Calligraphers used a quill pen and oak gall ink, and paints were made by hand, to dec- orate the codex. Photo by Tyagan Miller

Calligraphers used a quill pen and oak gall ink, and paints were made by hand, to decorate the codex. Photo by Tyagan Miller


They may live in Indiana, but Hoosier members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) consider themselves denizens of the Middle Kingdom, a realm that includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and parts of Iowa, Kentucky, and Canada. The SCA, founded in Berkeley, California, in 1966, is an international organization of people who love the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Members gather regularly to do (mock) battle wearing suits of armor, followed by feasting, singing, and dancing. They give themselves medieval names, fabricate their own costumes using ancient methods of production, and practice ancient skills, such as jousting. John Cash, a Bloomington resident who works at Indiana University, has been an SCA member for 38 years, under the name Johannes.

Several years ago, Cash, 61, came up with the idea of celebrating the society’s 50th anniversary by creating an illuminated medieval text. He called the project Calf to Codex, and it took 75 people five years to produce the book, which is modeled after the Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry, a famous French Gothic manuscript.

“I learned a good deal about project management,” Cash says about the process. He coordinated every detail, from production of the flax that was grown and spun into linen bookbinding thread by two Ohio members, Fiadnata and Millicent, to the production of the book’s poems, songs, stories, and essays, which were composed by 22 SCA bards and then copied by 16 calligraphers. Some of the most dramatic illuminations and gilding were done by a mother and daughter, Arrantxa and Celeste, from West Lafayette, Indiana.

The book is bound in red pigskin leather, and deerskin from southern Indiana was used to make the parchment pages. And although Cash and his team followed principles laid out in texts such as Il Libro dell’Arte by a 15th-century Florentine to create their book, they did get some of their materials from distinctly modern sources such as Pygmalion’s Art Supplies and Bloomington Paint and Hardware.

Mere historical accuracy was never Cash’s point, however. “The idea for the book is that it should be carried around, touched, and used,” he says. “It should have readers. It should have a life.” So Cash intends to take it to SCA tournaments and gatherings. Its first outing was in June to Danville, Indiana, where 2,500 people spent a week celebrating the SCA’s 50th anniversary.