Felice Lifshitz

title.none: Kruger, Litanei-Hanschriften (Felice Lifshitz)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.025 07.11.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Felice Lifshitz, Florida International University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Kruger, Astrid. Litanei-Handschriften der Karolingerzeit. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Hilfmittel vol. 24. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2007. Pp. l, 842. $95.00 (hb) 978-37752-1131-4 (hb). ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.25

Kruger, Astrid. Litanei-Handschriften der Karolingerzeit. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Hilfmittel vol. 24. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2007. Pp. l, 842. $95.00 (hb) 978-37752-1131-4 (hb). ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Felice Lifshitz
Florida International University

Litanies are a rich yet virtually unexploited source for the cultural history of European Christians. In this volume, a revised version of a 2000 dissertation at the University of Frankfurt, Astrid Krüger brings together most of the extant material relevant to the recitation of litanies in Frankish lands during the eighth and ninth centuries. Only certain localities are represented in the documentation, and it is unclear whether that is because only some churches engaged in the practice of litany recitation, or because the litanies utilized at most institutions have perished. This type of question--concerning the history, function and significance of litanies--is rarely broached by the author, whose aims are limited to what she considered appropriate for a publication in the "Hilfsmittel" series of the MGH, namely to inventory, edit (when previously unpublished), and statistically compare the texts of litanies found in eighth- and ninth-century manuscripts from the Carolingian lands. The resulting volume can be profitably mined by anyone interested in Carolingian politics, culture, or society who is willing to roll up her sleeves and work through a mass of sometimes unnecessarily detailed material.

The origins, early development, and spread of the practice of requesting aid and intercession from a more or less extensive list of saints, whose names are invoked seriatim, are less perfectly understood than Krüger implies in her introductory chapter (1-57); moreover, the impetus and rationale behind the creation of written lists to be used for such invocations (or not) are likewise not yet entirely clear. [1] However, regardless of the pre- and early history of litany recitation and registration, it is clear that by the beginning of the ninth century many Carolingian scribes were including such lists at various and occasionally multiple points in liturgical codices such as psalters, sacramentaries, pontificals and prayer books, and (far more rarely) in non-liturgical codices such as those containing patristic texts, for use (to name a few examples) during rites of baptism or consecration (of persons and buildings), or in connection with services for the sick and the dying, and even for individual devotions. Additionally, one free-standing parchment roll containing nothing but an extensive litany survives from the (itinerant) court of Louis the German; this rotulus was compiled at the monastery of Lorsch using local traditions collected from (and thus reflecting and unifying) the entire Frankish empire, and was presumably utilized whenever a particularly elaborate liturgical ceremony was performed for the emperor and his retinue. Furthermore, the name list portion of litanies was--already from the oldest extant examples--frequently embedded in a framework of additional prayers, invocations, and supplications (for instance asking God for freedom from temptation or illness, or for salvation through the cross, or for good weather), and was sometimes (before the definitive separation of the two disparate types of prayers around 840 at the latest) combined with ruler acclamations.

Krüger meticulously records and analyzes every portion of the litanies in her database, not simply the lists of saints' names, utilizing the "Methode des Litanei-Vergleichs" (method of litany comparison) which has figured so large in previous studies (as few as they have been) of this particular form of prayer. Her efforts here are distinguished from those earlier studies primarily by the fact that she compares a much larger number of litanies than has previously been attempted. The comparison reveals that no two extant litanies are exactly the same; evidently, scribes adapted and adjusted litanies, as they did most other texts, to fit new manuscript contexts. Beneath the variety, however, Krüger is able to discern certain parallels, and reconstruct likely dependencies, among Carolingian litanies, enabling her to identify particular monasteries (St. Amand, St. Gall) and regions (the Paris and Salzburg areas) as key centers of litany production, whether for export (St. Amand) or internal use (St. Gall). Where documentation is abundant, as it is in the case of St. Gall, Krüger also uses the litanies to reveal the peculiarities of local saints' veneration practices; for instance, the monks of St. Gall demonstrated in their litanies a marked interest in male monastic saints such as Benedict, Anthony, Columbanus, Macharius, Hilarion, Pachomius, Arsenius, Basil, Paul, Pafnutius and Equitus, whose names recurred in the litany lists associated with the house.

