The Medieval Review 16.09.20

Bracken, Damian, and Eric Graff, eds. The Schaffhausen Adomnán: Facsimile and Commentary (2 volumes). Irish Manuscripts in Facsimile, 1. Cork: ArCH Project, School of History, University College Cork and Cork University Press, 2014. pp. Vol. 1: pp. xxiv, ii, 149; Vol. 2: pp. 107. €95.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-78205-118-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Charles Wright
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This is the first publication in a series Irish Manuscripts in Facsimile sponsored by the project Armarium codicum hibernensium, which, according to project Director and co-editor Damian Bracken, aims "to foster greater public understanding of this formative period in Ireland’s past by making the earliest of Irish manuscripts more accessible to the non-specialist" (1.18). The project, founded by Joseph Carey and Donnchadh Ó Corráin, was funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht. No information is provided about projected future volumes. Although Part 1 bears the publication date 2008, both parts appeared in 2014.

"The Schaffhausen Adomnán" is the earliest copy (and one of only five surviving) of the full version of the Vita Columbae (Life of Columba) by Adomnán, abbot of the monastery of Iona founded by the Irish missionary saint Columba (c. 521-97). Part 1 is the facsimile proper, Part 2 the scholarly commentary. This is not the place to rehearse in general terms the relative merits of print and online digital facsimiles, though a brief apologia for the value of print facsimiles in a digital age, and specifically of this print facsimile series, might have been appropriate for the first publication. In this case one can make a direct comparison between the two formats, as a high-resolution online facsimile of the Schaffhausen Adomnán has been available since 2008 on the e-codices website, The images in the print facsimile are in fact those that were made for the e-codices facsimile, and here they have been trimmed to match the original size of each leaf of the manuscript. The advantages of the online facsimile are obvious: one can zoom to a very high magnification with relatively little loss of resolution so that the ductus of individual letters becomes quite clear and certain codicological features such as rulings become readily visible. The advantages of the print facsimile are of a different kind, both practical and experiential: it is easier to leaf through the print facsimile, and doing so is the same kind of experience as leafing through the manuscript (though still a different experience). Because the manuscript itself is in so excellent a state of preservation, and because the script is so clearly written and the lettering rather large, legibility, even of the rubrics, is scarcely compromised. On p. 1, for example (the manuscript is paginated, not foliated), the two partially-erased ex libris entries, one thirteenth- and one seventeenth-century, which Rudolf Gamper transcribed from the original manuscript with the help of UV light, can mostly be made out in both the print and the online facsimiles, and magnifying the digital image improves their legibility only marginally more than does squinting at the print or using a magnifying glass. One could hardly ask more of a print reproduction.

In the Commentary volume, the Introduction (2.13-16) by Damian Bracken briefly characterizes the significance of the Life and of this copy by the scribe Dorbbéne, almost certainly the Dorbbéne (d. 713) who succeeded Adomnán in the "primacy" of Iona, just as Adomnán (d. 704) had been a successor of Columba. The Life itself (in Dorbbéne's copy) quotes from a lost Liber de virtutibus sancti Columbae by the seventh abbot of Iona, Cumméne Find (d. 669). One might add that this chain of composition and copying by successive abbots who were, in addition, all descendants of Niall Noígiallach (a genealogy of the Cenél Conaill is provided at 2.19) asserts the genealogical and material continuity of spiritual authority deriving from the founder of the monastic familia.

