7. A Book of Memory from Medieval Alsace

By Kate Falardeau (@kate_falardeau)

1. Beginning of January. Strasbourg, Bibliothèque du Grand Séminaire, MS 37, fols 7v–8r. [License]

Columns prop up a detailed architectural façade. To the left of the composition, the zodiac sign Capricorn emerges from a hypnotic spiral. To the right, a proclamation seems to be issued. The scroll, held by a ruler and an anxious looking man, actually contains a regimen to be followed during January for good health. The text below is a calendrical list of saints, or martyrology, combined with a list of the names of the ordinary dead to be commemorated, or necrology.

This manuscript is known as the Guta-Sintram Codex. It was copied by Guta, a canoness of the Schwartzenthann convent, and illuminated by Sintram, a canon at Marbach abbey — both in Alsace. Inscriptions in a prefatory miniature identify the pair and outline their different responsibilities in the production of the book. The names in the necrology illustrate the close relationship between their respective communities; canonesses of Schwartzenthann and canons of Marbach are included for commemoration. Readers continued to insert names in the book for centuries after its completion in 1154.

2. Dedicatory miniature with the Virgin Mary (centre), Sintram (to her right), and Guta (to her left). Strasbourg, Bibliothèque du Grand Séminaire, MS 37, fols 3v–4r. [License]

The presentation of the text is unusual for a martyrology-necrology. The architectural framing appears derived from the canon tables included in Gospel books. Such tables, often presented within an architectural structure, show concordances and differences between the four Gospels.

3. A canon table from a ninth- or tenth-century French manuscript. New York, New York Public Library, MA 115, fol. 7r. [License: Free to use without restriction]

In another manuscript originally intended to contain Gospel readings, scribes inserted names to be commemorated within frames resembling canon tables.

4. A ‘canon table’ in the Pfäfers Liber viventium. St Gallen, Stiftsarchiv (Abtei Pfäfers), Cod. Fab. 1, p. 22. [License]

In recording the names of their own saints and community members within a similar frame, the original makers and later readers of the Guta-Sintram Codex defined the book as a sacred space. It is possible that the buildings at the top of the composition would have recalled the spaces in which community members lived and commemorated their dead. The martyrology-necrology of the Guta-Sintram Codex illustrates one way that memory and manuscript intertwined in medieval Europe.

Further Reading: 

Alessandro Bausi, Bruno Reudenbach, and Hanna Wimmer, eds, Canones: The Art of Harmony: The Canon Tables of the Four Gospels (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2020).

‘Guta and Sintram with the Virgin Mary’, Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index (University of Iowa Libraries), 2014.

Jonathan J. G. Alexander, Medieval Illuminators and Their Methods of Work (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 18–21.

Kathleen Doyle, ‘Illuminated Canon Tables’, Medieval Manuscripts Blog (The British Library), 23 February 2021.

‘Necrologium Marbacensis monasterii’, Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters (Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften), 2019.

Rosamond McKitterick, ‘Social Memory, Commemoration and the Book’, in History and Memory in the Carolingian World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 156–73.

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