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21.08.12 Teviotdale et al., The Stammheim Missal

21.08.12 Teviotdale et al., The Stammheim Missal


Even in this age of online digitizations, the Stammheim Missal was always going to get the facsimile treatment sooner or later. For a price that has not formally been disclosed--but exceeds €10,000 wherever listed--one can now leaf through the pages not only of this stupendous monument of German Romanesque art, but also of the lavishly produced commentary volume that is the subject of this review. Regrettably, both parts have been published under a single ISBN, and it appears that the publisher has no plans to make the scholarship more widely available. Short of finding a deep-pocketed institution in which to access the whole, therefore, those of more limited means may prefer in the first instance to consult the Getty Museum's selection of online images in tandem with Elizabeth C. Teviotdale's useful 2001 companion, now available as a free download from the Getty's Virtual Library. [1]

Teviotdale is herself at the centre of the present volume, as the author of a substantial 60-page commentary that gives all but the last word on the manuscript's codicology, liturgy, palaeography, and above all its celebrated artistic programme. This is supplemented by shorter articles from Christine Sciacca, Nancy K. Turner, and Gerhard Lutz, plus a selection of liturgical tables to aid navigation and interpretation. These materials have been lucidly translated such that the entirety may be consulted in German, at the front, or in English, at the back. A central, bilingual section provides over fifty pages of very high-quality, full-colour illustrations. Since the majority of these illustrations pertain to objects other than the Stammheim Missal, principally its older sibling the Ratmann Missal, access to the accompanying facsimile is assumed throughout.

The manuscript under consideration is one of three sumptuous illuminated manuscripts produced at St Michael's, Hildesheim in the latter half of the twelfth century, around the time that the monks were petitioning for the canonization of their founder, the early eleventh-century bishop Bernward. A missal was nominally the liturgical book of the celebrant, yet for Teviotdale the Stammheim Missal was unequivocally "a showpiece rather than a resource for the performance of the liturgy" (232). The sumptuous programme of illustrations speaks eloquently in this regard, particularly given the attention afforded to the saintly Bernward. So too does the near-pristine state of the pages and the general absence of correction. But the author also makes this point liturgically, via an important new revelation: the book's eccentric lectionary section was probably designed to supplement the daily round, and not to communicate the daily round itself (222-223). Further investigation into this curiosity is certainly warranted, but what emerges here is the striking observation that the book provides full Mass texts for just two out of at least two hundred feasts and votive formularies--and only then because two extra sets of lessons were inserted at the end. The interpretation of "showpiece" or, elsewhere, "repository" (256) does indeed seem plausible. Yet in the same breath one could spin this finding more positively. Quite aside from the fact that the missal's central sacramentary section (containing the collects and ordo missae) would have remained sufficient for a celebrant's use, the added lections pertain to Christmas and Easter, the very feasts on which well-endowed communities were inclined to wheel out their most spectacular sacred objects.

A very different approach to the question of use emerges from the chapter that follows. In an ingenious argument premised upon a priest's hypothetical "pathway" through the texts of a private Mass, Christine Sciacca reads the missal's illuminations in a non-linear manner, such that the images for major feasts work with cumulative effect. How this argument works in the light of Teviotdale's lectionary findings is not explored, unfortunately, nor is it fully clear how the subdued performance context of low Mass can be reconciled with the red-letter feasts and notated sections that make up Sciacca's analysis. Still, the possibility that the ordained reader might zig-zag through the manuscript's pages on a liturgically-inspired journey remains persuasive.

Taking a decidedly scientific turn, Nancy K. Turner's contribution presents a stunning series of insights derived from infrared, x-ray, and microscopic imagery both of the Stammheim Missal and of its older sibling the Ratmann Missal. The results present a valuable complement to Teviotdale's description earlier on. There the distance between the two manuscripts' texts and iconographies is carefully measured, but not always interpreted; here we learn, more concretely, how the artists had refined their strategies from one to the other, and had become more confident in their use of techniques and materials. We are therefore left in no doubt at all that the Stammheim Missal was the result of the singular, co-ordinated vision of an already-experienced team. No less importantly, Turner's observations on the local use of metal punches bring these manuscripts into close dialogue with contemporary metalwork produced at Hildesheim for Bernward's shrine, thereby greatly strengthening the notion that the monks were engaged in a concerted artistic project in support of canonization.

A closing chapter by Gerhard Lutz describes the historical background to these artworks, reminding us not only of local cultural and intellectual achievements since Bernward's episcopacy, but also of Hildesheim's participation in twelfth-century networks that stretched to Paris and Italy, plus some tantalising artistic and textual evidence of Isalmic influence. One only wonders why such a helpful and accessible overview was not placed at the beginning. Perhaps the designation of this volume as a 'commentary' forced the narrative to begin elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the editor and contributors are to be congratulated on assembling a volume of such eloquence and visual clarity. Teviotdale's description, in particular, is a model of its kind: careful but never patronising, it allows the unschooled reader to take in the liturgical and artistic complexities at an unhurried pace, yet with scholarly heft at every turn; ample footnotes enable the interested reader to investigate further. With the restrictions on access already noted, we may see the lucky owners of the facsimile as this commentary volume's primary and more-or-less exclusive audience. Devoted scholars will doubtless find their way to its pages, albeit with possible conservation restrictions because of the accompanying facsimile; others are less likely to get that far. Yet there is a certain poetry to that inaccessibility, and it helps focus the mind on what a (mostly) unseen publication achieves. For the monks of St Michael's it was devotion to their founder and future saint. For us it is a fine collaboration of scholars both American and German, which, as the Bishop of Hildesheim puts it in his preface, 'steht beispielhaft für die Kontinente verbindene Wirkung, die eine mittelalterliche Handschrift bis heute haben kann' (7).

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Notes:

1. Elizabeth C. Teviotdale, The Stammheim Missal, Getty Museum Studies on Art (Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Trust, 2001), available at http://www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary/089236615X.html (accessed April 19, 2020)