Carolingian Miniscule – Lower case, not lower class

n our last day of cycling around the battlefileds of Agincourt, Waterloo and Harfeur, we took advantage of a break in the weather and decided to cycle along the Somme to a small town of Corbie. We know that this was where Henry V managed to break free from the race against the Feench along the Somme, allowing him to head north to the meeting at Agincourt.

owever, we had no idea that when we arrived there we would discover that Corbie has an even more important place in Western Euopean culture than we ever expected. The route to Corbie lies along the Somme river and its canal. The whole way is along a cycle path and provided us with some of the most enjoyable, quiet and picturesque cycling we have had in the last 11 years.

n arriving in the town, we drew up by the abbey church and started to ask around about the town and its history. It turns out the abbey was founded in about 660 as part of a Benedictine Monastery by the then French royal family, the Merovingians. Above all, Corbie was renowned for its monastery library and for its scriptorium and was recognized as an important center for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Over two hundred manuscripts from the great library at Corbie are known to survive.

he great innovation however from the scriptorium at Corbie was the clear and legible text known as Carolingian minuscule which was developed in about 780. Carolingian miniscule was created partly under the patronage of the Emperor Charlemagne (hence Carolingian), but the monks a Corbie played a central role in finalising and diseminating the results. Carolingian minuscule was uniform, with rounded shapes with clearly distinguishable shapes and above all it was legible. Clear capital letters and spaces between words – something we now take for granted – became standard in Carolingian minuscule.

ower case text that we write every day are in fact the results of Carolingian miniscule.
Without Corbie Abbey, we would all still be writing capital letters everywhere and no spaces between words. So thank you Corbie.

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