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!
Northern France (or Wallonia?), ca. 1200
This fine legendary was probably written in Northern France ca 1200. It originally measured ca 41 x 30 cm. Seventeen fragments over various sizes and shapes are divided on collections in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Two pages in Copenhagen penned by the same scribe and featuring a text by Geoffrey of Auxerre may originally have been bound together with the legendary, although this is uncertain and difficult to prove.
The book was probably brought to Lund (medieval Denmark) in the Middle Ages, and suffered the same fate as so many other medieval manuscript, as practical binding material for the Danish royal administration in the late sixteenth and seventeenth century. Parts of the manuscript appear to have been brought to Norway for practical purposes.
The saints represented in the surviving legendary fragments generally indicate a connection with Northern France: Saint Aldegunde of Maubeuge, Saint Celerine a.o. of Carthage, Saint Silvin of Auchy (d. 717/18), Saint Humbert of Maroilles (d. 680) (celebrated 6 September in Cambrai and Maubeuge), Saint Regine (of Alise), Saint Adrian of Nikomedia (patron saint of Grammont/Geerardsbergen in current Belgium), Saint Omer of Thérouanne (d. c. 699), Saint Gorgonius and Dorotheus of Nicomedia, Saint Emmeram of Regensburg and Saint Sadalberga of Laon.
Gaufridus, or Geoffrey of Auxerre, whose text is present in two leaves by the same scribe, was the secretary and biographer of Bernard of Clairvaux, and was abbot of several monasteries in his time, including Clairvaux. It is therefore not unlikely that the legendary is connected to the Cistercian order, and could be a testimony to contact between Northern France and Denmark via the Cistercian network.