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Three Faiths

Scribing the Sacred


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First page of text, with red and blue initials and placemarkers., Digital ID 426825, New York Public LibraryThe Psalter, Do. Jo. Keck, scribe. Created between 1490 and 1510, written on parchment with margins ruled in pen. The New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.If you find inspiration in thoughts of pen angles and letter heights, please visit the “Scriptorium” at The New York Public Library’s “Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam” exhibition.

In the Scriptorium you will see the tools of the scribe: paper, ink, and pens, and learn how they have been used to create religious manuscripts over the centuries. The exhibit hall also contains a lighted table, with pens, paper and detailed instructions for fashioning letters in many of the scripts that record the sacred words of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Scriptorium features continuously running films, demonstrating the art of the written word from the first days of the Abrahamic faiths. These traditions are maintained today by masters of calligraphy, called scribes.

Hebrew scribes Neil Yerman and Jen Friedman explain how they prepare for the task of writing and demonstrate how they create letters in the Hebrew Stam Alphabet with quills on parchment. Elinor Howard shows the artistry of the Arabic script. And Karen Gorst demonstrates the technique of Latin lettering in black-letter --  the style used for biblical books in Europe into the 20th century.

If you are not able to attend the Three Faiths Scriptorium in person, the digital exhibition features the three videos depicting the scribal tradition, as the master scribes discuss the way they prepare for and carry out their sacred duties. This one is on parchment and paper:

The Library has also created a series of classes and other programs for all ages, with lectures and demonstrations of the art of writing. Below that is a list of books about calligraphy and writing.


The Islamic Art of Calligraphy

Discover how calligraphy is used both to share stories and as artistic expression. Children will explore different styles of calligraphy and create their own art project. Presented by the Children's Museum of Manhattan. Recommended for ages 6 to 12. Pre-registration is required; limited to 25 participants. Dates and locations »


Explore the types of images used in illuminated manuscripts, and discuss the meaning behind them. Children will make their own small booklets and decorate them with images inspired by the illuminated manuscripts. Presented by the Children's Museum of Manhattan. Recommended for ages 6 to 12. Pre-registration is required; limited to 25. Dates and locations »




Use ancient techniques and modern technology to create a book of faith. Write down your thoughts, design the look, and keep it close for reflection. Dates and locations »
(Participants must attend both sessions.)


Discover the artistry behind the words. Learn about Arabic and Asian calligraphy and examine examples of holy texts. Put ink to paper as you try your own swirls and scrolls.



Illuminated Manuscripts

Uncover the hidden messages of symbols and create an illuminated manuscript of your own. Use ancient techniques to prepare the paper and pigments, and then practice your calligraphy. Dates and locations »

From the Scriptorium: The Art of Bookmaking

The scribes and calligraphers who created the lushly lettered medieval manuscripts and books on display in Three Faiths used techniques we can still employ today. Educators from the Center for Book Arts will lead a hands-on workshop that demonstrates how to combine ancient techniques and modern technology to design, create, and illustrate your own handmade book. Dates and locations »



Sacred Languages in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Ronald J. Brown

From “Mumbo Jumbo” to “Open Sesame,” humans have long recognized that words and languages have a power beyond their simple rational meanings. Ronald J. Brown, Associate Professor at Touro College and Unification Theological Seminary, explores the mystical and holy meaning that Jews, Christians, and Muslims ascribe to the languages in which they worship and the words that they use in celebration, study, and prayer.

Venerating the Books: Rituals and Magic Surrounding the Scriptures of the Three Abrahamic Faiths
Ronald J. Brown

All three “Religions of the Book” venerate their texts as sacred representations of divinity. Ronald J. Brown, Associate Professor at Touro College and Unification Theological Seminary, discusses the common points and differences among the Abrahamic faiths in their sacramental treatment of scripture, its powers, origin, rituals, and ceremonial adornment.



Practical guides for writing and calligraphy:

A book of formal scripts / by John Woodcock ; with historical notes by Stan Knight

The calligrapher's bible: 100 complete alphabets and how to draw them / David Harris ; contributing authors, Mary Noble, Janet Mehigan

The calligrapher's project book / Susanne Haines ; projects by Irena Armstrong ... [et al.]

Historical scripts: a handbook for calligraphers / Stan Knight


And a list of books about the history of writing and calligraphy:

American writing masters and copybooks; history and bibliography through colonial times / by Ray Nash

A book of formal scripts / by John Woodcock ; with historical notes by Stan Knight

The calligraphy source book: the essential reference for all calligraphers / compiled by Miriam Stribley

The practice of letters: the Hofer collection of writing manuals 1514-1800 / by David P. Becker


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