[Choral singing and music play]
Voiceover: This is an audio dramatisation from the State Library of Victoria.
Man: The year is 1151 AD and we’re here in Bingen, Germany, at the Benedictine abbey. The women in this abbey come from all over Europe and are under the care of the famous author and visionary, Hildegard. Let's go into the scriptorium where the nuns are working on illuminated manuscripts.
[Sound of footsteps]
Man: Excuse me?
Sister [in German accent]: Oh, you startled me. I didn’t see you there. Forgive me, I get so caught up in my work.
Man: That is quite beautiful. And may I ask what it is you're working on?
Sister: This is a commission piece. One of the Hohenstaufens has ordered twelve copies of this book of ours.
Man: It looks like you're almost finished.
Sister: Oh heavens no. These quires need to go back to the illuminators. We are just scribes and there is still the gilding to do and then the binding. Would you pass me that other knife? This one is too dull. Danke.
Man: Do you always hold the knife and the quill?
Sister: Oh ja, I have the quill in my right hand and a knife in my left hand. I have to constantly keep the quill sharp. I must sharpen it 60 or 70 times in a day's work.
Man: Do you use that whole range of feathers?
Sister: Ja, depending on the width of the line. This Carolingian script is best with the outer wing-feathers of a swan, but other script needs a finer line, so I prefer raven. You see I am right-handed so these are all left-wing feathers.
Man: Oh OK, I see. I see too that you have two ink horns mounted to your desk.
Sister: Ja, one for red ink and one for black ink. Mounting them there means I won't have an accident.
Man: How long does it take to complete on of these books?
Sister: About one month if everyone in the scriptorium works on it.
Man: That is a lot of focussed attention.
Sister: Ah, disce pati.
Man: Disce pati?
Sister: Latin, it means 'learn to suffer'. It is a quest to be able to do this pious work. The best use for the hands is prayer and writing. Now if you will permit me, I must start this new page. Oh, wrong side.
Man: Wrong side? Is there a wrong side to parchment?
Sister: This is vellum, and ja, there is the hair side and the skin side. Hair side must always face hair side and smooth side faces smooth. Otherwise it would rub off all the copy.
Elizabeth [in German accent]: Sister Pauline, the magister needs you for rehearsal.
Sister: Forgive me, we are quite busy. We are preparing for a performance of Hildegard's new musical opus. Elizabeth, here is the musical notation from last night.
Man: Well, you’re certainly busy.
Sister: Disce pati.
Man: Disce pati.
[Choir voices and music resume]
Voiceover: This has been an audio dramatisation from the State Library of Victoria.