Hrabanus Maurus

Harley MS 3045, f. 33v
A representation of Hrabanus Maurus kneeling before the Cross (British Library, Harley MS 3045, f. 33v)

Biography

Hrabanus Maurus was a senior figure in the Carolingian Church and an accomplished scholar. Hrabanus is perhaps most famous for a collection of sophisticated poems centred on the cross called De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis (In Praise of the Holy Cross). 

Early life 

Hrabanus was born in Mainz to a noble family, and was ordained as a deacon at the Benedictine Abbey of Fulda in 801. Hrabanus began his studies at Fulda, but spent a year at Tours, from 802 to 803, studying under the monk and scholar, Alcuin of York. Hrabanus returned to Fulda in 803 and took charge of the Abbey school. 

Abbot of Fulda and archbishop of Mainz

After a brief absence from Fulda, Hrabanus returned in 817 and was elected abbot in 822. Under Hrabanus’ direction, Fulda grew to become a large and powerful abbey and was home to around 600 monks. During this time, Fulda also became one of the most preeminent centres of scholarship and book production in Europe. 

The position of abbot in such a large and powerful abbey was a heavy responsibility. Hrabanus seemed to have been frustrated with how his position restricted him from reading and writing. Perhaps this is what caused Hrabanus to resign his position as abbot in 842, though he later returned to public life in 847 when he was elected as the archbishop of Mainz. 

Praeceptor Germaniae (Teacher of Germany)

Hrabanus was a skilled scholar and prolific writer. He wrote many commentaries on Scripture, works on clerical practises, and an encyclopaedic text De Rerum Naturis (On the Nature of Things), which drew heavily on the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (b. c. 560, d. 636). Hrabanus also composed a work known as De Inventione Linguarum (The Invention of Languages), which presents the Hebrew, Greek, Latin and runic alphabets as well as a brief explanation of the origins of each language. 

Another of Hrabanus’ works is the poem De Laudibus Sanctae Crucis (In Praise of the Holy Cross). This elaborate work comprises a set of verses where the words both embody and celebrate the cross, drawing on an Antique tradition of arranging words and phrases within figures. The poem and its images were widely circulated throughout the medieval period, and many copies survive from England and on the Continent. 

Hrabanus’ large volume of work, and his reputation as a great scholar and teacher, has caused him to become known as the praeceptor Germaniae (Teacher of Germany).

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