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Friday, December 27, 2013

Austrian Manuscript Library Tour, Part 1: Stift Göttweig

Codex manuscripts on the shelf.
 "A pleasant place to stay, good air to breathe, quiet peaceful atmosphere, and a magnificent view over the Danube Valley. The Stift is 400 ft. above the highway." (Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, in his report on Stift Göttweig from 1966)

Sometime in April or May 1966, HMML's first field director, Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, arrived at the Abbey of Göttweig ("Stift Göttweig") in Lower Austria, on the south bank of the Danube--near the town of Krems und Stein. While we do not have a date for his arrival, he indicated a closing date of July 1, 1966 (having finished at his previous site of Stift Herzogenburg on April 17, 1966).  He further states that the Benedictine abbey has "a major collection, both as to size and quality. Its excellence can be seen both in variety and depth." Our records show that 542 manuscripts were photographed with black/white microfilm there, including many individual items in color (you can find nearly 1500 digital images by searching Göttweig in Vivarium, or clicking here).

Feeling very close to the ninth century - at Stift Göttweig.

Earlier this month (December 2013), I had the great pleasure to visit Stift Göttweig, meet the curator and his staff, as well as the monastery's archivist. I was in Krems, Austria, for a round table discussion on digital humanities and the future direction of digital resources and environments. A colleague from the round table's hosting institution--the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit--volunteered to drive me from Krems to Göttweig. Considering the difficult transit connections between the two (Father Oliver provides precise directions to get there by train and bus), I was grateful for the offer.

Of course, in another life (or season) I might have taken a different means of transportation.

Saint Benedict blesses the bicycle, July 1982. Stift Göttweig in the background.

In early July 1982, a shaggy, red-headed student of early German language/literature (i.e., "me"), was peddling his way from Sankt Pölten to Krems (by way of Herzogenburg), and then from Krems to Stift Melk, further up the Danube. He made sure to spend an extra day in Krems so he could bike back to visit Göttweig. Along the way, he even found the opportunity to have his Drahtesel ("wire donkey") blessed by Saint Benedict himself!

So, my trip two weeks ago was retracing my path (in part) from 31 years prior!

This time, the weather was considerably less sunny, but the tour was fabulous nonetheless. I met Angelika Koelbl at the Institut's office in Krems about 2:00 pm, and we trundled off together to the Stift, about a 20 minute drive. She explained that she works part-time at both locations. At Göttweig she helps Pater Franz Schuster, OSB, in the Abbey archives.

Note the jackets! The Archives are not heated, although their work room is.
Angelika Koelbl and Pater Franz Schuster, OSB, in the Göttweig Abbey Archives.

Angelika took me first to meet the curator of the graphic and manuscript collections, Pater Gregor Martin Lechner, OSB. HMML writes for permission before making any copies of microfilms for scholars, and for several years Pater Gregor has been our primary contact at the Abbey. I was warmly greeted and received a roughly four-hour-long tour of the library and archives! Pater Gregor led us to the room where the manuscripts are stored, next to the main room of the Abbey library.

It is probable that Father Oliver Kapsner worked in this room during the microfilming project in 1966.
Although the room has modern heating, the wood-burning ovens of
yesteryear are still in evidence everywhere.

He was so kind as to pull out one of the gems of the collection, a ninth-century psalter that is the oldest manuscript in the collection. At one time, this manuscript was described as being much later in origin, but his estimate of late ninth-century was verified by other paleographers. HMML has several photos of this manuscript in Vivarium, although they are not as interesting as the original manuscript, of course!

Pater Gregor with Codex Gottwicensis 30 (2), a psalter dated about 870 A.D.

HMML-produced microfilms in the reference library at Stift Göttweig.

When HMML worked in Austria (and elsewhere), it always provided a copy of its microfilms to the libraries that owned the manuscripts. The microfilms at Göttweig are stored in a special cabinet in the reference library, which is separate from the Baroque library. Pater Gregor was kind enough to show me the older space, but since it was a late afternoon in December and the main library has no electricity for light, I was not able to take any photographs. The library itself lies within the monastic cloistered space, so it is not generally accessible to the public. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Baroque library as well as other storage and work areas.

Microfilm reader provided as part of the HMML project in the 1960's.

The four-digit number in bluish-green ink is the HMML project number, added to the handwritten catalog of the Göttweig collection. Further evidence of the importance of HMML's collaboration with Austrian libraries.

 After touring the manuscripts and incunabula, Pater Gregor led us back to the offices of the Graphische Sammlung (Graphical arts collection), which is the second largest in Austria (the Albertina in Vienna is the largest). The spaces for the Graphische Sammlung are in one of the oldest parts of the monastery, dating back to the Middle Ages, but the insides have recently been thoroughly renovated to proved a very modern space for working with (and storing) the graphic materials. Much (although not all) of the graphic arts collection has been digitized for internet access. Even the medieval codex manuscripts are expected to be digitized very soon.

