In the sixteenth and seventeenth century thousands of Norway's medieval manuscripts disappeared or were reduced to fragments. Today, the National Archives and other collections hold fragments from about a thousand ‘recycled’ manuscripts. The fragments form a giant book puzzle containing ca 6500 single pieces.
For more than a century scholars have been connecting pieces from the old manuscripts, and the work is still ongoing. In a digital format it is easier to visualize the book which once existed. The fact that the binding is gone and the fragments are kept in separate envelopes and boxes, or even still wrapped around paper booklets, is no longer an issue in itself.
We cannot get away from the fact that most of the manuscript is gone. But through digital reproductions we can once again leaf through some of the manuscripts from Norwegian book chests – however fragmentary they may be. To reconnect pieces from medieval manuscripts is one element of the research project ‘From manuscript fragments to book history’.
Please take a closer look at our selection of virtual manuscripts, and leaf through some of the pages!
England, ca. 1200
This small psalter (ca. 18 x 13 cm) was once a very fine book, with illuminated initials. It was made in England about 1200, and would no doubt have been a precious object when it first came to Norway. The 24 fragments are all from the last part of the psalter, and in addition to the psalms of David some fragments contain three canticles from the Old Testament.
For the celebration of Lauds in the early morning seven of the canticles were sung every week. In our Sogn Psalter we have the Canticle of Moses (for Thursdays), the Canticle of Habacuc (for Fridays) and the Canticle for the remembrance of the law (for Saturdays).
The psalter was used to bind accounts from Sogn in Western Norway for the years 1642–45. Since no fragments from the book have appeared on accounts from elsewhere, it was probably found and dismembered locally, in Sogn. This is a good example of a book that would have been too small to be sought-after for use in bindings in larger centres, such as Copenhagen or Stockholm. Fragments from small books are relatively common in Norway, but rare in Sweden and Denmark.
Norway or Iceland, ca. 1200
In all 13 fragments have been identified from a relatively large psalter written ca. 1200. The book was more than 30 cm tall and ca 22 cm wide. The remaining pieces contain parts of Ps. 53–144 from the Book of Psalms.
There are several features indicating a Norwegian or Icelandic origin, for instance elements in the writing, the use of colours and the style of the decorations. Even though this psalter was relatively modest, it was a once grand and colourful book which must have made quite an impact on its users.
Several of the fragments are very dark and worn, and some seem to have traces of glue. This indicates that at least some of the fragments were used for other things before they were used in the binding of accounts in the seventeenth century.