Insular script

Insular script was a medieval script system used in Ireland and Britain (Latin: "insula", "island"). It later spread to Continental Europe in centres under the influence of Celtic Christianity. It is associated with Insular art, of which most surviving examples are illuminated manuscripts.

The script developed in Ireland in the 7th century and was used as late as the 19th century, though its most flourishing period fell between 600 and 850. It was closely related to the uncial and half-uncial scripts, its immediate influences; the highest grade of Insular script is the majuscule Insular half-uncial, which is closely derived from Continental half-uncial script.

Works written in Insular scripts commonly use large initial letters surrounded by red ink dots (although this is also true of other scripts written in Ireland and England). Letters following a large initial at the start of a paragraph or section often gradually diminish in size as they are written across a line or a page, until the normal size is reached, which is called a "diminuendo" effect, and is a distinctive insular innovation, which later influenced Continental illumination style. Letters with ascenders (b, d, h, l, etc.) are written with triangular or wedge-shaped tops. The bows of letters such as b, d, p, and q are very wide. The script uses many ligatures and has many unique scribal abbreviations, along with many borrowings from Tironian notes.

Insular script was spread to England by the Hiberno-Scottish mission; previously, uncial script had been brought to England by Augustine of Canterbury. The influences of both scripts produced a separate English insular form, which existed in five forms: the majuscule Insular half-uncial; and the minuscule Insular Hybrid, Set, Cursive and Current. Irish missionaries also took the script to Continental Europe, where they founded monasteries such as Bobbio. The scripts were in use also in monasteries influenced by english missionaries like Fulda.

In Ireland, Insular script was superseded in "circa" 850 by Late-Celtic script; in England, it was followed by a form of Caroline minuscule.

The script was used not only for Latin religious books, but also for every other kind of book, including vernacular works. Examples include the Book of Kells, the Cathach of St. Columba, the Ambrosiana Orosius, the Durham Cathedral Library A. II. 10. Gospel Book Fragment, the Book of Durrow the Durham Gospels, the Echternach Gospels, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Lichfield Gospels, the St. Gall Gospel Book, and the Book of Armagh.

Insular script was influential in the development of Carolingian minuscule in the scriptoria of the Carolingian empire.

The great scholar of Insular script was Julian Brown, who developed the grading system.

The "Tironian "et" (identical in meaning to the Roman ampersand, &) was in widespread use in the script (meaning "ond" 'and' in Old English and "agus" 'and' in Irish) and is occasionally continued in modern "Gaelic script" typefaces derived from insular script.

ee also

* Carolingian minuscule
* Gaelic script
* Hiberno-Saxon art
* Insular G
* Irish orthography
* List of Hiberno-Saxon illustrated manuscripts


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