Note the wonderful wooden cabinets for storing the archival materials.
The holes allow air to circulate, without allowing rodents in.

The Abbey archives are stored in a separate part of the complex, and are quite extensive. Prior to 1848, the Abbey held many properties in the surrounding area, so its records provide insight into the economic and daily life of much of Lower Austria and the Wachau.

More archival materials at Stift Göttweig.

An extremely large book of records from the early modern period. The entries refer back to transactions recorded in other volumes.

In the four hours that I spent at Stift Göttweig, I was made to feel a very welcome guest. During that time I did not see any of the usual tourist sites, but I was blessed to visit some of the back areas that speak of the 900+ years of monastic presence on this mountain top by the Danube. Perhaps I will someday return to see the other parts of the Abbey, but I know that I received a true Benedictine welcome during my visit. Father Oliver's glowing description was right--Stift Göttweig is well worth the visit! ***

Blessings on the community at Stift Göttweig and its friends!

In my next blog post I will visit the Abbey of Melk, where Father Oliver also worked in the 1960's.

[*** Addendum: in 1966, HMML had just appointed a new director, Julian G. Plante, who would remain at the library for over 25 years. In a letter to Dr. Plante, Father Oliver recommends Stift Göttweig as a place where he can familiarize himself with manuscripts more deeply: "Such a possibility would be here at Göttweig, a famous Benedictine abbey, with an excellent manuscript collection, with variety and depth. It is agreeable to the authorities here that you come here. You can live right here and study the manuscripts to your heart's content." (letter dated April 26, 1966) So, Göttweig nurtured HMML's mission right at the start of its work!]

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ethiopian Prayer Scrolls (2): A Close-up of SJU Ms. Or. E 12

In this post I bring you an example of one entire prayer/magic scroll from the Saint John's Special Collections. My selection is simply based upon the fact that I have titles for the different sections of the scroll, along with some earlier cataloger's provision of line numbers to help those who are able (and might wish) to read the original text.

I can never look upon (or hold) our library's magic scrolls without seeing in my mind Jacques Mercier's description of the ritual in which the scrolls are produced (Ethiopian Magic Scrolls, 1979, pp.15-16):

"At the end of the consultation, the dabtara may say to the sick woman, 'Your sterility comes from aynä tela (eye of shadow) and from mägana (spirits) who have closed up your womb. You must sacrifice a black sheep, wash yourself in its blood and chyme, and bring me its skin.'" ... "The animal is generally sacrificed on the sick person's land, in a place behind the house where a pit has been dug. The dabtara then has the sheep carried three times in a circle, moving to the right, around the sick person, and then he slits its throat. The blood is collected in a hollow gourd (the sick person must not taste it or the spirit will not leave), along with the chyme. ... Then he washes the person with the contents of the gourd while saying prayers. The evil spirits, attracted by the drink, are drawn off by the liquid as it drains into the pit." [parts of it are eaten by the sick person or relatives] "The scraps and bones will be buried in the pit so that animals will not be able to touch them. The skin will be used for one or more scrolls."
Mercier provides much more detail in his monograph on the significance and origin of the scrolls. Since I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the core of Mercier's description above, I must assume that the scrolls that I am handling were prepared in a similar manner, as part of a ritual and not in a workshop preparing manuscripts. I must admit to being a little squeamish at the image!

Ms. Or. E 12

Description: Parchment; 222.5 x 11 cm; 13-18 characters to a line; 355 lines; 19th century; Copied for (Wayzaro) Walatta Giyorgis Gubelē.

 Note that the rubrics (red text) in the photos indicate the start of a new prayer or legend.

Lines 1-71: The Legend of Suseneyos and Werzeleyā. A prayer against Werzeleyā, the evil spirit which kills suckling children.

Lines 72-113: Prayer against the evil spirit called šolalāy


Lines 114-138: Two prayers against evil spirits which cause eye disease and headache.

(Note the stitching to connect two strips of parchment.)


Lines 139-165: Prayer against evil spirits which cause 'āyna Telā and 'āyna warq

Lines 166-187: Prayer against pain caused by others [eda sab']

Lines 188-208: Prayer against evil spirits which cause 'āyna telā and 'āyna warq.

Lines 209-223: Prayer against all diseases.

Lines 223-233: Prayer against terror [dengāzē].

Lines 234-243: Greeting to breath of the Trinity.

 Lines 244-254: Prayer against dysentery/diarrhea and epidemic [taqmāt wa-tasebo].

Lines 254-308: Prayer for drowning and binding demons [Mastem wamā'esara aganent].

