StructureThe Antiphonal is written on vellum, or animal skin which has been stripped of its hair and put through a series of processes to dispose of fat, smooth away blemishes, and refine to a smooth surface. The rougher, more yellow side of the sheet, which may be marked with little black specks in places where the hair follicles were if the animal was large, is the outer side of the skin, and the inner side is paler. When well prepared, vellum is easier to write on than paper.
The skins of a range of animals were used, depending on the size
and quality required.: for a small fine manuscript, the foetus
of a calf might be used, yielding a skin as fine as tissue paper.
Pigskin was unsuitable, because the bristles had such large follicles
the skin would be heavily pitted.
Large books such as this Antiphonal (570 x 395 mm), which has
360 pages, or 180 sheets of vellum folded in half, must have required
a whole skin from an animal the size of a young steer. The sheet
of vellum would have been folded in half, with the rougher, more
yellow side on the outside, the folded sheets tucked inside each
other like a newspaper, and then sewn together down the central
fold. Each group of such sheets is called a gathering, and this
Antiphonal has four sheets to a gathering, making eight pages.
The gatherings were then stacked on top of each other, and all
sewn together, using the initial stitches through the centre fold
of the gathering as a foundation for the second stage of sewing.
To protect the codex, as this text block of pages was first called,
wooden boards were attached back and front by cords which had
been integrated into the sewing structure. The cords were inserted
into holes in the boards and fixed with wooden pegs, and the manuscript
then had an outer protective covering, which was quite often augmented
by metal studs. A medium as firm and heavy as wood was necessary to keep the vellum text block in shape, because skin flexes and shifts with changes in temperature and humidity. We still call the covers of a book the boards, despite the fact that for over three centuries now cardboard has been used instead.
To create a huge manuscript such as the Antiphonal in this way
was a big commitment on the part of a monastic community. It is
most unlikely that a monastery would have sufficient resources
within the community to supply the skins, so the vellum would
have had to be bought in. It may have been gradually accumulated
over many years.