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English/Greek Terminology for Bookbinding

Published date
29 May 2019
Nicholas Pickwoad

An English/Greek terminology for the structures and materials of Byzantine and Greek bookbinding.

Principal Investigator: Professor Nicholas Pickwoad
College: Camberwell College of Arts


The project aimed to compile a definitive bilingual glossary to describe Byzantine/Greek bookbindings by combining both the existing partial and conflicting terminologies and the new terms necessitated by the St. Catherine's library survey.

The overall objective of the project was the production of a bilingual glossary to describe the structure and materials of Byzantine/Greek bookbinding.

Secondary aims were:

  • Inputting the collected data from the St. Catherine's library survey into a database.
  • Grouping and structuring the data in the database to produce meaningful entities (terms).
  • Describing each term with text and drawings.
  • Reviewing the terminology with recommendations of a group of scholars during organised workshops.
  • Translating these terms into Greek.
  • Publishing the complete glossary.

Research context

Relatively few medieval manuscripts survive in their original bindings. Most have been rebound over the years as result of fashion or wear and tear, with the original bindings removed and replaced with new ones. This is especially true of Byzantine/Greek manuscripts in western collections such as that in the Vatican Library, where scarcely 2% of their Greek manuscripts retain their original bindings. Surviving manuscripts with their original bindings are therefore historically extremely important.

Several orthodox monasteries (e.g. Vatopedi and Iviron monasteries on Mount Athos), where the larger collections of such manuscripts survive, are beginning to catalogue their manuscripts in detail and a major digitising project has also been established (Mount Athos Manuscripts Digital Library). All such projects will need access to a consistent terminology. The importance of the proposed project is shown by the growing demand internationally for consistent terminologies to support manuscript studies in general, and bookbinding studies in particular (e.g. the international conference La reliure médiévale. Pour une description normalisée organised by the Institut de Recherche et d' Histoire des Textes in May 2003).

This project contributed to the field of Conservation as it attempted to produce an accurate terminology for Byzantine/Greek bookbinding through the systematic examination of the largest and most important collection of Byzantine/Greek manuscripts in early bindings to have survived, that of the Monastery of St. Catherine. By having such a glossary available the following were possible:

  • Descriptions of Byzantine books would be consistent and accurate.
  • Terms would be defined visually and verbally by the use of both text and drawings.
  • The complete vocabularies describing the materials, structures and decoration found on Byzantine/Greek bindings would become a resource for defining the range and diversity of such bindings.

The above were intended to have a significant impact on the conservation of Byzantine/Greek books. The vocabularies were intended to be used as reference material for conservators to describe and explain their work.

As well as conservators, the outcome of the project was extremely useful to other audiences working in relevant fields (palaeographers, archaeologists, librarians, etc.) as it helped to establish a common reference terminology across these fields. Finally the outcome was useful for experts who use Byzantine books in their studies (including the Fathers) as knowledge of the structure of the book is essential for appropriate handling.


Outputs realised from the project.

Pickwoad, Nicholas (2008) Recording medieval bindings. The role of the conservation survey, with reference to work currently under way in the library of the monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai. In: La reliure médiévale. Pour une description normalisée. Actes du colloque international (Paris, 22-24 mai 2003), organisé par l’Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (CNRS) sous le patronage de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. Reliures médiévales des bibliothèques de France. Brepols, Turnhout, pp. 47-59. ISBN 9782503528762. Item not available online.

Pickwoad, Nicholas (2006) The St. Catherine's Library Survey of Bound Manuscripts Catherine on Mount Sinai.

Velios, Athanasios and Pickwoad, Nicholas (2005) The Database of the St. Catherine's Library Conservation Project in Sinai, Egypt. IS&T Archiving 2005, Conference Proceedings, 2. pp. 73-78.

Velios, Athanasios and Pickwoad, Nicholas (2005) Current use and future development of the database of the St. Catherine’s Library conservation project. The Paper Conservator, 29. pp. 39-53. ISSN 03094227.

Pickwoad, Nicholas and Velios, Athanasios (2004) The Conservation of the Library of the St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai. In: 6th European Commission Conference on Sustaining Europe's Cultural Heritage: From Research to Policy, 1-3 September 2004, London.

Pickwoad, Nicholas (2004) The Condition Survey of the Manuscripts in the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. The Paper Conservator, 28 (1). pp. 33-61. ISSN 0309-4227.