And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

torsdag 24. mai 2018

Working with liturgical manuscripts, part 11 - A sequence for the dispersion of the Apostles

Although I am no longer employed to work with liturgical manuscripts at the university library of University of Southern Denmark, I am nonetheless excited whenever I am alerted to a new find in the library's collection of old books. A few weeks back, my colleague Jakob Povl Holck sent me some pictures he had taken of a fragment he had just discovered, and I will share my research on these fragments with you. The pictures are all taken by Jakob, and I have his permission to reproduce these images here.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 246
Photo by Jakob Povl Holck

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 246
Photo by Jakob Povl Holck

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek, RARA K 246
Photo by Jakob Povl Holck

The fragment contains an incomplete sequence - performed during mass - for the feast of the dispersion of the apostles, Divisio Apostolorum, celebrated July 15 in commemoration of the apostles leaving Jerusalem to take up their missionary work. The earliest evidence for a celebration of this feast is a sequence composed by Godescalc (d.1098), a monk at Limburg. I do not know whether this sequence is the one found in the fragment of RARA K 246, however. The book containing this fragment was printed in Strasbourg in 1522, and so it is likely that the manuscript from which the fragment comes was kept at some ecclesiastical institution in Alsace.

The sequence found in this fragment is a long panegyric of the glory of God and a list of the apostles. In the fragment of RARA K 246, only a small part of this sequence has survived (the full text can be found here), and this contains the list of the apostles. I have transcribed the surviving text of the fragment, and this can be read here:

[uerbum] dei creature omni coram regibus [et] princibus. Sicut missit me pater et ego mitto uos in mundum estor[e] ergo prudentes sicut serpents est[ore ut columbe simplices]. H[inc petrus romam apostolorum princeps adiit Paulus greciam ubique docens gratiam ter quatuor hi proceres in plagis terre quatuor euangelisantes trinum et unum]. A[ndre]as iacobus uterque philippus ba[r]tholomeus. Symon tha[de]us io[ha]nnes thomas et matheus. Duodecim iudices non ab u[no sed in un]um diuisi per o[rbem] di[uisos in unum colligunt]

I have not yet had the time to translate this text or to write more carefully about it, but I hope to return to it in the near future.

fredag 18. mai 2018

Article - The North in the Latin History Writing of Twelfth-Century Norway

Earlier this week, I received a copy of my first printed, peer-reviewed article, titled The North in the Latin History Writing of Twelfth-Century Norway (available for download here). The article was published in the article collection Visions of North in Premodern Europe, edited by Dolly Jørgensen and Virginia Langum. The full table of content can be seen on the publisher's website. I was delighted to hold the physical copy in my hands and leaf through it to get a proper sense of the volume itself. I had seen the details of the book in the course of my correspondence with the editors, but being able to browse the physical book itself gave me a much better idea of how the volume worked, how the volume was organised, and how I as a reader might engage with it.

The book collects articles that engage with how various European cultures have engaged with the idea of north at different points in time, drawing on classical heritage, biblical typology, travelogues and various cultural encounters. My own article focussed on how history-writers of twelfth-century Norway described their own country in their efforts to record its history, and how these efforts relied on biblical and classical formulations of the north in an attempt to anchor Norway in the wider Christian history.

My then unopened copy, seconds before the plastic came off

I enjoyed writing the article, since I could combine several of my academic interests: History writing, identity construction, the cult of saints (because of the importance of Saint Olaf), and geographical descriptions. I was also very happy to hold the book two years after I submitted the first draft of my chapter, but I do not know when I will be able to read it. By the time I wrote the article, it contained the full extent of my knowledge on the subject, but a few months after it was submitted in an updated and improved form, I began writing my thesis chapter on Saint Olaf and the textual tradition of twelfth-century Norway. Since then I have learned many things that I would have included in the article if I were to rewrite it, and so my contribution to this wonderful volume is more of a work-in-progress article. Eventually, I hope I will be able to fill in the gaps through other publications, and until then I will enjoy reading the other articles of the book.

mandag 30. april 2018

Conference - Saints and their several images

At the end of May and the beginning of June, I'm organising a conference in Odense on the various representations of saints in different texts and in different media. A brief description of the event itself can be found on the website of the Centre for Medieval Literature (here), the organisation funding the conference. Below you will find the programme. This is a conference that will hopefully inspire fruitful discussions and contribute to important perspectives in the study of the medieval cult of saints.

