Searching for BHL 6173 and 6175 (Part 5) – the “Magnum Legendarium Austriacum”

Our two fragments of story of St Nicholas, BHL 6173 and 6175, originate from a early 12th century sermon on St Nicholas by Honorius of Augustodunensis.  But not directly.

In the late 12th century somebody created a massive 4-volume collection of material about the saints, in saint’s day order.  Each volume contained 3 months of the year.  The manuscripts that survive are all held in Austrian collections, and so it is known as the Magnum Legendarium Austriacum, or MLA for short.  There is in fact a substantial Austrian website devoted to this text, which may be found here.  It even has a page on each saint; Nicholas is here, and even links to an early edition for the Translatio text.

It looks as if Diarmuid O’Riain is the scholar currently at work on the MLA, and his very useful “New Investigation” paper is online at Academia here.  He also has a CV here, (with quite possibly the worst photograph I have ever seen on any academic CV ever!), and is clearly doing good work.  Sadly his 2020 article “Neue Erkenntnisse zur Entstehung und Überlieferung des Magnum Legendarium Austriacum” here, pinpointing the abbey of Admont as the probable origin of the collection, is hidden uselessly behind a firewall.

The Magnum Legendarium Austriacum collection was detailed by Albert Poncelet, “De Magno Legendario Austriaco,” Analecta Bollandiana 17 (1898) 24–96, and the contents of the St Nicholas material may be found in appendix XXII, p.204-9.  Fortunately I have access to this.  Item 32, “Miraculum de vase aureo” (Miracle of the golden vessel) and item 34, “De imagine S. Nicolai” (The image of St Nicholas) are what the Bollandists list as BHL 6173 and 6175.  These excerpts themselves then appear independently in other manuscripts, as we have seen.

But it follows that the manuscripts of the Magnum Legendarium Austriacum will also contain our text.

One of the witnesses to this collection is held at Heiligenkreuz, mss. 11-14.  St Nicholas’ Day is December 6th, so it is the last volume in which we are interested, Heiligenkreuz 14, online here.  The website has a nice set of links to literature about the manuscript.  The St. Nicholas material is on f.57r to f. 65v.

Using the left menu to find the St. Nicholas stuff takes you to folio 57r.  Then clicking on “Scroll” takes you into a scrollable viewer.  I’m rather taking to this, much as I hate viewers, because it is so very fast.  Most online viewers are like wading through treacle.  I wish I could zoom in and out using the mouse-wheel on my mouse tho.

A bit of moving and I find our texts on f.64v and f.65.  I still can’t see how to download the individual pages from scroll view, nor how to flip back to the standard view while staying on f.64v.

Heiligenkruez 14, f.64v-65r, BHL 6173 and 6175.

Fortunately there is no need for me to do so.  I now have a text of these two pieces, based on what the text and translation that I made for Honorius Augustodunensis in my last post, and that will do for my purposes.

All the same the resources do exist at to collate the manuscripts of the MLA at this point, and had I known of them sooner, I would have used them.

We’re still in the early days of manuscript websites.  Nobody quite knows how best to do this stuff.  The problem is compounded by the fact that website developers mostly have no idea about how they should be used by reseachers.  One day someone will figure out how to do it, and then everyone will go “Oh!  So that’s how it’s done!” and do likewise.  But I am quite grateful for how much is online now.  None of this work would have been possible even 5 years ago.


Honorius Augustodunensis, “Sermo de S. Nicolai” now online

I’ve just completed my translation of this early 12th century sermon, from the Speculum Ecclesiae or Mirror of the Church by Honorius Augustodunensis.  I’ve included the Latin text.  This text is the origin of the fragments BHL 6173 and 6175.  Here it is:

As usual I make these files and their contents public domain.  Do whatever you like with them, personal, educational or commercial.  I’ve also uploaded it to here.

The start of the text in Ms. Admont 131, folio 146r.

The text is not that long, so I thought I would include the translation below.  Have fun!

