A reconsideration of the origins of early Insular monumental lettering of the mixed alphabet type: the case of the 'Lapis Echodi' inscription on Iona
cross-slab, lettering, inscription
Iona; Scotland; UK
The inscribed letterforms of Britain contemporaneous with Nash-Williams’s Group I inscriptions, AD 400–600, of Early Christian Monuments of Wales show features that cannot be described as calligraphic. They show little scribal awareness in their execution. There are among them ‘mixed alphabet’ inscriptions that combine features of informal cursive hands with simplified and angular minuscule letters; in the course of the seventh century the haphazard mixed alphabet style improves to the level of deliberate design. This article examines one Iona survivor – the small ‘Lapis Echodi’ chi-rho cross-slab – in relation to this non calligraphic mixed-alphabet group. In it careful comparisons are made between epigraphic and scribal letterforms, with analytical diagrams based on the surviving manuscript pen-forms that represent the type of Insular bookhand that preceded those written in canonical Insular half-uncial. If it is possible to establish the existence of this earlier pre-canonical hand as an influence on epigraphy, it is hoped to refine the wide dating bands that presently exist.