A New Transcription: Manuscript Observations

Posted by: hwebster 7 years ago

My role in the project is working with the surviving eye-witness testimonies of the nine individuals who each observed something of the events that took place that fateful day. My first task was therefore to transcribe the witness testimonies from a reproduction of the Vatican manuscript in which they are preserved.

A transcription of was made by Michael Richter and published in Studia Celtica XXXII (1998), so I was not anticipating finding anything particularly different in my own study of the text. However, as I progressed with my work, I got more and more excited by the number of details and clues emerging which were not evident from Richter’s work.

The first thing I noticed was the abundance of evidence suggesting that the text had been extensively curated and tidied up for a later readership. Such ‘editorial’ marks include fine lines being drawn between words which are a little too close together making comprehension harder, the adjustments of many spellings, both through the addition of extra letters on abbreviated words and the crossing out of misspellings. There are also a number of instances where whole words, phrases or names have been added either inter-linearly or in the margins. It was also interesting to note that there are more corrections to the second group of testimonies taken in Hereford than the first group from London. This raises questions as to whether this section was made by a less able scribe or if it’s evidence of the differences in standards between the capital and more regional centres. This second selection of testimonies is also written in a number of different hands. The multiplicity of scribes could also account for a lack of consistency in writing which has led to the increased need for, and number of, corrections. Looking at the actual manuscript as opposed to digital reproduction of the microfiche in due course should allow me to state with greater certainty which lines and additions were made later, by looking for further clues such as the difference in colour ink and foliation patterns, and if the additions and corrections were made in a single go, or piecemeal over time.

Another interesting observation made in the course of my transcription was the lack of grammatical endings given, particularly for proper nouns such as ‘Hereford’. This has led me to wonder if this feeds into the wider questions raised by the text about language, and the interplay of the many vernaculars being spoken in thirteenth and fourteenth century Wales. We know from the text itself (written in Latin) that the witnesses gave their testimonies in French, English, and Welsh, so is this lack of grammar being used evidence of the vernacular beginning to creep into Latin? Or is it evidence of the lack of schooling given to the scribes in regional centres like Hereford, at that they simply don’t know the proper endings?

Finally, I want to comment on the punctuation in the manuscript. There is much more going on in this department than Richter’s transcription shows. The formulaic legalese in which the text is written is punctuated further by the repeated capitalisation of key terms and phrases, and a large number of commas which break the sentences down into discrete phrases which are not clear from the Richter transcription. These will I hope make translating the text a great deal easier!

In conclusion then, the number of interferences with the text are clear to the reader, and as such mark it out as being a working copy of the text. However, the mistaken repetition of the occasional line, suggests that the text was written up from extensive notes. We also know that the ‘Cragh Miracle’ did not make it into the final selection for Cantilupe’s canonisation, suggesting that there was a subsequent fair copy of selected miracles made from this manuscript. The artefact itself occupies an interesting middle ground between notes made in the court room itself, and the final text handed over for papal consideration. The transitory nature of the text means that we can see something of the underlying intentionality and process of writing itself.