    *    *    *    *

  1. “The righteous shall be in eternal remembrance: he will not be afraid of hearing bad news”.[1] All things that happen here, in the land of oblivion, are consigned to oblivion, and everything that happens under the sun slips out of memory as if dead from the heart. For in whose memory does the once rich glory of kings and tyrants now circulate? Who now remembers the magnificent cities which they built, or the celebrated inscriptions of the noble triumphal monuments which they erected?  Where now are the pomps or riches in which they abounded, and where are the executions or tortures which they inflicted on the saints?  They all have passed away like shadows, and they themselves have inherited the fire and the worm. But those who earnestly worshipped God** shall be in eternal remembrance. Their works flourish throughout all generations, and their names will live forever. For he is one spirit with God**, who adheres to him through love, and, united to him through spirit, remains with him for eternity.  Of whom Saint Nicholas is in eternal memory, because he is both famous to men on earth, and to the angels in the life eternal. He shall not fear hearing the bad news, that is, “Depart from me, O accursed, into eternal fire”,[2] but he shall rejoice forever at the sweet word, “Come, O blessed ones”.[3]
  2. This man, born of a noble lineage of the Greeks, shone with many miracles, the illustrious bishop of Myra. When newly born, he was placed in Pelium to be washed, but he stood for one hour held by no one, because obviously he was setting out on the path of the virtues.  At once the man of good character began to return home through abstinence to where our first parent was exiled from through gluttony.  For on Wednesdays and Fridays he drank only once a day from the nipples, and so the riches of the heavenly grace flowed generously to him.  But once the boundary of childhood passed, he swallowed with a thirsty heart the secrets of the heavenly life from the rivers of scripture.  Then as an adult he was bereaved of both parents, and himself was selected as the heir in accordance with the rules of inheritance.  Then in the same city there lived a noble man, who, from the greatest riches, had come down to the deepest poverty.  He determined that his three daughters, outstanding in their appearance, should be prostituted, so that through them he might at least earn a living.  Nicholas redeemed them with gold, and he kindly took away indeed the poverty of the father, and infamy from the girls, but he acquired heavenly riches for himself.  In the meantime the church of Myra was widowed by the death of its shepherd, but the devout flock demanded from God that a worthy shepherd should be placed in charge of it. But the Good Shepherd quickly comforted the desolate flock, suggesting to a certain saint that Nicholas was designated by God as the bishop.  By the election of the clergy and the people, he was established as a wise and faithful steward over the Lord’s family, and soon the brightness of his virtues was diffused everywhere.  His delightful reputation was also spread throughout the world, through which people were drawn in droves to see him from every quarter.
  3. A ship laden with people was brought to him by sail, which, battered by a fierce storm, threatened the sailors with the danger of shipwreck. Agitated they called upon Nicholas, and, appearing to them immediately, he calmed the sea from the fury of the abating storms. And they all gave thanks to him whom the winds and the sea obey.[4]
  4. This saint demolished the temple of Diana, because the devil tried to avenge himself by means of a strategem of the following sort. A ship filled with a crowd going to him [St N] was sailing the sea, when, behold!, the devil brought to it a vessel of oil in the shape of Diana, piteously begging them to convey this liquid to repair the lamps for his saint, and complaining that there were many things that hindered him from going to him himself.  They accepted the oil and were rowing into the middle of the sea, when, behold! a voice cried out from above, that they should throw away the oil given by the woman,[5] and know that the giver of it was the devil.  But as soon as the oil was thrown out, it instantly caught fire in a wave of unnatural flames. Then while they were crying out in fear, Nicholas appeared, and immediately the fraud disappeared.  Then the people sang praises to him, who rescued them from the boiling pot of the sea.
  5. At a certain time a very strong famine had invaded the country, and it had afflicted the people of Nicholas as much as possible. In the meantime royal ships laden with wheat were passing through the country, from which the man of God had obtained several bushels of wheat.  Out of this he distributed abundantly to all the people, and the sailors arriving at the shore found that the quantity of wheat was the same as if they had given nothing.  In this he imitated He who fed many thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, and from the fragments left over there was more than was supplied.
  6. Again at another time, three young men, unjustly accused by the proconsul, out of anger, or rather avarice, were condemned to death.[6] On hearing this, the bishop of God came as quickly as possible, and delivered them from imminent destruction. At another time, three noble men were accused of a plot to the emperor Constantine, because of envy, and by the emperor they were condemned.[7] They were put in prison, and cried out to Nicholas, and he immediately placated Constantine in his dreams with threats and terrors concerning their destruction.  The emperor awakened and called together the nobles, revealed the vision, and ordered the youths to be released without delay.  But they praised the mercy of the deliverer who had rescued them from the hand of a more powerful man.
  7. With these and many other glorious signs brought to completion, he is associated with the King of Glory in eternal glory. But it is related that the marble of his tomb perspires, with liquid oil.  If anyone who is sick is anointed with it, immediately sickness is expelled and health is restored.  O wonderful power of Christ!  As far as the east is from the west, and as far as the light differs from the darkness, so far are the rewards of the righteous different from reprobates.  For just as oil is said to seep from his tomb, so the sarcophagus of Julian the apostate is said to sweat a foul and putrid tar.  At a certain time the bishop of the same see was driven out of the city because of envy, and immediately the drop of the sacred liquor was restrained; and once he was received in his own seat, at once the healthy flow of drops was restored to those rejoicing.
