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The Carolingian Sacramentary
A Carolinian fragment in gold and silver
Vienna, Austrian National Library, Cod. Vindob. 958, Northern France, around 870



Further Pictures


The Carolingian Sacramentary belongs to the “gems”, i.e. to the priceless manuscripts of the Austrian National Library, as one can see from the addition of the letter C (for Cimelien = gems) in the old signature Theol. C. 992. This calligraphic masterpiece was made in the Abbey of Saint-Amand in the North of France.
We know very little, however, about the commissioner of the manuscript. The richness and care of its execution make us assume that it was destined for a reputed church or a high dignitary of the church. Numerous remarks and glosses added in the margins and occasionally between the lines indicate that this precious manuscript was frequently used, and conveys a lively picture of the thinking at this period.

A priceless jewel for liturgical use

The literature frequently calls this manuscript a “Sacramentary fragment” as some essential portions are missing. On a small number of pages, our codex contains a wonderfully written text of the Canon Missae and two pages of text for the consecration of a sub-deacon, of which only a few words at the beginning are lost. This might lead to the conclusion that the artistically decorated pages which were later bound in precious gold brocade constituted a little booklet with prayers and consecration formulas for a bishop’s use.

A masterpiece of calligraphy

The texts were executed in different script types by several hands, the Canon being enhanced by the use of gold ink. The text for the consecration of the sub-deacon and a portion of the Canon text are written in a very even Carolingian minuscule, the red headings on fol. 1r-v in capitalis rustica. The major portion of the canon text was written out by a calligrapher in solemn uncials.
The numerous remarks and glosses added in the margins and between the lines bear testimony to the great diversity of calligraphy and provide a deep insight into the historical background of the manuscript. Neume annotations used on some pages above the lines guide the user as mnemonic aids through the melody.

The decorative apparatus

The pages containing the Canon text are surrounded by rectangular ornamental frames the sides of which are filled with intensely entwined interlace making use of different patterns.
While the interlace varies from page to page, the corner pieces resemble each other on each double page. A particularly elaborate and imaginative example is found in fol. 5v-6r, where silver bands, seemingly interlaced with the golden borders of the frame, end in animals’ heads whose beaks bite into the golden borders.
Two pages hold, in prominent places, only one elaborately stylised word of text (fol. 4r: Vere [dignum et iustum] and fol. 5v: Te [igitur clementissime pater]. The letters are formed of golden borders decorated with elaborate interlace. Fine colourful dots not only line the shafts but also form delicate embroidery on the blank surfaces.
This combination of Anglo-Saxon ornamental motives and Carolingian-Frankish scribal art is found in very few manuscripts and makes this Sacramentary an exquisite monument to illumination.

The commentary volume

The scholarly commentary was written by Franz Unterkircher and contains a general introduction as well as a description of the codicological analysis and scripts used for the text. It further describes the decorative apparatus and the contents of the manuscript. The commentary volume is complete with a list of selected literature.

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