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!
Norway (Trondheim?), second half of the 12th century
The feast for the English saint Alphegus is one of the unusual features of a fragmentary missal from the 12th century. Alphegus (or Ælfheah) was the archbishop of Canterbury and was taken hostage by the Danes in 1012. When he refused to pay ransom, they made him a martyr. Saint Alphegus had very modest appeal outside England, and this missal is the only known reference to him in Norway.
The Saint Alphegus missal is pieced together from 41 small to medium size fragments in the National Archives of Norway. The content includes parts of Christmas, Lent and Easter. The liturgist Lilli Gjerløw registered a number of fragments from the missal in her files as Mi 75. The fragments were used to bind accounts from Trondheim, and it is in this case not unlikely that the missal was also written and used in Trondheim.
There are three different scribes present in the transmitted fragments. The music and the coloured initials are very distinct and recognizable. One of the characteristics of the manuscripts is the relaxed manner in which the scribes related to the ruling, the lines and the measurements. It is a useful reminder that codicology is far more than an ‘art of measurement’.
England or France, late 13th century
This missal, named after its post-medieval provenance, was written in England or France at the end of the thirteenth century. The surviving fragments contain chants, prayers and Bible readings for use in the time from Sexagesima Sunday (the eighth Sunday before Easter) to the Holy Week. Several of the reconstructed leaves follow one another directly. This is especially clear in the case of the epistle “Libenter suffertis”, which starts on the bottom of page 6 (folio 2v) and continues directly onto the next leaf (folio 3r, or page 7).
The reconstructed missal is about 28 cm tall and 18 cm wide, the writing distributed in two columns on each page. The initials alternate between blue with red flourishes and red with blue flourishes, while red is used for the rubrics, the foliations (“paginations”), the line-fillers, and the musical staves, as well as to highlight capitals within the text. The script, at least in the running text, seems to be the work of a single scribe, writing in an elegant Gothic hand.
The fragments from this missal were taken from four different account books, all from the same area in Northern Norway (Nordland and Vesterålen), the dates of the accounts following each other directly: 1626, 1627, 1628, and 1629. This suggests that the missal, or a dismantled part of it, was kept in the same place and used there as binding material over several years.
Norway (Trondheim?), first half of the 12th century
This missal is a curious one, since it is very diverse and variable in style and content. The different units, registered as three different missals by the liturgist Lilli Gjerløw (Mi 24, Mi 25 and Mi 64), are connected by some ‘awkward’ secondary rubrics. The current state of the manuscript would suggest that it was not finished with rubrics and initials. These have in some places been supplied more or less randomly or as needed. The original manuscript was ca. 28 x 20 cm.
One of the characteristics of the manuscript is the English Saint Edward, whose feast day was celebrated 18 March. Edward became king of England when he was thirteen, and was murdered already as a sixteen-year-old by his enemies. Although he did not die for his faith, he got status as martyr. As far as we know, Edward the martyr was not generally worshipped in Norway. Neither was the French Saint Symphorian of Autun (22 August), who is also celebrated in this missal. In both style and content the influence is certainly ‘Anglo-French’.
There seem to be five different scribes, and two different rubricators in the manuscripts. One of the rubricators seems to have added at least some of the initials. The fragments were used to bind accounts from either Vardøhus or Trondheim, and it is not unnatural to connect also the making of the manuscript with Trondheim in this case.
Unknown origin, mid to second half of the 12th century
The Easter Sequence Missal is a fine and puzzling missal from the mid to second half of the twelfth century. The fragments come from both from the general feasts of the church year (temporale), primarily the weeks leading up to Easter, and from the saints’ feasts (sanctorale). The saints’ celebrations are Peter and Paul in June, and the Assumption of Mary in August. It could be that the temporale and the sanctorale celebrations were combined in one book. There are also fragments from various masses, such as the masses for dead.
Two fragments by the same scribe contain a sequence, Fulgens preclara, for Easter Sunday. Is it from the same book, or a separate sequentiary? If it comes from the same book (which is most likely), was the sequence placed with the rest of the liturgy for Easter or together with other sequences at the end of the book? The time and place of binding could be an argument against it. But since other fragments come from the part of the book directly preceding Easter Sunday (Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday), it is not unlikely that the sequence was integrated with the other liturgy of the church year.