  8. Also a certain powerful man ordered a noted goldsmith to make a golden vessel, which he assigned to be offered to St. Nicholas in fulfilment of a vow. As the artist carved it in a wonderful manner, and set it with various gems, the man admired the remarkable work, and decided to retain it for his own uses.  And he wanted another vessel to be made, just like the former, which he assigned to be taken to St. Nicholas.  The goldsmith, however, used the utmost care, but in no way could he adorn it in the same way as the former.  But when the work had not progressed at all, the man took the same gold, and entered the ship with his wife and son, and many others, and he thought to offer the gold to St. Nicholas instead of the vessel.  But having passed through the greatest part of the ocean, he was thirsty, and he wished to drink from the golden vessel which he had wrongfully kept for himself.  His son, accepting that only he was allowed to touch this, kept washing it in the waves.  But it slipped from the hand of the unwary youth, and he, trying to catch it, was drowned by the waves of the sea.  After this accident, they all reached the harbour in great sorrow, and sadly they entered the basilica of St. Nicholas.  The master laid the offering on the altar, but, rejected by God, it bounced off a long way.  Everyone was astounded, and he recounted in order how he had retained for himself the vessel promised, and for this reason he had lost his son with the vessel at sea, and then the saint refused to accept the offering.  Wherefore, when all were praising God and Saint Nicholas, while the father and mother were weeping heavily for their guilt and the loss of their son, and were multiplying their vows, behold, suddenly the young man rushed in alive with the vessel, who, to the astonishment of all, said that Saint Nicholas had appeared to him in the waters, and had taken him out while he was sinking in the sea, carried him unharmed to the shore, and had led him to his church.  All of them, astonished, praised God again and again in all things, who alone does wonderful things.[8]  And so the father of the young man presented the vessel with precious gifts to St. Nicholas, and happily returned home with his family.
  9. A certain rich merchant also lived lavishly and imprudently, whose carelessness brought him to the last poverty. He asked a Jew to give him money as a loan.  The Jew said to him that, if he put down security, he would lend him the money as he asked.  He said that he did not have security, unless perhaps he was willing to accept Nicholas as a guarantor.  The Jew said, “I hear that Nicholas is trustworthy; I accept this guarantor.” So he gave gold to the Christian man, keeping Nicholas as security.  But after that abundance of money grew, the Jew demanded back the money given.  He asked him for a delay in repaying, and the Jew still consents, waiting for three repayments.  Then he refused to return the money, and swore that he had returned it [already].  The matter was aired before the judges, and it was promulgated by law that he should either pay the money now, or be denied the sacrament.  And so the Christian handed the gold received, cunningly enclosed in a staff, to the Jew to carry, and went with him and a crowd of all the people to the church of St. Nicholas to swear an oath.  When he arrived at the altar, which he had given as security, he swore that he had given back the gold that he had received as a loan.  But then the Jew said, “I trust that Nicholas will vindicate me.”  Then he received the staff from the Jew, and he returned home laughing with his family.  He was immediately punished by divine retribution, because he was priding himself on his neighbour’s injury.  For on the journey a great drowsiness seized him, so that he thought that he would breathe out his soul unless he slept a little.  And so he placed himself to sleep at the crossroads, placing the staff beside him.  And behold, an laden wagon arrived, which could not turn aside in either direction.  And when the cowherds were unable to rouse the snoring man either by shouting or beating, they carried on over the one held down by a lethal sleep with the vehicle, and crushed the cast-down soul and the fraudulent [staff].  When they saw that gold glittered from the broken staff, the matter was revealed to all, and for which crime he lay dead by the judgement of God.  As people came together from all sides, the gold was returned to the Jew.  He entered the church with the people, and praises resounded to God and St. Nicholas.  Then he bound himself with an oath that, if his rival’s life was restored, he himself would immediately be washed in baptism.  O the mercy of Jesus Christ! O the merits of St. Nicholas! After they sang these praises, the man, with all his limbs broken in death, walked in alive, and he confessed his guilt before all.  On seeing this, the Jew, with all his household, was united to our faith.  Christ the Lord and his faithful servant Nicholas were praised by all with loud voices.
  10. Likewise, a pagan tax-collector had an image of St. Nicholas, to whom, going out on a certain day, he entrusted his money. But in the night the robbers came and took away all the man’s money. When he returned to find the money taken away, he filled the house with great howls.  Then, taking a whip, he cut down the image, and demanded back the money from it.  Meanwhile, as the robbers were dividing the plunder, St. Nicholas appeared, and by threats and terrors forced them to carry back everything in the night.  Then the tax-collector, on rising in the morning, and seeing his money, was filled with joy, and embraced the image and kissed it.  St Nicholas appeared to him and warned him about the salvation of his soul.  He was immediately baptized with all his people, and having built a church in honour of St Nicholas, he became a servant to Christ the Lord with praises.
  11. While the body of this excellent pontiff was being transferred from Myra to Bari, it was glorified by many glorious miracles. Indeed in less than a week, the blind, deaf, dumb, lame, withered, demoniacal and those exhausted by other ailments, to the number of a hundred and twelve men were restored to health by his merits. Whom God thus magnified among men, and exalted among the saints.  Let us call upon him, dearest, with praises, and seek access to him with prayers, so that God may not destroy our souls with the wicked, and our lives with men of blood, but that we may hear the voice of praise with the saints, and be able to tell of all the wonderful things of the Lord.  What the eye has not seen…[9]


