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Display Capitals

Major Decorated Initials


The major decorated initials of illuminated manuscripts serve both practical and theological purposes. In Christianity, Christ is the Word incarnate. In the bible, the Will of God is made manifest through His pronouncements:-


And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.                                                                                     Genesis 1:3:

“ the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other side were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.”                                                                      Exodus 32: 15-16

In writing a sacred text, you become the instrument of God. The decorated initials celebrate the mystery of the Word made flesh.


"...they form a sequential meditation upon the nature of Christ as variously conveyed by each of the Gospels...and its encapsulation of the complementary aspects of Christ's divinity and incarnation."  
 The Lindisfarne Gospels, Society, Spirituality  and the Scribe, Dr M.P. Brown

The main function of these initials, though, is to clarify the sense of the text and mark out the beginning of a new book or section, or an important passage. They may also serve as an aide-mémoire. The early manuscripts of the British Isles took the decoration of these initials to a new level of intricacy.
geometry of Lindisfarne capital

                                                                                    diagram: Diane George

Lindisfarne Gospels (BL, Cotton MS Nero D.iv) f.29r, Chi- Rho page

Suggested geometry for the layout of the Chi- Rho page from the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The underlying grid and horizontal lines derive from the lines of text that are on the other side of the folio. These can just be seen showing through in the picture on the left. Some of the curved lines would probably have been drawn in by eye.

The XPI monogram consists of major decorated initials. The smaller, but nonetheless decorative, letters below this are display capitals. The red, half-uncial letters at the head of the page are known as rubrics.                                        NEXT (Decorated Initials)

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Subpages (1): Decorated Initials