Master Johannes at work
Photo by Master Phillip the Pilgrim
by Magistra Nicolaa de Bracton
Readers of last year's Pennsic Independent learned about the Calf to Codex project, a nearly five year long effort to produce a bound book using completely period tools, techniques and materials. The project, led by Master Johannes von Narrenstein of the Middle Kingdom, features work by 22 bards and historians regarding the history of the Middle Kingdom, compiled and edited by Ursula Mortimer. Eight parchment makers started from a class presented by Master Ranthulfr to process and prepare deerskin parchment from hand-butchered deer. Ink, shell gold, and paints were prepared by another group of six artisans, and another sixteen completed the calligraphy and illumination. Flax was grown and spun into bookbinding thread by another team of eight, with wax provided by a beekeeper. The bookbinding team of ten included makers of hand-planed oak boards, hand-dyed leather, hand-forged metal claps, and experienced binders. Even the tools for the project were made by hand.
The result of the project is the Codex Mediterranae, a beautiful 112-page book that had its debut at the SCA 50 year celebration at a special reception, where many of the pieces within the book were performed. In fact, according to Master Johannes, the book is meant to be touched and used, not kept behind glass. "This project has been like the one that made the Great Booke more than twenty years ago," he said. "As we conceived it, the first finished book is not be the property of any one person, group, or organization. That is to say: unlike the Great Booke, it will not be given to the Crown or sent off at once to a museum. Instead, it will be used like a book should be – read from, to us, at events and gatherings. We will have a custodian to take care of it, and invite readers to read to us from it." Indeed, Master Johannes hopes to have the book at a number of bardic circles around Pennsic this year.
Editor Lady Ursula Mortimer added, regarding the selection of works chosen for the book, " A great many excellent pieces fit the criteria for the volume. The hardest part was leaving out the ones for which there was no space. We could easily have filled two books this size."
If you would like to see the book or hear some of the bardic works included performed, there are several opportunities to do so. The Book will be at the A&S Display at the Great Hall on Sunday, August 7 from 1-5 pm, as well as at the A&S Champions' War Point, Thursday, August 11 from 9-3 pm. You can hear many of the works in the book performed at "Calf to Codex, a Concert" from 6-7:30 pm at the Performing Arts tent. If you would like further inspiration or information about the book, just search Facebook for the Calf to Codex group, where you will not only find a complete pictoral history of the making of the book, but also ongoing inspiration for those interested in the scribal and book arts within the SCA. There are indeed plans to follow up with a second book project, perhaps including less strictly authentic works.