Following the Introduction, Eric Graff supplies an extended "Report on the Codex" (2.17-55), describing in separate sections the binding, the collation, materials, script, and plan and execution. The manuscript was rebound in 1941, replacing a binding said by the modern binder to date from the end of the fourteenth century. As was all too common even in the twentieth century, the old binding was discarded, though fortunately a drawing had been made by William Reeves in the 1850s, and photographs were made for the Irish Manuscripts Commission in the 1930s. The drawing and details from the photographs are reproduced at 2.24, fig. 3, and 2.23, fig. 2 (where the caption gives the shelfmark as "NMI 544," but this is an error for "NMI 5441"). Graff characterizes the construction of the manuscript in gatherings of six as “unique” despite E. A. Lowe's (undocumented) statement that such an arrangement is found in other Irish manuscripts. While accepting Julian Brown's characterization of the script as "an elegant set minuscule," Graff emphasizes the variety of Irish scribal practice, including in the execution of the Schaffhausen manuscript, which in Graff's terms "sometimes verge[s] on a cursive rather than set minsucule (2.37), while Brown himself noted that it has "the foot-serifs of hybrid minuscule" (quoted by Graff, 2.36). Graff describes the script as "unique in its elevation of minuscule forms to a scale and a degree of formality not otherwise attested at this date" (2.54). The variation in letter forms is well documented by Graff's letter-by-letter analysis, with illustrative sample images for each letter, including ligatures and "pseudo-ligatures"; Graff also describes more briefly the Greek letter forms in the manuscript's copy of the Lord's Prayer in Greek. A sub-section on "Scribal conventions" discusses Dorbbéne's ligatures, abbreviations, punctuation, line-endings and spacings (including the Irish technique later called ceann fa eite, "head under wing": see 2.84, fig. 16, for an example), and corrections by the main hand and by a later Carolingian corrector. Another sub-section on the historical setting compares the script with the scripts of other early Irish manuscripts (the Cathach, the Antiphonary of Bangor, the Book of Dimma, and the Book of Mulling, as well as, more briefly, the Book of Armagh, the Stowe Missal, and a few others). Only the script of the Cathach is reproduced for comparison with the Schaffhausen Adomnán; Graff (2.49) tentatively charcterizes both manuscripts as "products of a continuous scribal practice within the Iona community." Graff does not think it possible to speak of "a distinctive house script," but he draws attention to one shared feature, "the use of the raised open a in the æ ligature" (2.50).

Jean-Michel Picard's chapter on "The History of the Manuscript" is, like the Life itself, composed praepostero ordine (not in chronological order) but remains lucid for all that. To summarize chronologically, Picard argues that the manuscript first came to the Continent with Irish monks of the paruchia of Fursa. Fursa had been abbot of Louth, which was in close contact with Iona, before leaving for the Continent and founding a monastery at Péronne (Peronna Scottorum) in Northern France, and Picard traces to Northern France the origins of the continental transmission of the Life, based ultimately on Dorbbéne's copy. The Schaffhausen manuscript's earliest known provenance, however, is St. Gall, where it was used in the ninth century by Notker Balbulus in his martyrology and where abridged versions were created in the ninth and tenth centuries (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina nos. 1887 and 1889). The abridged versions systematically eliminate the Irish proper names; in the St. Gall manuscript of BHL 1887, they were originally copied out but then erased, as illustrated here at 2.63, fig. 4. By the thirteenth century the manuscript had come to the monastery of Reichenau, whose librarian in 1621 lent it out to the Irish Jesuit scholar Stephen White, then at the university of Dillingen; transcripts made by White became the basis of editions of the Life printed later that century by Colgan (1647) and in Acta Sanctorum (1698). By the eighteenth century (1772 at the latest) it was in its current home in Schaffhausen, where notes on its contents were made in about 1780 by Moritz Hohenbaum van der Meer, prior of the monastery of Rheinau; these are currently bound with the manuscript and reproduced at 2.60, fig. 3. In 1845 the Swiss scholar Ferdinand Keller found it and took it to Zurich for study. Keller notified J. H. Todd of its existence, who in turn notified William Reeves, who published the first modern edition in 1857 from a text supplied by Keller, including some of Keller's excellent hand-drawn facsimile samples, here compared with the photographs of the original at 2.57, fig. 1. The next critical edition was by A. O. and M. O. Anderson in 1961, revised in 1991 for the series Oxford Medieval Texts. A Penguin Classics translation with an authoritative introduction and notes by Richard Sharpe (1995) is in itself a major contribution. Some additional notes on the manuscript's history and display into the twenty-first century are made in a Foreword by the current Schaffhausen librarian René Specht (