(and another stitch to connect two strips of parchment)

Lines 309-340: Prayer for the protection of the soul. The main body of the prayer is the asmāt of the Archangel Michael found in his dersān.

Lines 341-355: Prayer for self-protection.

An angel (?) with a big head and two wings, but with no trunk.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ethiopian Prayer Scrolls (1): Angels and Demons? (or just faces?)

HMML Wenner Ms. 2


HMML Williams Ms. 2

Ethiopica at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) is home to one of the largest Ethiopian manuscript collections in the Midwestern United States.  However, the means by which this collection has grown is rather different from most.  HMML started working with the Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library (EMML) in Ethiopia in 1973. Through many difficult years of conflict and famine in East Africa, HMML attempted to keep the microfilming of Ethiopian manuscripts on track, and in recent years it has returned to digitize (or to collaborate in digitizing) even more manuscripts.

At this time HMML has about 8000 manuscripts on microfilm, and many more digitally photographed.  Of course, this has led to a need for cataloging, which has been ably provided over the past 40 years by William Macomber and Getatchew Haile.  As a result of their professional work, HMML came to be known as an important center for Ethiopian manuscript studies.

Today, in addition to the microfilms and digital copies, HMML has about 50 Ethiopian manuscripts in its own collections.  Most, if not all, of these manuscripts came to HMML as gifts, starting in the 1970's.  I hope over time to provide a brief general introduction to several of these manuscripts (since I do not read Ge'ez or Amharic, I can only provide very general comments!).  Of these manuscripts, the majority are what we traditionally think of as books--codices, albeit ones with handwritten parchment leaves, not printed pages on paper.  About 20 of these manuscripts are actually rolls, often called magic scrolls or prayer scrolls. They are prepared in a special healing ritual by a dabtara (or debtera), an "itinerant religious figure among ... the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Churches." (Wikipedia)  I hope in a future blog post to provide a little context to this ritual.

For two earlier posts on Ethiopian topics, go to:


Angels looking out at us

The Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (Wiesbaden, 2003- ) describes these scrolls as "Christian written amulets ... made up of crude parchment or leather (up to three strips usually sewn together with thongs of the same material) ..." whose "protective effect is realized by the mere possession of them, not by reading." Due to their constant use, scrolls generally do not get to be very old, and often date only to the 19th or 20th centuries.

Unrolling one of these bundles exposes a whole new world, radically different from that around us in North America.  Along with their unusual format, the scrolls are especially noteworthy for their decoration, which usually includes a picture of a protective angel--usually Michael or Gabriel--or demons, or faces within frames, or events from Ethiopian legend.  Here is a small gallery of angels from the HMML collections. Note that some of the manuscripts below have been donated to HMML within the past year, and are essentially still uncataloged.

HMML Olson Ms. 2

HMML Henze Scroll no. 2

HMML Henze Scroll no. 1

HMML Olson Ms. 3

HMML Olson Ms. 3: two angels pulling back a curtain to unveil a Cross.

HMML Olson Ms. 3

HMML O'Donnell Ms. 1

SJU Ms. Or. E 4 (Saint John's Special Collections): 19/20th century

SJU Ms. Or. E 9 (Saint John's Special Collections): 19th century

SJU Ms. Or. E 8 (Saint John's Special Collections): a somewhat "early" angel, from the late 18th century.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cutting Your Prophets in Half: The Passion of Jesus and its Violent Parallels in Late Medieval Manuscript Illustration

Other than my tortured English in the flyer below, I hope that my presentation will be cogent! (or is that "coherent?").

I'll be speaking mostly on the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, but with reference to other traditions based on picture cycles--the Bible Moralisee, the Biblia Pauperum, and the Concordantia Caritatis.

I hope others might find this of interest!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Rising Dead (in time for Halloween)

From the Bethune Book of Hours (15th century).

It's that time of year again, when ghouls and ghosts, vampires and zombies, and many other kinds of all-around evil-doers flood our streets in search of a sweet treat or two. While I can understand the desire to gather up candy, the national focus on embodying the gruesome and gory in our youngest and most innocent comes as a bit of a surprise to this graying dad. So I looked back at some of our Library's oldest books--mostly from the fifteenth century--to find images of the walking dead in a somewhat more positive light.

And yes, there is something positive about the walking (or this case, "rising") dead.

Bethune Book of Hours. Note how Jesus' face has been rubbed off--perhaps by an overly zealous owner?
The large initial "D" opens Psalm 6 (see below for text).

In our collections, most images of the dead rising are to be found in Books of Hours, prayer books for lay people that were most popular from the late 14th to early 16th centuries. The prayers are set out for different points in the day, and these are demarcated by miniatures depicting (most commonly) the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of Jesus, and other scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus. There may also be pictures of the evangelists or King David, as well as a funeral scene (for the Office of the Dead).

