The Roman Uncial script (Littera Uncialis) originated in the second or third century A.D., possibility in North Africa. Although it´s beginnings are subject to conjecture, there are noticeable similarities with the Greek Uncial – a curved, functional script that had been used since the third century B.C. and was the official hand of the Christian Church. By the second century, Christianity was increasing in influence throughout the Roman Empire, and it is likely that the early Christians consciously adapted the Greek Uncial to the language as a script appropriate for their new religion.

The Uncial script was brought to southern England from Rome by the missionary St. Augustine in the year 597. It´s name, meaning “inch” or “inch-high letter”, is attributed to St. Jerome, a translator and compiler of the Vulgate (common) Bible. He possibly used a term of derision, in objection to the common practice of wasting parchment by using large letters for de luxe books.



The beginnings of our modern lowercase letters can be discerned in the Uncials script. The letters d. h, and l rise above capital height while i, f, n, p, q and r  drop below the baseline. A further departure from the capital form is the absence of any elaborate serif constructions. This simplicity makes the Uncial, together with the Caroline Minuscule and the Foundational Hand, ideal for learning the basics of pen handling and calligraphy.



The Uncial hand was well established in Britain by the time the twin abbeys of Wearmouth and Jarrow were founded in 674 and 682 respectively. Soon, the monks of Wearmouth, Jarrow and Southumbria (England south of the River Humber) were producing manuscripts of quality equal to that anywhere else in Europe. Their work included the landmark Bible the Codex Amiatinus (opposite). However, the hand they were using was not the Uncial of St. Jerome, but a highly intricate and serifed version, with thin horizontal and thick vertical strokes, and serifs reminiscent of those on Square Capitals. This extremely beautiful calligraphy hand is known variously as Artificial Uncial, Late Uncial, or Romanising Uncial of the Canterbury Style.

(David Harris in The art of calligraphy. A practical guide to skill and techniques p.24, Dorling Kindersley, New York.)