often of ten leaves.

Little thirteenth-century Bibles, which used exceedingly thin parchment, were often made of gatherings of twelve, sixteen, or even twenty-four leaves. Sometimes a book was made up mostly of gatherings of eight leaves but ended with a gathering of six or ten leaves because the conclusion of the text fitted more neatly. This means that we have to be aware of the slightest remark, the most tiny hint as an indicator of a millennial high-tide; utterances against millennarism become crucial indicators of eschatological terrors.

During the whole drama called the Middle Ages at least when performed by Christians in the Old World the end of the world was near; what we are used to calling millennaristic periods were times when the end was nearer. With this general setting in mind, a certain pattern of apocalyptic expectations is easily recognized, connected with the Jewish calendar and Jewish apocalyptisism in general.

The peaks of millennialism during the Middle Ages are approximately at about , , , 1 and Joachim of Fiore CE. For the remainder of this paper I would like to concentrate especially on the year and there are in fact are several years connected with it , the last turn of the millennium, where we find a wide range of telling and typical attitudes toward apocalypticism, which I would like to sketch.

The best overview for the preceding centuries may be Landes , also giving further literature; for ca. Biblical examples were at hand. In the early eleventh century these signs were scrutinized according to a preset order, counting down the end of the world.

Searching for the exact time of the great event, people used apocalyptic signs to make sense of the present and get a glimpse of the future. The attitude was fueled and is for historians indicated by the widespread impression that, whatever one is doing, one has to hurry.

Robert the Pious of France, asking Gauzlin of Fleury for the meaning of the rain of blood in Acquitaine, demands an answer "with this same messenger"; Fulbert of Chartres, " festinanter ," sends his disturbing interpretation.

We should be aware that the above mentioned people were not exactly what we may call the uneducated, illiterate masses. Looking for precedents and signs in books of history, chronicles and some apocalyptic texts of diverse sorts was a habit of intellectuals, and their methods were not far from being scientific.

The year in fact encompasses a lot of years, even if we disregard the general uncertainty about the exact hour of the end. It was well known to intellectuals that the Christian chronology was hopeless. When did Jesus die? Abbo of Fleury calculated the year after Christ's passion, the most meaningful date in eschatological debates, for the 'regular' CE; Christ was bom 21 years BC. Heriger of Lobbes fixed , while Sigebert of Gembloux agreed with Abbo; the complete list would be long.

These letter-writing intellectuals are, together with Adso of Montier-en-Der and his letter to the west-frankish queen Gerberga, the only eschatologically affected people we know by name. The only chronicler who reports fears about the millenium is Radulfus Glaber.

Where are the rest? A letter written by an unknown monk to the bishop of Verdun Berengar or Wicfred about may provide the crucial hint: A bishop is by no means allowed to fear the Last Judgement or the second coming of Christ, and is to beware calculating it in public.

No names, no fears? The first millenium met a commonly shared, holistic concept of the world, which may well be called magic.


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In the earlier Middle Ages scribes probably assembled their gatherings and wrote in them as they worked through the transcription of a book. By the fifteenth century, at the latest, stationers were certainly selling paper and parchment already made up into gatherings.

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The Middle Ages is the period of European history that goes from the collapse of the Roman civilization to the beginning of the Renaissance, and it extends from about to ca. (“Middle Ages”).

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