The present volume catalogs the 2013-14 annual exhibition at the Sankt-Gallen Stiftsbibliothek, the library of the former Benedictine monastery of St. Gall and one of the only manuscript collections that has made it from the early Middle Ages to the present day roughly intact. Like all volumes produced by the Verlag am Klosterhof St. Gallen, Schafe für die Ewigkeit is beautifully produced and flawless in its presentation.
The "eternal sheep" of the title are of course medieval manuscripts. The exhibit and this book therefore aim to study the medieval codex in all of its material circumstances: the production of parchment, the formats assumed by medieval written materials, the process of copying and the conditions of scribal labor, the binding of codices and the chemical composition of ink, and more. Like most exhibition catalogs, the exposition here proceeds by display cases. The contents of eight main cases are digested in eight chapters, while an appendix addresses a supplementary display concerned with the raw materials and tools necessary for codex production and an overview of how exactly one gets from sheep to manuscript.
After a brief introduction that explains the theme of the exhibit and the basics of medieval codices for the uninitiated (7-10), we are introduced to the first display (11-19), which illustrates the various qualities of parchment, from the smooth, fine and nearly white material produced for luxury codices like Sankt-Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek Ms. 369 (s. XVI: a copy of Canon of the Mass for the Bishop of Augsburg) and Stiftsbibl. 503ab (s. XV: a book of hours), to the rougher, thicker material of school texts like Stiftsbibl. 868, a twelfth-century codex on rough and closely copied parchment that carries, among other things, commentaries on Horace intended for the monastic classroom. Stiftsbibl. 230 (s. IX, Paris?) and Stiftsbibl. 1032 (s. XIII), meanwhile, illustrate medieval approaches to repairing the tears and holes that reflect the organic origins and manufacturing processes of parchment.
The second and third cases (21-41) are all about oddities and exceptions. The "Peculiar Parchments" of the second case include Stiftsbibl. 1093, a copy of the Mirabilia Romae in rotulus format from around the year 1400. Palimpsests are also included here, primarily as represented by Stiftsbibl. 722, which in the sixth century was outfitted with a copy of Hilary of Poitiers's Tractatus super Psalmos, only to be repurposed around the year 800 for a copy of the Lex Romana Curiensis, a peculiar recension of the Lex Romana Visigothorum produced (as its name suggests) in the neighborhood of Chur. Finally, we encounter Stiftsbibl. 730, a seventh-century copy of the Edictus Rothari originally produced at Bobbio that was dismembered at Sankt-Gallen in the fifteenth century to furnish parchment scraps for a rebinding project, and only reconstituted in the modern era. In the third case and the third chapter, meanwhile, we find writing materials beyond parchment, including Stiftsbibl. 1091, a fifteenth-century wax-tablet codex (consisting of six wooden tablets bound together with a parchment hinge), as well as Stiftsbibl. 226, a seventh-century papyrus codex carrying an early copy of Isidore of Seville's Synonyma. Nor did the organizers forget paper, either the Chinese variety (Stiftsbibl. 1144, a printed book from eighteenth-century China) or the medieval Western sort (Stiftsbibl. 1084, a fifteenth-century book of heraldry).
Most readers will find they are most interested in the fourth chapter, on "Scribes in Word and Picture" (43-69), under which rubric the editors gather various examples of pen trials, colophons, book curses, and illuminations and illustrations of scribal activity. Of pen trials and related scribal doodles, the Stiftsbibliothek offers no shortage of intriguing examples, including Stiftsbibl. 830, an eleventh-century codex closely connected to the Sankt-Gallen historian and author Ekkehart IV, with final pages that bear some intriguing illustrations and phrases; and also Stiftsbibl. 14, a late ninth-century codex that very likely contains the autograph of Notker the Stammerer, and whose penultimate page contains a portrait of somebody who might well be Notker himself (a possibility the editors air at 46-7). Other examples include Stiftsbibl. 105 (with an Old High German proverb scribbled in the lower margin at the turn of the tenth century) and a curious yet unfinished sketch of a fanciful animal from Stiftsbibl. 86 that has furnished the cover image of Schafe für die Ewigkeit. For colophons, the organizers treat their audience to some of the earliest and most famous examples from the cloister, including an insecure ninth-century scribe who apologizes for possible mistakes in his copy of Augustine's De genesi contra Manichaeos, only to invite grammatical corrections from an eleventh-century reader who nevertheless pronounces, with pedagogical generosity, that the whole was factum bene despite it all (Stiftsbibl. 143; 50-51). Here readers will also find the famous complaint of Eadberct, the monk who explains to posterity that the copying of manuscripts is quite laborious: Tres enim digiti scribunt, totum corpus laborat. And the organizers have no shortage of book curses to choose from. Readers unfamiliar with the clever hexameters of the late ninth-century Sankt-Gallen abbot Hartmut will find his contributions to the genre amusing. They were composed to accompany a ten-volume Bible commissioned by Hartmut, and they invariably describe the contents of the codex in question and wish some colorful misfortune--the plague, a good scourging, a hunched back, scabies--upon potential thieves. The editors note that as a security measure Hartmut's curses were less than effective, as some of the volumes did indeed leave Sankt-Gallen; today, two can be consulted in London and Stuttgart, and another two are missing (58). Also highly intriguing are the various contemporary pictures of scribes at work, mined from Stiftsbibl. 1395 (s. VIII), 20 (s. IX) and 390 (s. X ex.).