Because of its ‘English-but-not-quite’ appearance, Norway has been suggested as the place of origin, but the missal could also have been made somewhere in England or the Channel area such as Flanders.
England, mid twelfth century
There are 23 fragments left from this missal which was probably written in England around the middle of the twelfth century. The book was originally ca. 35 x 26,5 cm, in two columns, with simple, but fine initials in red, blue and green.
The missal has received most attention for its Good Friday liturgy. According to the liturgist Lilli Gjerløw, who named the missal Mi 12, its content is a combination of the older directions for English monasteries (the Regularis Concordia from ca. 970) and the Decreta Lanfranci, issued a century later by Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury (1070-1089). Lanfranc’s instructions were primarily designed for Christ Church, Canterbury, but were also taken up in other, associated monasteries. Our missal essentially follows Lanfranc, but has retained the Good Friday prayers and the burial of the Cross from the older liturgical practice (see fol. 8).
Another Norwegian missal fragment, MS 1549,2 in the University of Bergen Library, also contains the Good Friday liturgy.
France, 13th century
This breviary consists of 14 surviving fragments taken from 9 different account books of Tønsberg. The reconstructed book contains chants and one reading text for several occasions: St Stephen, Epiphany, the feria 4 and 5 after the first Sunday after Epiphany, Dominica Quinquagesimae/Septuagesimae, Easter, Peter and Paul, and St Peter in chains. These occasions are spread throughout the year, indicating that all or most of the book was used as binding material in Tønsberg.
The reconstructed breviary is about 250 cm tall and 200 cm wide, with a one-column layout. The script is small, round and well-executed, with initials and capitals in blue and red. The music is noted with square neumes on staves, one clear sign that the book was made in the 13th century.
Norway (Bergen, ca. 1200-1225)
The Saint Edmund Antiphoner is one of four manuscripts known to have been written by the Homily book scribe, who was active in Bergen ca. 1200-1225. His most important work (as his nick name suggests) is the Old Norwegian homily book, the oldest preserved book in the Norwegian vernacular. The scribe was probably a cantor either at the Cathedral chapter in Bergen or the Augustinian house of St. John across the harbour.
Among the many feasts described in this antiphoner is also that of the English Saint Edmund, celebrated 20 November. Saint Edmund, king of East Anglia, is said to have been killed by Danes in 869, and later became one of the most important saints in medieval England.
It was the liturgist Lilli Gjerløw who named the antiphoner after Saint Edmund, because of the presence of his office. The celebrations of several other saints are described in the antiphoner, among them the feast for Saint Olaf 29 July. Since Lilli Gjerløw’s time, Gisela Attinger has identified two more fragments from the manuscript, increasing the number of fragments to 35.
Norway (Bergen), ca. 1200-1225
The so-called Saint Lucia Antiphoner is very closely connected to the Saint Edmund Antiphoner, since the Homily book scribe in Bergen was connected in the making of both books. In the Saint Lucia Antiphoner he entered rubrics, initials, musical notation and corrections, while three other scribes wrote the text itself. This book is the product of an institution where at least four people worked together to make a book, although some may have been under training.
The Saint Lucia Antiphoner contains music for the celebration of various parts of the church year: Advent, Christmas and Easter. Saint Lucia is the only saint present on the remaining fragments of the book.
The significance of this antiphoner was discovered by Michael Gullick and Gisela Attinger, who both identified the Homily book scribe’s participation in the making of the book: Gullick in the one surviving initial, Attinger in the musical notation.
France, late 12th century
The remnants of this antiphoner were used as binding material for tax lists from Trondheim 1627 and 1628. It is possible the book was used in the diocese of Nidaros during the Middle Ages – perhaps in the town of Nidaros/Trondheim itself. The antiphoner has survived in eight fragments, taken from three leaves, containing chants for the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday per annum (so-called ordinary time, i.e. not part of a proper season), and for the Second Sunday after Epiphany.
The book gives a general impression of being made for use and not for display, having no decorations apart from initials in green, red, and blue. The musical staves are drawn in light orange; the same colour is used for rubrics.