Edward the Confessor carrying Gillemichel
BL MS Egerton 745, French collection of saints, first half og the 14th century
Courtesy of British Library

Saints and their several images – programme            

International conference – May 31st – June 1st             

Noble Women’s Convent, Albani Torv 6, 5000 Odense C                

Day 1           

09.30 – 10.00: Registration                     

10.00 – 10.15: Welcome    

10.15 – 11.00: Keynote, Roman Hankeln
(Norwegian University of Science and Technology): The forged saint and his chants: reflections of identity in text and music in honour of St. Dionysius of St. Emmeram

11.00 – 11.15: Coffee break                   

11.15 – 12.45:  Session 1 – Ireland and England         

Elva Johnston
(University College Dublin): Changing Saints in the Medieval Irish Martyrologies: Patterns of Topography and Gender   

Rebecca Browett
(University of London): The image of St Æthelwold of Winchester: adaptation and survival                     

Steffen Hope
(University of Southern Denmark): Edward the Confessor’s three images – historiography, saint-biography and liturgy        

12.45-14.00: Lunch, including a guided tour of Odense Cathedral and the shrine of Saint Knud Rex

14.00 – 15.00: Session 2 – Scandinavia and Germany 

Sara Ellis Nilsson
(Malmö University): Shifts in Perception and Veneration – the case of two regional saints from the medieval Skara Bishopric, Sweden         

Danette Brink (University of Regensburg): Alternative facts in the liturgical office: a study of St. Maximinus of Trier                                                         

15.00 – 15.30: Coffee break and discussion                 

18.00: Dinner                     

Day 2           

10.00 – 11.15: Session 3 – Rus and Byzantium                                 

Monica White
(University of Nottingham): Constantine the Great in Byzantium and Rus: A Case Study       

Christian Høgel
(University of Southern Denmark): On the enkomion and the office by Psellos in celebration of Symeon Metaphrastes       

Susana Torres Prieto
(IE University): Hagiography beyond the Church                 

11.15-11.30: Coffee break

11.30 – 12.45: Session 4 – Central Europe                  

Grzegorz Pac
(University of Warsaw): St Adalbert – two-headed bishop of two sees                

Nora Berend
(University of Cambridge): The Lives of St Stephen of Hungary     
12.45 – 14.00: Lunch        

14.00 – 15.00: Session 5 – Southern Europe                

Pilar Herráiz Oliva
(Medeniyet University, Istanbul): St. Thomas Aquinas: from condemnation to canonisation                     

Amy Fuller
(University of Nottingham): Sowing the Seeds of Empire: rehabilitating the reputation of San Hermenegildo and rewriting the history of Spain        

15.00 – 15.15: Coffee break                   

15.15 – 16.00: Discussion and closing remarks

lørdag 28. april 2018

Sea-serenade - a poem by Syl Cheney-Coker

Ever since I handed in my PhD thesis in October last year, I have been spending my leisure time reading literature from parts of the world that have nothing to do with my PhD thesis topic, as a way to unwind and avoid getting trapped in a narrow field of vision.

In the present blogpost I present to you a poem by Syl Cheney-Coker (b.1945), a poet from Sierra Leone. This poem is from the collection The Graveyard also has Teeth, published in 1980 and included in Heinemann's African Writer Series together with the collection Concerto for an Exile (1973).


I am drawn to the sea at night
as it knots my grief in circular waves
bringing its death-perfumed breath
close to my lips!
on a rock I watch a black crab move nearer by
with eight wobbling legs
under the immense pain of its life
and seeing this crab I feel I am near to my shadows
I understand them smelling their putrid souls!

now facing them pained on this volatile night
I count the thorns sprouting from my heart
for that brother who fled from his mother
on the sphinx's wing!

but in the morning at the cemetery
there will be no flowers no woman
will come to dress his wounds with a kiss
I see already the flight of the innocents
and the blood running down the eyes of the spirits
thrown above the laughing cliffs

ah to depart this comatose life swallowing the fleas
to dodge the passover hand of God
to leave consecrated bread and fasting blood
mother to you that is given the tribulations of Job
indeed! indeed! indeed!
I ask what remains of this catalepsy

only the necrology only the necrology!

mandag 23. april 2018

A liturgical chant for Saint George

Today is the feast of Saint George, one of the most widely popular among the saints of medieval Christendom. According to his legend, he was martyred in the town of Lydda in Palestine c.303 (a year that is commonly used in the dating of martyrdoms that are more myth than history, as this is the year that marked the beginning of the Diocletianic persecutions). This martyrdom happened after he had liberated the town from a dragon, and saved the king's daughter  who had been chosen by lots to be the dragon's tribute. George did not kill the dragon right away, but overcame it and put it in chains. He then paraded the beast around the city and demanded that the citizens be baptised as Christians, and once they had received the Christian faith he slew the dragon with a sword. In both medieval and modern depictions, this narrative is typically overlooked in favour of the more chivalrous and action filled portrayal of George charging against the dragon on a horse and killing it with his spear. Saint George's martyrdom is narratologically separated from his fight with the dragon, as the capture and torture of George is overseen by the Roman prefect of the area and takes place at some later point.