In some Books of Hours there are also depictions of the Last Judgment, with Jesus enthroned in the sky, surrounded by angels. The primary moment in the year to remember this is at the feast of Christ the King, which comes at the end of November (or occasionally in very early December) and marks the end of one liturgical year, so that the next year may start with Advent.

Halloween, the eve of the feast of All Saints, comes just a few weeks before this celebration of the "end of time."  As the name indicates, the feast of All Saints is time set aside to remember all those who have been designated as especially good examples of being a follower of Jesus.

When it became clear that there are more good people who have died beyond the official saints, the Catholic church decided to make the following day, November 2, the feast of All Souls--meaning we should remember and pray for everyone who has died.

Thus, Halloween and the two days following it are intended to be a very positive time in the calendar--not a time of people in hockey masks carrying chainsaws, but a time that we remember those who have gone before us, shaped us, and left us with both the hopes and the despairs of today.

Gavin Ms. 2, a Book of Hours.
Gavin Ms. 2, detail.
When one looks at the dead rising in these pictures, one does not find the gruesome images of anger, but rather hopeful expressions (for the most part), and sometimes even the assistance of angels! These miniatures do not portray a terrible end, but a hopeful one. Sometimes, to add to this sense of hope, there appear the Virgin Mary and the evangelist John to help intercede for the sinful risers.

These are not the images of Hellmouth (which are also pretty common), which show the damned being dragged off by devils. There the ending has already been determined and the sight is (in a word) not pretty--that is perhaps worthy of another blog post on another occasion!

However, I will grant you, the Psalm chosen to accompany the miniature (Psalm 6 (7)) does echo the sound of fear in the voice of the speaker, but ultimately the hope is that God will listen and "rescue my soul."

Gavin Ms. 2.

The Latin text facing the miniature is from Psalm 6:2-6

"O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger, nor upbraid me in thy wrath. Have mercy on me O Lord, for I am weak; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled, and my soul is troubled exceedingly; but thou, O Lord, how long ...?

Return, O Lord, rescue my soul, save me for thy mercy's sake, because there is none in death who remembers thee: who is there that praises thee in the abode of the dead?" (from the Douay translation)

Sometimes the rising is not shown at the Last Judgment, but at the climax of the Passion, with the rending of the temple curtain:
"And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent, and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep arose; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection, they came into the holy city, and appeared to many." (Matthew 27:51-53)
For an example of this, see:

Prayers being offered on All Souls' Day from a book printed in the 15th century.
The dead are rising in the background.

The Day of the Dead -- A Fabulous Alternative

A very different view of what to remember in late October and early November comes in a children's song for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) by singer/composer Tish Hinojosa:
"The moon is full of something on the rise
The other world is opening its eyes
Out in the graveyard
We will sing a stance
Even the dead are rising up to dance
Love songs and flowers and papers, bright colors
Smells of the food that we bring
There we remember the saints and the sinners
This night with them we will sing."
From Hasta Los Muertos Salen a Bailar / Even the Dead Rise Up to Dance by Tish Hinojosa, from her wonderful children's album Cada Niño/Every Child. Most of the song is in Spanish--only part of the English is given here. The lyrics are available on the singer's website.

Wow! What a powerfully positive message--we are called to remember our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, and all of the people who have formed us.  In fact, the cemetery is not a place of fear, but a place to have a picnic where we can have our loved ones with us! In this way, Halloween is not a time of "fright" and gore, but a time of hope and promise.

It is this need to remember that comes through for me during the three days from October 31 to November 2 every year.

Fortunately, our child is going out as a Cheerios box this year. 
No ghouls or zombies, thank you.

Kacmarcik Book of Hours

Several more scenes of the dead rising from their tombs can be found at:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

God's books in extraordinary variety ...

Many years ago I lived in a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where the local Catholic Church (St. Thomas the Apostle) embraced diversity through its motto: "God's people in extraordinary variety." I have always loved that phrase, so I am borrowing/adapting it today to introduce a recent presentation I made at the annual meeting of the Medieval Association of the Midwest ("MAM").  MAM met (and was warmly received) at Indiana State University, in Terre Haute, Indiana. The conference gave me an opportunity to describe some of the actual manuscripts that are held at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library. Since HMML is largely know for its digital and microfilm collections, this was a chance to share our own materials with others--albeit through digital means!

Reproduced below are the slightly edited slides from my presentation. It is quite possible that I have unintentionally inverted some of the non-European language manuscript images, so I ask that any one with knowledge of these languages to contact me with corrections!! Feel free to click on a slide to see it enlarged.


Matt Heintzelman