14.03.10, Karlsen, ed., Latin Manuscripts of Medieval Norway

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Jenny Jochens

The Medieval Review 14.03.10

Karlsen, Espen. Latin Manuscripts of Medieval Norway: Studies in memory of Lilli Gjerløw. Nota Bene: Studies from the National Library of Norway. Oslo: Novus Press, 2013. Pp. 424. ISBN: 978-82-7099-722-0.

Reviewed by:
Jenny Jochens
Towson University, Maryland (retired)

This large and beautiful book takes an important step into a new discipline: the study of fragments of medieval manuscripts. Available in all Scandinavian countries, this resource is particularly abundant in Norway. The volume is also a festschrift to honor Lilli Gjerløw, the outstanding pioneer in this field who died at the age of 88 in 1998 and to whom I shall return.

It is well know that England played a large role in the Christianization of Norway. Arriving in the ninth century, English missionaries succeeded in converting numerous numbers of the population and establishing churches. Missionaries and monks celebrated services in Latin using the liturgy they knew from home and requiring books that were brought from England. Eventually Norwegians themselves learned to procure manuscripts from abroad and to employ scribes who were taught by English professionals established in the country. Like other medieval countries, Norway in this way came to possess sizeable libraries attached to churches and monasteries that contained enduring parchment manuscripts written mainly in Latin but later also in Old Norse. In the beginning these books contained the liturgy required in the services, so that changes adopted by the international church can be followed in their texts. As Christianity became firmly established, Norwegians progressed into Patristic writings as well as the classic medieval authors whose texts they also acquired or copied.

This state of affairs obtained for several centuries until Norway came to possess a growing body of beautiful codices, many with musical notations. In the first half of the sixteenth century, however, this process came to an abrupt halt, however, occasioned by two important changes: the printing press and the Protestant Reformation. The mass production of books facilitated by the former and the latter's demoting of Latin in favor of the vernacular reduced the importance of manuscripts, eventually abolishing their use altogether.

Thus arose the question: what to do with these ancient and useless manuscripts? Because of the valuable parchment many were stored awaiting reuse. During the seventeenth century when Norway was united with Denmark, Norwegians were required to send accounts of income and taxes to Copenhagen. Since piles of accounts and receipts are unwieldy in bundles, local people hit upon the idea of tying them together with strips of parchment unceremoniously clipped and cut from the old manuscripts. Thousands of such packages were dispatched from all parts of Norway to Copenhagen. In 1814, when the union between Denmark and Norway came to an end, the packages, still held together by their beautiful ribbons, were returned to Norway during in the following decade. Here they remained unnoticed for decades until Old Norse scholars became aware of manuscript fragments filled with inscriptions in the old language. Intrigued by musical notations found on some of the Latin fragments, musicologists, as well as paleographers and other medievalists likewise turned their attentions to these mutilated manuscripts. By the beginning of the twentieth century some 6,000 fragments, now liberated from their fiscal accounts were assembled in the National Archives and the National Library of Norway, thus constituting the medieval treasure trove of the country.

What to do with these fragments? Whereas the strength of the parchment had been their chief asset in their previous existence, now the musical notations, the colorful inscriptions including capital letters in fanciful forms and contrasting colors intrigued scholars. This is where Lilli Gjerløw enters the story. It is perhaps unique when a young scholar newly minted from the best formation that could be obtained in Europe was assigned immediately to fill a post badly needed in her home country. Born in 1910 Lilli Gjerløw lived with her grandparents in Arendal in the southern part of Norway where she completed her secondary education. After a year at the university in Oslo she went to Paris on her own initiative and enrolled in the prestigious École Nationale des Chartes where she after three years of study was awarded the title of Archiviste-paléographe. Her certificate was signed on June 29, 1935; three months later Oluf Kolsrud invited her to join him at the Norsk Historisk Kjeldeskrift-Institut where she remained for thirty-five years.