St George
Limoges - BM - ms. 0002, f.129r, Graduale, Abbey of Notre-Dame, Fontevrault, c.1250-1260
Courtesy of

Saint George was venerated throughout Christendom, and in this blogpost I wish to focus on one of the chants for the liturgical celebration of his feast. The chant in question is can be seen in the pictures from this thirteenth-century graduale. Since the chant is contained in a graduale, the chant must have belonged to the celebration of the mass. Because the image is a bit small, it is difficult to assess with complete certainty what type of chant that has this beautiful initial. However, based on the incipit and the subsequent chant, I find it fairly safe to say that this is an introit for the mass. The text can be found in the common of one martyr, and the succeeding chant, Exaudi deus, is noted in the CANTUS database as an introit verse for the feast of Saint George.

The text of the introit is as follows (ortography is modernised according with the CANTUS version):

Protexisti me Deus a conventu malignantium alleluia a multitudine operantium iniquitatem alleulia alleluia

You  haveprotected me from the gathering of the wicked, alleluia, from the multitude that works iniquity, alleluia, alleluia

This text is taken from Psalm 63:3 of the Vulgata (my translation).

Chants for the mass of Saint George
Limoges - BM - ms. 0002, f.129r, Graduale, Abbey of Notre-Dame, Fontevrault, c.1250-1260
Courtesy of

mandag 16. april 2018

Tyco Brahe digitised - notes on a recent digitisation project at the library of University of Southern Denmark

Although I no longer work at the university library of University of Southern Denmark, I have a backlog of things to write and talk about regarding my work there, other projects, and of course the wonderful fragments and books from their special collections. This blogpost is one such blogpost, and it is more an announcement than a blogpost in itself.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

While I was finishing my own work at the library, there was another project that came to its close and was indeed finished. This was the digitisation of three books by Tyco Brahe that are found in the special collection, and one owned by Roskilde monastery. These books are Epistolarum astronomicarum libri primus, Historia coelestis, and, from Roskilde, De Nova Stella. This project was led and executed by astronomer Majken B. E. Christensen, research librarian Jakob Povl Holck, and astronomer and head librarian Bertil F. Dorch.

The project has made all these three books available for download in Pdf format, and an overview of the project can be found here (in Danish, but with links to the digitised copies) and also here (in Danish). This digitisation has allowed for primary sources to be freely available, and it has also served as a great first step in the digitisation of the material from the special collection, which will hopefully result in the digitisation of fragments and entire books from the throve of historically significant gems found in the library.

RARA L 31, col. 1
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek
I was also able to contribute in a small way, since the fragment that was used as a binding to the edition of Epistolarum astronomicarum was one of the fragments I had been researching. I was asked to write a short description of the fragment, and this description (in Danish) can be found here. For those not fluent in Danish, I will summarise the key points of this manuscript here.

The fragment is cut vertically from a liturgical manuscript of uncertain date and provenance (though because it was printed and bound in Denmark it is likely that the manuscript has been used in either Denmark or Norway). The original manuscript was a breviary, and the fragment contains texts for the office for Sundays in the summer season. This can be seen from the indication in the picture above, which points to "in primo nocturno antiphoni", or the antiphons for the first nocturne. This is preceded by a hymn that has traditionally - though probably erroneously - been ascribed to Gregory the Great (d.604). This hymn has a complicated history, but that might be a subject for a future blogpost.  

 RARA L 31
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek

lørdag 31. mars 2018

Holy Thursday - a poem by Geoffrey Hill

Since this is the paschal time, I present you one of Geoffrey Hill's early poems, taken from his first collection For the Unfallen from 1958, whose title is relevant for the season.

Holy Thursday

Naked, he climbed to the wolf's lair;
He beheld Eden without fear,
Finding no ambush offered there
But slep under the harbouring fur.

He said: 'They are decoyed by love
Who, tarrying through the hollow grove,
Neglect the seasons' sad remove.
Child and nurse walk hand in glove

As unaware of Time's betrayal,
Weaving their innocence with guil.
But they must cleave the fire's peril
And suffer innocence to fall.

I have been touched with that fire
And have fronted the she-wolf's lair.
Lo, she lies gentle and innocent of desire
Who was my constant myth and terror.'