The Medieval Review 14.03.13


Schmuki, Karl, Franziska Schnoor, Ernst Tremp, and Maximiliane Berger. Im Anfang war das Wort: Die Bible im Kloster St. Gallen. St. Gallen: Verlag am Klosterhof, Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen, 2012. Pp. 120. 25.00 CHF. ISBN: 978-3-905906-06-6.



Reviewed by:


Scott G. Bruce
University of Colorado at Boulder
scott.bruce@colorado.edu

This exquisite little catalogue accompanied an exhibition of Bibles owned or associated with the incomparable Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen that took place in Switzerland from 2 December 2012 to 10 November 2013. The Bibles on display ranged from precious late antique fragments to sumptuous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century printed editions organized into nine groups with a mix of chronological and thematic coherence. After a brief overview of the exhibition, with one exception the catalogue follows a consistent format: each section boasts a short introduction, followed by the presentation of the Bibles; each Bible gets a page of commentary accompanied on the facing page by a reproduction of a representative leaf or page from the manuscript or book in question; and captions provide important information about each book, including its shelf number, measurements, provenance, and for the early medieval manuscripts the URL of the Codices Electronici Sangallenses (CESG), a virtual library that allows scholars to access digital reproductions of over 500 manuscripts in the St. Gall collection (www.cesg.unifr.ch). [1]

The first half of the catalogue features Bible manuscripts written and decorated before 1200. The first section, "The Word Comes to St. Gall" (Das Wort kommt nach St. Gallen), features four very early manuscripts of the Latin Bible: seventeen leaves of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark in the Old Latin (Vetus latina) translation of the Bible written in Italy in the fifth century (Cod. Sang. 1394); an early sixth-century Old Latin psalter of northern Italian provenance, which monks of Bobbio erased around 700 to transcribe a glossary of Latin words known as the Abba-Ababus-Glossar (Cod. Sang. 912); fragments of the oldest surviving Vulgate translation of the Gospels written in Verona around 400/420 (Cod. Sang. 1395); and the earliest known examples of the books of Ezekiel, Daniel and the minor prophets in the Vulgate translation (c. 600) over which Carolingian scribes copied sermons of Caesarius of Arles, Augustine and Jerome around 800 (Cod. Sang. 193). The second section, "Grappling with the Word" (Ringen um das Wort), highlights Carolingian manuscripts marked by different kinds of scribal intervention. These include a copy of the Pauline epistles dated c. 760-780 written in the wild and irregular hand of Winithar, the earliest St. Gall scribe whose name we know (Cod. Sang. 70); a corrected book of the Prophets from the time of Abbot Gozbert (816-837) (Cod. Sang. 43); a massive manuscript known as the Alcuin Bible, being the oldest complete copy of Alcuin's revision of the Old and New Testaments, written at Tours before 804 (Cod. Sang. 75); as well as two large format Bible manuscripts from the time of Abbot Hartmut (c. 850-883), one a lavishly decorated collection of Paul's letters (Cod. Sang 19) and the other a glossed psalter (Cod. Sang. 27). The third section, "The Daily Word" (Das tägliches Wort), features manuscripts made for private reading by individual monks: a trio of decorated ninth-century psalters (see Cod. Sang. 20), including the lavishly illustrated Golden Psalter from the last decades of the ninth century, which may have been made for Charles the Bald or Charles the Fat; a copy of the Gospel of John made by Irish monks around 800, perhaps as a gift to Charlemagne (Cod. Sang. 60); the earliest glossed book of the four gospels produced by the St. Gall scriptorium (Cod. Sang. 50); and a sumptuously decorated evangeliary--a liturgical book containing parts of the Gospels read during the Mass--donated to the abbey by a woman named Gundis (Cod. Sang. 54).

The second half of the catalogue treats Bible manuscripts and printed books dating from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries, many of which will be of interest to premodern scholars. The fourth section, "The Word in Foreign Tongues" (Das Wort in fremden Zungen), features a book of the psalms in Latin and Greek in parallel columns written around 900 (Cod. Sang. 17); a collection of the four Gospels in Greek with an interlinear Latin translation from around 850 (Cod. Sang. 48); an early ninth-century Old High German translation of Tatian's harmony of the Gospels, which is possibly the oldest surviving witness of the Gospels in the German language (Cod. Sang. 56); and a handsome twelfth-century example of an Old High German translation of the psalter attributed to Notker III (c. 950-1022) (Cod. Sang. 21). The first two manuscripts in this section serve as a poignant reminder that the monks of St. Gall were at the forefront of Greek learning in the early medieval west. [2] Later sections of the catalogue feature late medieval books derived from the Bible (like the commentaries of Peter Lombard and a fifteenth-century Biblia pauperum), printed Bibles in German from the early modern period, a short and anomalous interlude on the Carolingian Plan of St. Gall, illustrated Bibles from the eighteenth century, and modern printed translations of the Bible into Syriac and Cree, among many other languages.

While it is unlikely that North American research libraries will go out of their way to acquire this specialized catalogue, the St. Gall Bible exhibition draws welcome attention to the Codices Electronici Sangallenses (CESG), a resource that is sure to benefit medieval scholars and their students. The expense of overseas travel often makes prolonged research visits to European libraries and archives prohibitive, especially for graduate students. With the ease of access provided by digital collections like this one, you can browse hundreds of early medieval manuscripts in the comfort of your own office. You will miss out on some of the sensory experiences that make archival research in Europe so rewarding (the smells and textures of the manuscripts, the triumph of successfully navigating the archaic protocols of foreign libraries, the long walk back to your hotel in the dark at the end of a long day of hard work, etc.), but digital browsing is certainly better than no browsing at all. [3]

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Notes:

1. In this review, I have included the shelf numbers of those manuscripts available for immediate viewing on the St. Gall virtual library website to facilitate your access to them.

2. For an introduction to this topic, which makes reference to these manuscripts, see Bernice M. Kaczynski, Greek in the Carolingian Age: The St. Gall Manuscripts (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1988).

3. For those interested in a lyrical meditation on the sensory pleasures of archival research and much more besides, see Arlette Farge's classic Le goût de l'archives (Paris: Le Seuil, 1989), which has recently been translated into English as The Allure of the Archives, trans. Thomas Scott-Railton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).



Copyright (c) 2014 Scott G. Bruce



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