Her first task, which Kolsrud assured her could start naarsomhelst (at any moment) was to transcribe photocopies of documents concerning Norway found in the Vatican archives and library. When Kolsrud died in 1945 registering and gathering fragments of medieval manuscripts fell to her charge. She appears to have started serious work on these fragments in the mid-1950's; she needed to determine the primary and secondary provenance of each fragment, that is, where was it originally written and where had it been used. The final goal was to piece it together with other fragments and to recreate a full page of the original manuscript or perhaps even the complete codex. Many of the photos that accompany the articles illustrate vividly the puzzle-like character of this activity since many pieces are no larger than stamps. Gjerløw did her work in a most admirable fashion, publishing a large number of books and articles, training students and establishing contacts with archivists throughout Europe. For this essential role her students and colleagues, unfortunately belatedly, offer this book in gratitude for her work and to honor her memory. Her commanding importance is evident in that her name is mentioned, often several times, in all the articles.

The book consists of fifteen articles written mainly by Scandinavians and British scholars. The work is organized according to a chronological trajectory as much as possible. The editor, Espen Karlsen, provides both an introduction and the first essay, which discusses survival and losses of Latin manuscripts in medieval Norway. He is followed by Gunnar Pettersen's essay "From Parchment Books to Fragments" in which he traces the fate of medieval Norwegian codices before and after the Reformation.

The following two essays reconstitute manuscripts that rank among the oldest in the collection. Among the most ancient fragments copied in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries are at least four that were made in Anglo-Saxon-England. Since manuscripts of this age are extremely rare in England these fragments are of supreme interest to English scholars. Based on paleographical comparisons with a scribal hand from the middle of the twelfth century from the Old Minster at Winchester, Susan Rankin argues that the twenty-three missal fragments that she has reconstituted as part of eleven folios also originate from this place. This missal seems to have remained in England until the turn of the eleventh century when it may have been shipped to Norway as obsolete because new musical notations were being introduced in England. It was dismembered around 1630-1641 to be reused to bind records from the city of Tønsberg. K. D. Hartzell studies still another group of old missal fragments, Mi 11, from the National Archives in Oslo, consisting of twenty-three fragments that can be reconstituted in nine fragmentary leaves. Among nineteen different sections, mentioned by name, the author deals with eight in detail. The most remarkable is the rare text for the Saturday before Palm Sunday normally not included in the Church ritual but belonging to an older tradition in the liturgical calendar. The author estimates that the original manuscript, which was unusually beautiful, may have been written as early as the last quarter of the tenth century, perhaps in Northern France but intended for the British market, perhaps as a gift to a high-ranking person. Both Rankin and Hertzell include the complete text of their manuscripts at the end of their essay.

The following two essays, both authored by Michael Gullick, are broader in scope but deal exhaustively with the English influence on books and manuscripts. The first is entitled "A Preliminary Account of the English Element in Book Acquisition and Production in Norway before 1225" and the second "A Preliminary List of Manuscripts, Manuscript Fragments and Documents of English Origin or the Works of English Scribes in Norway Datable to before 1225." In this endeavor he follows Lilli Gjerløw's footsteps closely, since she saw her mission to identify the English influence in the Norwegian liturgical material. In the first article he divides the material chronologically into three categories as to whether the fragments are of certain English origin, whether their character is essentially English but could have been written either in England or in Norway, and, finally, the ones that still have English features but whose origin is probably or certainly Norway. Chronologically he divides the time into seven periods of which the seventh is divided further into four groups. In the second essay he lists in a first group all manuscripts made in England and in a second group the manuscripts that have English features. His scope is not only Norway but also the other Nordic countries. In the first group he includes fifty-six fragments and in the second eighty-eight fragments. An appendix cites fragments previously thought to have English origins but now is being rejected. Gullick provides no less than 133 beautiful photos of these fragments.

In contrast to the other scholars who focus on the Latin manuscripts, Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson is interested in the scripts of the vernacular languages, Norwegian and Icelandic. Relying heavily on the Belgian paleographer Albert Derolez, he outlines the transition from the Caroline script dominant in most of Europe from the ninth to the eleventh centuries to the Proto-Gothic and further development.

