The Medieval Review 13.09.45

Fjordholm, Odd, Erla B. Hohler, Halvor Kjellberg, and Brita Nyquist. Norske Sigiller fra Middelalderen, 3: Geistlige Segl fra Nidaros Bispedømme. Oslo: The National Archives, 2012. Pp. 272. 450.00 NOK. ISBN: 978-82-548-0119-2. . .

Reviewed by:

Kirsten Wolf
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Geistlige Segl fra Nidaros Bispedømme, the third volume in the series Norske Sigiller fra Middelalderen is devoted to ecclesiastical seals from the bishopric of Nidaros (modern Trondheim), which from 1152 or 1153 was an archbishopric encompassing not only Norway but also bishoprics in Iceland and Greenland and on the Faroe Islands, the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides, and the Isle of Man. The first volume in the series, published in 1899-1950 by H. J. Huitfeldt-Kaas, C. Brinchmann, and O. Kolsrud, treated secular seals, and the second, published in 1924 by H. J. Huitfeldt-Kaas and C. Brinchmann, royal and princely seals.

The catalogue of seals is prefaced by a most informative introduction. Following an overview of previous editions of Norwegian seals and drawings of seals by various artists, an outline of the organization of the material included in the volume is given. The reader is then introduced to the (somewhat limited) literature on seals in Norwegian and a description of the use of seals, the various forms of seals, and the pictures and legends. The pictures are divided into five categories: seals containing only letters, initials, or words; seals where the main motif is a picture that is neither heraldic nor a depiction of the seal's owner; seals with a portrait of the seal's owner; seals consisting of rune-like letters in combinations chosen by the owner; and seals showing the owner's coat of arms (a personal weapon, a family weapon, or representative of a distric, a corporation, or a position). The legends contain the name of the owner and possibly his position. Often the legend begins with S (an abbreviation of signum, sigillum, secretum, or signetum), and the language is Latin. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the letters are majuscules, but from the end of the fourteenth century, minuscules become predominant. In Norwegian seals from around the late fifteenth century, a third script is prevalent: majuscules with capital letters. The editors proceed to give an account of the production, appearance, and reuse of stamps and signets. Bees-wax, which was costly and had to be imported from the Baltic countries or Russia, appears to have been favored, and when the seal is colored, the most common colors are brownish red, bright red, and shades of green. The older seals hang under the letter in parchment straps or strings; paper seals did not come into existence until the late fourteenth century. The editors believe that many of the stamps and signets were manufactured in Trondheim, though some, such as the big seals (numbers 10 and 13, 14, 17) of Archbishop Eiliv Korte Arnesson (1311-1332) and Olav I (1350-1370) plus successors appear to have been made abroad, presumably in France. While most stamps were broken up or made useless in other ways after the owner's death, some, such as institutional stamps, were in use for a long time. Next, the process of sealing is described. Among other things it is noted that in the early Middle Ages, the seal was placed on the document, whereas in the late Middle Ages, the seals were hung under the documents in straps or strings stuck through holes in the letter. Often a plica was made at the bottom of the letter in order to strengthen the suspension. The introduction concludes with an overview of the five types of seals included in the catalogue, their characteristics, and their development during the Middle Ages. A map of the diocese of Nidaros, a list of archbishops of Nidaros, and a list of abbreviations round off the introduction.

The catalogue includes photos and descriptions of 160 (according to the introduction 161) seals. Of these, 27 are (arch)bishops' seals, seven are chapter seals, 18 are monastery seals, 106 are priests' seals, one is the seal of the Helligkors church at Lade, and one is the seal of the cathedral school in Nidaros. The (arch)bishops' seals are arranged chronologically for each bishopric in the following order: Nidaros, Bergen, Stavanger, Oslo, Hamar, Skálholt (Iceland), Hólar (Iceland), Gardar (Greenland), and the Faroe Islands. The chapter seals and the monastery seals follow the same order. The priests' seals, too, are arranged chronologically but independently of the bishoprics. The presentation of each seal consists of the following elements: the name of the owner or user with his known title (e.g., no. 23: "Archbishop Gaute Ivarsson (1475-1510"); a photograph of the seal imprint and of the drawing with reference to the artist; details about the type of seal, its form, and size (e.g., no. 21: "Picture seal with weapon, round, diameter 35 mm."); the number of preserved imprints; the place, year, and day of the sealed document (e.g., no. 136: "Nidaros 1436 April 11"); the call number of the document and references to the Diplomatarium Norvegicum (abbreviated DN), Regesta Norvegica (abbreviated RN [not Reg. as on p. 265]), and other relevant publications; the content of the document (e.g., no. 103: "Three clerics and nine laymen testify that they were present, when Archbishop Pål asked the farmers, if they had any complaints about the men of the church or the archbishop, which they didn't have. The farmers were also asked about the tithes, and they explained what they payed tithes of"); details about the material used, its color, and condition; the manner in which the imprint is attached and its place in the row in documents that have more than one seal (e.g., no. 53: "Imprint in dark brown wax, complete, clear features, hangs in a double parchment strip under the letter , 2./2"); a transcription of the legend followed by a translation (e.g., no. 2: "[S]IGILLVM SERLONIS D[EI] GRATIA NIDROSIENSIS 'The Seal of Sørle, by God's grace archbishop of Nidaros'"); a description of the picture (e.g., no. 136: "A saint with a drake(?) in front of him, under a baldachin with a spire. On the sides architectural motifs"); relevant comments (e.g., no. 117: "A little basket is Dorothy's attribute"); and references to drawings of seals and relevant published works. It is noted that all known imprints of each seal is registered. If no complete imprint exists, but if two or more fragments complement one another, a combined description of the picture is provided. Also, the drawings of the seals have been used as a basis for the description, since some imprints have deteriorated since the drawing was made. The content of a document with two or more seals is summarized only the first time a document is mentioned, but reference is made to the seal number and possibly also to the relevant imprint. It is noted that the seals typically hang left to right in the order in which the issuers of the letter and possible witnesses are mentioned, some at the beginning of the letter and some at the end of the letter. There are exceptions, however, and if the legend cannot be deciphered, the seal cannot always automatically be attributed to the person to whom it should belong according to the list in the letter. In the catalogue, the order is given with the seal's number in the row after an inclined quoin which specifies the number of seals in the letter. If seals are missing, the editors rely on straps or strings or holes. Accordingly, 3/9 means that the seal hangs as number three from the left in a row of nine seals, even if the other eight are missing. The volume concludes with an index of seal owners, a list of places where the document was issued, a list of personal names (other than the seal owners), a list of types of the seal, a list of symbols (e.g., the apostle Andrew, a bird, Christ, a crown, the Virgin Mary, and Saint Olav), and a bibliography.

Norske Sigiller fra Middelalderen, 3: Geistlige Segl fra Nidaros Bispedømme, the result of many years of information gathering and laborious preparation by Odd Fjordholm, Erla B. Hohler, Halvor Kjellberg, and Brita Nyquist, is a most useful scholarly resource and a reliable handbook. With its publication, the editors have done the fields of sigillography in particular and medieval studies in general a true service. Much care has been taken in the production of the book, and the quality of the binding, the paper, and the photographs included is superb. The book is an unqualified success, and the Royal Archive in Oslo is to be congratulated for its fine work.