Virtual manuscripts

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! 

The Icelandic Breviary-Missal

Iceland (or Norway) ca. 1250 

This little portable breviary-missal is one example of the close contacts between Norway and Iceland also concerning liturgical books. This book was probably written ca. 1250, either in Iceland or by an Icelandic scribe in Norway. It must have been a very practical book for the priest who owned it, measuring only ca. 20 x 14 cm and containing all the liturgy for both Mass and the Canonical hours. The Icelandic Breviary-Missal was most likely dismembered in Stavanger ca. 1650.

The five remaining leaves of the book contain songs with music notation, prayers and lessons for the latter half of August: the Assumption of Mary (15 August), the Octave of Saint Lawrence (17 August) and the feast for Saint Bartholomew (24 August).

Seeing that the liturgy was according to the use of Nidaros, more fragments from this particular book would most likely have supplied material now lost, in particular for the celebration of Saint Hallvard (15 May) and Saint Sunniva and the Selja Saints (8 July). In addition, since it contains several examples of the “sequence” genre, it would have been an invaluable source to the tradition and use of sequences in Nidaros.