The Benedictine abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was a wealthy centre of royal patronage and intellectual life just outside medieval Paris with an important scriptorium in the eleventh century, in which this compilation of historical and scientific works was copied. The work of several scribes, it can be precisely dated to between 1060 and 1063 based on the annals of the abbey and a list of French kings up to Henry I (r. 1031–1060) that it contains. The contents, consisting of more than 20 texts, include astrological texts by Hyginus and others, a treatise on weights and measures, the so-called Recognitions of Pseudo-Clement on the laws and religious teachings of different nations and an excerpt from Macrobius on the dimensions of the earth.
A number of the illustrations are strikingly original, notably a circular execution scene accompanying a mnemonic poem, with a king surrounded by decapitated figures. Then, above a set of chronicles from Adam to Charlemagne, abridged from Bede’s Chronica maiora and presented in a series of arches is a remarkable cycle illustrating corresponding episodes from the Old and New Testaments (ff. 105r–108v), including the journey of the three kings, each one in a separate arch with the star and angels above. By contrast, the 39 pen drawings of the constellations illustrating an astrological text (ff. 131r–137v), and based on an early Carolingian model from St Denis, are found in a number of contemporary and earlier manuscripts.
This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.
- Article by:
- Taylor McCall
- History and learning, Science and nature
Taylor McCall discusses early medieval approaches to various types of knowledge we might consider today to be ‘scientific’, as well as those subjects taught in the earliest universities, including mathematics and astronomy.
- Article by:
- Calum Cockburn
- Art and illumination, Making manuscripts
Books were made in monasteries across England and France during the early medieval period. Calum Cockburn introduces some important sites of manuscript production that were active between 700 and 1200.