Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Rotuli, i.e. rolls — in which a long narrow strip of papyrus or parchment, written on one side, was wound like a blind about its staff — formed the earliest kind of "volume" ( volumen from volvere , to roll up) of which we have knowledge. Many such rolls have been recovered in their primitive form from the excavations at Herculancum and elsewhere. In the fourth and fifth centuries, however, these rolls began to give place to books bound as we know them now, i.e. a number of written leaves were laid flat one on top of the other and attached together by their corresponding edges. This was a gain in convenience, but for certain purposes rolls were still. retained. To this latter class belonged certain legal records (from which is still. derived the title of the judicial functionary known as the "Master of the Rolls"), also the manuscripts used for the chanting of the Exultet, and especially the documents employed in sending round the names of the deceased belonging to monasteries and other associations which were banded together to pray mutually for each other's dead. These "mortuary rolls" (in French "rouleaux des morts") were called in Latin "rotuli". They consisted of strips of parchment, sometimes of prodigious length, at the head of which was entered the notification of the death of a particular person deceased or sometimes of a group of such persons. The roll was then carried by a special messenger ("gerulus", "rotularius", "rollifer", "tomiger", "breviator", were some of the various titles given him) from monastery to monastery, and at each an entry was made upon the roll attesting the fact that the notice had been received and that the requisite suffrages would be said.

By degrees a custom grew up in many places of making these entries in verse with complimentary amplifications often occupying many lines. It will be readily understood that these records, some of which are still in existence, preserving as they do specimens of ornate verse composition by a representative scholar of each monastery or institution, and engrossed on the roll by some skillful penman in each community, afford valuable materials both for the study of palaeography and also for a comparative judgment of the standard of scholarship prevalent in these different centres of learning. The use of these mortuary rolls flourished most in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. Some are of prodigious size. That of the Abbess Matilda of Caen, the daughter of William the Conqueror, was seventy two feet long and eight or ten inches wide, but this no doubt was altogether exceptional.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • St. Scholastica: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, February 10, 2016
  • Stations of the Cross - Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother HD Video
  • Palm Sunday HD Video
  • 10 important things to consider during Lent
  • Take this thought provoking Stations of the Cross survey
  • Daily Readings for Wednesday, February 10, 2016
  • Can you answer these four challenging questions about Lent?

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
22 Then, in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, Solomon stood ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 84:3, 4, 5, 10, 11
3 Even the sparrow has found a home, the swallow a nest to place its ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 7:1-13
1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for February 9th, 2016 Image

St. Apollonia
February 9: St. Apollonia, who died in the year 249, was ... Read More