Mark Stansbury's contribution to the Commentary is often based on the evidence of the manuscript itself. "The Schaffhausen Manuscript and the Composition of the Life of Columba" (2.70-89) is a revision of an article published in Peritia 17-18 (2003-4). There are two families of manuscripts, a continental one (α) descended from the Schaffhausen manuscript (A) and a Scottish one (β; see 2.69). Both families have some unique material, some of which, Stansbury argues, constitute evidence of revision by Adomnán. Passages found only in α include an extended quotation--which Stansbury regards as Dorbbéne's own addition--from Cumméne's lost De virtutibus, a passage that Dorbbéne writes in a smaller script and compressed lines on p. 108a (2.74, fig. 3). The scribe of β, according to Stansbury, seems to have had access to material that Adomnán collected but chose not to include in the Life. In both families discrepancies between the list headings (table of contents) of book 1 and the headings to individual chapters lead Stansbury to conclude that chapters 36-38 and 44-50 were later additions by Adomnán. Elsewhere Stansbury adduces paleographical evidence of various kinds in support of arguments for other later additions. Stansbury (2.86, with a diagram at 2.89) speculatively reconstructs Adomnán's procedure in composing and revising the Life, concluding that Adomnán "died leaving the Vita not in a completed state but as a brouillon--a collection of notes with a rough draft at its core." This draft was recopied by someone who carelessly inserted passages common to α and β that had been "marked ambiguously" in the rough draft. Presumbably (though Stansbury does not say so) these passages would have been on separate scraps of parchment (schedulae). This "recopied rough draft" was the exemplar common to both α and β. Yet Adomnán's concluding injunction that future scribes should copy his three books carefully and collate them with the "exemplar" from which they were written seems to imply a more finished product. Stansbury (2.87) in effect views this injunction as proleptic, which indeed seems to be the only way to reconcile it with the brouillon that Stansbury reconstructs.

Anthony Harvey's chapter on "Some Orthographic Features of the Schaffhausen Manuscript" (2.90-96) distinguishes between variant spellings that reflect phonological changes common in medieval Latin generally and those that reflect distinctively Insular orthographic practice or, in the case of Irish proper names, specifically Irish phonological changes. Harvey limits himself to a few illustrations of each, referring the reader (2.93, n. 7) to his more detailed analysis in articles in Celtica 21 (1990) and 22 (1991). Harvey also suppplies an Appendix (2.97-104) of "Non-Classical Vocabulary in the Schaffhausen Adomnán" drawn from A. Harvey and J. Power, The Non-Classical Lexicon of Celtic Latinity, A-H (2005), with references to any earlier examples of each non-Classical element in Celtic-Latin literature. These elements are subdivided into "(a) Non-Mainstream Variants of Classical forms"; "(b) Mainstream Late Latin Vocabulary in the Schaffhausen Adomnán"; and "(c) Non-Mainstream Vocabulary Inherited by (the Schaffhausen) Adomnán."

The final contribution, by Deirdre McMahon, "A Note on the Irish Manuscript Commission and the Schaffhausen Manuscript of Adomnán's Vita Columbae" (2.105), concerns photographs made for the IMC sometime between 1939 and 1941 at the request of Eoin MacNeill, who shortly before his death turned them over to Ludwig Bieler in the hopes that Bieler would prepare a facsimile edition. The facsimile never materialized, and the whereabouts of the photographs are said to be unknown--a statement that is not reconciled with the reproduction of IMC photographs of the original binding mentioned above, said to be from a set in NLI 544 (recte 5441). A microfilm made later is also presumed missing by McMahon, though Richard Hayes's Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization (1965), 1.7, lists negative and positive microfilms of the Schaffhausen manuscript with the catalogue numbers n.482 and p.812 (in "Sources":

The Commentary, like the facsimile itself, is superb. Though the Introduction states that it is geared towards a non-specialist reader--who, however, is apparently expected to know what "Chroust's formula" is (II, 26)--it will certainly become a standard reference for scholars. The two-volume set is beautifully produced and printed. The ArCH Project and Cork University Press are to be congratulated on a magnificent first publication in what one hopes will be a long-running series.

Copyright (c) 2016 Charles Wright

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