From contemporary depictions of scribal activity, we move in the fifth case (71-85) to manuscript illustration and illumination more generally, with a particular emphasis on Sankt-Gallen miniatures. Initials in the Folchart-Psalter (Stiftsbibl. 23) and the Sankt-Gallen sacramentary (Stiftsbibl. 341) receive extended treatment, followed by a discussion of the technical details of the initial paintings with many magnified details. Pen and ink drawings are exemplified with Stiftsbibl. 643, a fifteenth-century manuscript of Ulrich Boner's Edelstein (a collection of fables), while borders make their way into this exhibition via Stiftsbibl. 625 (1454, Johannes Hartlieb's Life of Alexander the Great). Bindings are next up, in the sixth case (86-99); here Stiftsbibl. 53, the Evangelium Longum from the later ninth century, has pride of place, with an excellent reproduction of its first ivory cover at 89. The organizers also include Stiftsbibl. 682 (s. IX, 2/4) and Stiftsbibl. 106 (s. IX) as rare examples of Carolingian-era bindings. The typically undecorated leather covers, over wooden boards, have had their titles inscribed lengthwise in rustic capitals on the spine, presumably for horizontal storage.
The seventh case (100-103) is consumed entirely by the celebrated Plan of Saint Gall (Stiftsbibl. 1092). Thereafter the organizers abandon all pretense of a systematic approach to manuscripts and their production and reveal what most readers will have suspected from the beginning of this review--namely, that the eternal sheep of the title were merely a thematic excuse to showcase the greatest treasures of the Stiftsbibliothek. We therefore encounter an eighth case where "medieval treasures that form the manuscript collection of the Stiftsbibliothek" that did not fit clearly into the plans for the first seven cases are displayed, namely Stiftsbibl. 913, the so-called Vocabularius Sancti Galli, a manuscript containing many valuable texts, among them an Old High German glossary; Stiftsbibl. 904, Priscian's Institutiones Grammaticae with Old Irish glosses; Stiftsbibl. 728, a mid ninth-century codex that amounts to the oldest book catalog of Sankt-Gallen; and two liturgical manuscripts, Stiftsbibl. 380, a troper and sequentiary from 1050/1060, alongside Stiftsbibl. 375, a gradual and sequentiary from the twelfth century. An interesting appendix describes some of the tools and raw materials necessary for copying and decorating a medieval codex, while a series of medieval pen-and-ink medallions from Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek Msc. Patr. 5 (s. XII) are deployed to illustrate how medieval manuscripts were produced.
Like all exhibition catalogs, the present volume is a difficult cover-to-cover read, but visually appealing enough for coffee table appeal (provided your dinner guests read German) and sufficiently filled with curiosities to invite some casual exploration. The content is repetitive at points, particularly as the chapter/display case introductions tend to provide an overview of material that then follows, in only slightly more elaborated form, in the body of the chapter itself. More generally, the exposition has been composed with the general reader in mind, so that anybody with more than a basic understanding of medieval codices or the highlights of the Sankt-Gallen Stiftsbibliothek will find little new practical information here. Otherwise, the great selling point of this book would be the numerous, high-quality full-color reproductions, if it weren't for the tireless efforts of those behind the Codices Electronici Sangallenses project (http://www.cesg.unifr.ch/en/), where high-resolution, downloadable digital photographs are available for nearly every codex discussed in this book (and this review).