The original width of the leaf was probably around 200 mm, with the width of the written space around 140 mm. The book was therefore not one of the large antiphoners often used for collective celebrations of the Office, but was modest enough in size that it may have been practical for travelling. The script and the use of green initials point to an origin along the coast of Northern France – perhaps the antiphoner was bought there by a travelling clergyman, who then brought the book to Nidaros with him?
Flanders (or France), fourteenth century
Some books have a complex history, both while in use and after their destruction. This antiphoner was probably written in Flanders or France in the fourteenth century, but dismantled in Denmark for the parchment to be reused in the binding of accounts. Parts of the book were reused in Denmark, other parts were brought to Norway and reused there in the years 1611-1619. To get this far in the reconstruction has taken several decades and has involved a number of scholars.
The remaining 39 fragments are from in all 14 leaves which originally measured ca 50 x 38 cm. The leaves contain liturgy for moveable church feasts as well as for saints’ feast. It is therefore likely that this antiphonary combined the temporale and sanctorale rather than split them into two separate parts.
One of the striking features of the book is the decorated intials. There is a hierarchy of two levels: the higher one with penwork initials in red and blue, the lower with black letters decorated with phantasy-figures, touched with yellow.
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.
Norway, middle of the twelfth century
This office lectionary is the only one to provide us with two full weeks of liturgical service. These are the two final weeks of Lent, which are also called Passiontide. The texts chosen for this time are especially interesting, since they prepare the audience for the coming of the Church’s principal feast Easter. Accordingly, they pick up themes of repentance, preparation and resurrection.
The lectionary is quite ordinary, with a moderate page size of 315 by 218 mm and no decorative elements. The initials are lacking throughout, but red rubrics were provided by the scribe himself. The parchment is thick and uneven, and there are several holes in the surface, where the skin of the animal had bruises. The scribe, on the other hand, is proficient, and he makes hardly any mistakes. He might have worked in a smaller institutional context, for instance a city parish church, where they produced manuscripts for their own services.
The fragments had been used to bind account books in the south-east of Norway. From 1602 to 1613, the annual account books of Verne had been bound using fragments from the same part of this lectionary. This binding initiative must have been local, and it is restricted to the time of governour Peder Madsen Laxmand. Two fragments from a different part of the lectionary had been attached to bailiwick account books from Follo 1613 and 1614. It seems that after Peder Madsen’s death in 1613, the remainder of the Passiontide lectionary was sent to Akershus castle as part of his estate, or passed on to nearby Follo.
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.
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.
Norway (Trondheim), fifteenth century
The sequentiary here referred to as the Saint Olaf Sequentiary was probably produced in Trondheim in the fifteenth century. It consists of 14 single fragments from six leaves (ca. 29 x 20 cm), and contains 11 sequences, among them two sequences for Saint Olaf, Lux illuxit letabunda and Salutamus te rex ave (formerly known as Predicasti dei care).
The sequence was a popular chant genre in the Middle Ages in general and in Norway in particular. It formed part of the Mass liturgy during feast days, following the Alleluia. The sequences underwent considerable stylistic changes from their appearance in the ninth century to the late sixteenth century, when they were all but eradicated from the liturgy.
The most exciting results for Norwegian sequence research in a long time came through Gunilla Björkvall’s identification of two fragments in Stockholm as part of the Saint Olaf Sequentiary (also known as Seqv 13). The opening line from an "unknown" sequence for Saint Olaf in one of the Swedish fragments is in fact the missing first strophe of the Olaf sequence Predicasti dei care, as illustrated in the reconstruction (see pp. 19-20). That one of the Swedish fragments provides the lost beginning of Predicasti was discovered in connection with this reconstruction for fragment.uib.no in august 2017. The Olaf sequence actually opens Salutamus te, rex, ave, qui solvisti nos, Olave, a vinclis perfidie (We salute you, king; Hail to thee, Olaf, who released us from the shackles of heathendom).
A leaf from this manuscript, NRA Lat. fragm. 986,8 (the leaf containing Saint Olaf's main sequence Lux illuxit), has recently been included in Norges dokumentarv, the Norwegian branch of UNESCO’s Memory of the World register (see pp. 11-12 in the reconstructed manuscript).