Leaving liturgy, we enter the libraries in monasteries and cathedrals, as Espen Karlsen examines fragments that contain patristic and other ecclesiastical literature from 1100 until the fifteenth century. He postulates that the books from which these remnants originated were imported from Europe at the beginning of the twelfth century before Norwegians themselves began to write books in Latin, and outlines the influence from Germany, France and England, providing an alphabetical list of nineteen authors whose work he has been able to identify in the fragments. He discovers, not surprisingly, that they include the same authors known from the Continent: Augustine (fragments from four works). Gregory the Great, Isidore, and Peter the Lombard. More surprisingly is Mathias Quidi, bishop of Linköping in Sweden whose claim to fame rested on the fact that he was the confessor of St Birgitta of Sweden (whose works are also represented. The only Norwegian in the group is a certain Mauritius who described his journey by ship in the 1270s from western Norway to the Holy Land. Espen Karlsen is also responsible with Marianne Wifstrand Schiebe for the following essay that identifies a single leaf that until now had been assumed to be a Christian commentary on Vergil's Eclogues. Instead, the two authors show convincingly that it is a page from De pastoribus et ovibus (On Shepherds and Sheep) by Hugo de Folieto, a regular canon in a small Augustinian community near Amiens where he became prior in 1152. Although his writings were known in the West and in Eastern Europe, until this identification it was assumed he was unknown in Scandinavia.

Åslaug Ommundsen examines fragments of the Psalter, the 150 hymns attributed to King David and undoubtedly the most important text of the medieval church. She begins with the five still extent codices of the psalter that were used in Norway during the Middle Ages (only one still remains in Oslo) before turning to the fragments. From these she selects samples from ten psalters from the period 1130-1250 and from various regions, Germany, England, Iceland, and Norway.

Gunilla Björkvall presents material never published before, namely Medieval Latin fragments originating from Norway but kept in Sweden. This is an example of peaceful exchanges between the two countries of national treasures originating in one country but belonging politically to the other. Today the two provinces Jämtland and Härjedalen belong to Sweden who conquered them in 1645, but earlier they were Norwegian. In 1900 Norway handed to Sweden 301 documents that pertained to these two provinces prior to 1645. Naturally these are still of interest for Norwegian historians especially since Sweden did not include these documents in their catalogue. Of the 301, fifty were reinforced with pieces of parchment taken from medieval Norwegian manuscripts for which Gorilla Björkvall provides a list. In contrast with the material in Norway, these remnants are still attached to the documents they reinforced; thus the first item in her inventory concerns the income of yearly tax from Jämtland reinforced with a piece of parchment from a book of the sermons of Pope Innocent III.

Of the next two articles written by Owain Tudor Edwards, the first is entitled "Medieval Music Manuscripts in Nasjonalbiblioteket (the National Library), Oslo." He begins with a description of the history of the research libraries of Norway and of the importance for his subject of three workshops starting in 2003 in Latin Paleography in Oslo. He credits those who have preceded him, in particular Lilli Gjerløw, in the field of medieval musicology; his article, in fact best illustrates the tremendous difficulties facing scholars who work with these fragments. Describing the manuscripts that carry musical notations and including the first words of the chants, he deals with the ones that probably were written or owned in Norway before the Reformation, and those of foreign or unknown provenance. He lists thirteen in the first group (all illustrated) and twenty-three in the second. The second essay entitled "A Memoir of Lilli Gjerløw and Her Contribution to Norwegian Liturgical Research," is an affectionate piece, which I have already mined for her biography, but it also treats the history of fragment research.

The editor helpfully reprints (from (Norsk) Historisk Tidsskrift) Christopher Hohler's perceptive review of perhaps Lilli Gjerløw's most important book Antiphonarium Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae. Debutants in the field would do well by beginning with Edwards' essay on Lilli Gjerløw and continue with Hohler's review. Finally, Nils Dverstorp provides a complete bibliography of Lilli Gjerløw's publications, including not only her professional work but also her literary and political translations. A bibliography and various indices complete the work.

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Author Biography

Jenny Jochens

Towson University, Maryland (retired)