Station: [16] Bible Production in the Middle Ages: Making Parchment

The priceless manuscripts of medieval books – known as codices – were made of a very special material. Parchment, in other words, the skins of animals such as sheep, goats or calves, is extremely durable ... but also very expensive! For a 370-page book, you’d have needed no less than 150 animal skins! Which was unaffordable for ordinary people.

So medieval books were genuine luxury items that only very few people could afford. If you’d like to know how these books were made, which materials were required, and how many crafts were involved, take a look at the black side wall on your left.

Stretched out in the centre of the wall is the prepared skin of a goat from which the parchment sheets were cut. Making parchment isn’t a tanning process. The animal skin is soaked in limewater, scraped to remove the hair and any remaining flesh, and finally stretched out to dry.

To write on parchment, you needed ink that was mixed according to special formulas. For the colourful decorations, you needed organic and inorganic colours – pigments. And a binder such as egg white, resin or bone glue was essential for both – because otherwise, the ink and the colours would have simply puddled on the smooth surface.

For the illustrations, or for special letters, you also needed crushed precious metals or wafer-thin gold leaf. Feel free to open the cupboard door in the far right corner. That showcase contains some particularly gorgeous medieval manuscripts -- unfortunately only in facsimile. But even producing these faithful modern copies was very time-consuming and expensive. Just think of the prestige that must have been involved in owning an original!

All depictions: © Bibelgalerie Meersburg