That the monks of St. Gall should exhibit a monastic orientation is hardly surprising, but this example does illustrate how litanies can be exploited as historical sources. It also represents one of the few instances when Krüger offers some interpretation of the significance of her findings. Most of the time, the information is dryly presented, offering the reader an opportunity to make something of the material. For instance, Krüger shows in a table (318--319) that the author-scribe of Litany 70 (in Munich BSB Clm. 29327[1]) extracted many names from Chapter 48 of Gregory of Tours' Liber in gloria martyrum but she neither notes nor comments upon the fact that this scribe-author only included the names of male martyrs and omitted the names of all the female ones--surely a decision worth exploring by scholars interested in saints' cults or gender issues or both! Unfortunately, the organization of the book does not always make interpretation of these underutilized sources easy. For instance, there is no clear logic to the order in which the litanies are numbered and discussed, and Krüger has completely abrogated the historian's faithful standby, namely chronological order. Thus, two of the very oldest litanies (those in the late eighth-century manuscripts Berlin, SB-PK Phillipps 1667 [lat. 105], a sacramentary which may or may not be from Autun, and in Paris BN lat. 12048, the Sacramentary of Gellone) are buried on pp. 262-267, as Litanies 50 and 52. Meanwhile, important information is scattered haphazardly throughout the volume, and will likely be missed by most readers (for few people will read this book cover to cover). For instance, only those readers who happen to consult Section concerning Litany 61 (in Cologne, Erzbischöfl. Dom-und Diözesanbibl. 106 [olim Darmstadt 2106]) will discover lists of litanies which do not divide their saints into categories such as "apostles" and "martyrs" and "virgins" (278, nn. 730, 731, 732 and 733), and only those readers who happen to consult section 3.3.12 concerning Litany 65 (the Lorsch rotulus in Frankfurt, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Ms. Barth. 179 [olim App. III]) will discover how many litanies have under 50 names, how many 51 to 100, and so forth (298, n. 790).

Although Krüger has shied away from the work of interpretation, she has certainly not avoided other types of work. She deserves the gratitude of Carolingianists for the time and effort it took to transcribe and statistically analyze 83 litanies in 62 codices now scattered in libraries all over Europe. Krüger provides close to 250 pages of precise transcriptions of previously unpublished litanies drawn from 36 different manuscripts (579 832). One of the most interesting lists is Litany 25b (in Paris, Bibliothque Mazarine Ms. 512), which was (unfortunately) not included by Krüger in her statistical tables on the grounds of excessive length (the transcription alone takes up pp. 659-688). This litany includes such unusual (and apparently unique) figures as the Good Thief who converted at the crucifixion (662) and the Old Testament matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel (682). The results of Krüger's statistical analyses are important, and will also be fascinating to scholars interested in saint veneration practices. A total of 987 saints appear in Carolingian litanies, of which 628 (63%) appear in only a handful of the lists or indeed are uniquely attested. Section 6.1 is an enormous table (441- 536) listing every name individually and indicating in which litany or litanies it appears, its position on each list of names, and its frequency of appearance overall. Filtering out those rarely invoked names (which of course have their own interest), Krüger is able to establish two "standard" litanies comprising the names of 72 saints who are included in at least half of the extant witnesses and the names of 95 saints who are included in at least 25 separate manuscripts (388-391). These two tables alone will provide much amusement for specialists, intrigued to see which saints make the cut; the biggest surprise to me in this regard was the inclusion of Radegund of Poitiers. Of great interest also are the tables concerning the "framework" sections of the litanies (Section 6.2 on 537577) that reveal everything from stock formulae (such as the phrase "Propitius esto parce nobis domine" appearing in 57 litanies) through rare formulations (such as the phrase "A persecutione paganorum libera" appearing only in Litanies 12b and 41). However, the absolute high point of the volume for me was Krüger's discovery that Old Testament saints appear only in litanies produced in Western Francia; among the Old Testament figures included in the relevant litanies, the names which appear in 100% of the cases are (to me unexpectedly) Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Zechariah (394 396). Every specialist will have his or her own favorite tidbit, and every specialist should spend some time perusing this volume.


[1] In a recent book, I suggested some possible understandings of the origin and spread of the cultural phenomenon of saints' name recitation, but I do not pretend to have fully plumbed the depths of the practice. Like Walahfrid Strabo, whose opinion--as expressed in a treatise of 841--Krüger cites (20), I traced litanies to martyrologies, and specifically to the Martyrology of Jerome. See Felice Lifshitz, The Name of the Saint: The Martyrology of Jerome and Access to the Sacred in Francia, 627827 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).