[1] Ps. 111:7.

[2] Matt. 25.

[3] Matt. 25.

[4] Matt. 8.

[5] In the full-length version of the story, the devil disguised himself as an old woman unable to go on pilgrimage.

[6] The 1531 edition has a different text for this sentence.  “At another time the army of the Emperor Constantine had ravaged the country, had captured three noble young men, and condemned them to death.”

[7] In the 1531 edition, this sentence is replaced by: “They were surrendered by the Emperor’s army and were treated with due honour. But in the course of time they were made the subject of an accusation out of envy, and by the Emperor condemned.”

[8] Ps. 135.

[9] I.e. “But, as it is written: What the eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” – 1 Cor. 2:9

[10] This added by me.


From my diary

I’ve been doing a bit of a side-project for the last couple of days.

The short St Nicholas legends (reference BHL 6173 and 6175), that I have been working on, in fact derive – via the Magnum Legendarium Austriacum, of which more next week-  from the sermon on St Nicholas included by Honorius of Augustodunensis in his Speculum.  This is so obscure that I felt drawn to translate that sermon.  I turned the Migne text into an electronic text, and then quickly found evidence that it was dodgy.  The only other edition was the 1531 editio princeps, which looked rather better, so I collated the two.  These differed enough that I felt obliged to consult a couple of manuscripts, chosen at random.  Inevitably I ended up with a 4-way collation.

I have just finished the translation, and I will review it and upload it, with the text and collation, next week.  Then it’s back to BHL 6173, although there’s not much more to do there.

Isn’t it odd that there is no obvious way to create a collation in Microsoft Word (or in this blogging tool, WordPress)?


Searching for BHL 6173 and 6175 (Part 4) – A couple of manuscripts of the Speculum of Honorius of Augustodunensis

There are manuscripts of the Speculum of Honorius of Augustodunensis around online.  Here’s one at a library in Madrid, and a PDF can be downloaded from here!  The site, curiously, is silent about what library this item belongs to, or the shelfmark. That’s… awkward.

At the mighty BSB in Munich, there’s another one here, although it’s a scan of a microfilm.  No messing about on the web page tho: the header tells us this is BSB Clm 2581.  You can download the whole thing in PDF too, although somewhat slowly.

At e-Codices, where lurk the St Gall manuscripts, sure enough there’s another one here.  It’s Ms. Sang. 1075.  No PDF download tho.  Pleasingly, the URL reflects the shelfmark, as they all should.

But I want to avoid sliding off and editing or translating Honorius, or even the terribly tempting habit of collecting mss in PDF.  However I am transcribing the S. Nicholas bit of the Speculum – after all, I do need the Latin text for the extracts that are listed as BHL 6173 and BHL 6175.


Searching for BHL 6173 and 6175 (part 3) – Honorius of Augustodunensis

In my first post, I started searching online for a manuscript copy of BHL 6173, a miracle story about St Nicholas, in order to locate a copy of the text.  I continued with this post, looking at two Austrian manuscripts.  But then a kind commenter “Diego” here drew my attention to the Speculum Ecclesiae, or Mirror of the Church, by 12th century author Honorius of Augustodunensis, in the early 12th century.  It’s worth looking a bit further, although this author is definitely too late for this blog.

This work is a collection of sermons, composed in England at Canterbury, for feast days in the medieval church year.  Apparently it was rather successful, and a considerable number of manuscripts are known, including this list at Mirabile. Here, for instance, is a Canterbury manuscript now in the Parker Library.  Material from it was also excerpted freely, and also translated into the vernacular.  A number of the sermons have been translated at this blog.  A bibliography is here.

It was printed for the first time by Jean Dietemberg at Cologne in 1531.[1]  On folio 208v of this edition here we find his sermon for St Nicholas’ Day (December 6); the “sermo de S. Nicolao”. Migne states that another edition appeared in 1544 at Basle, edited by Olearius who was unaware of the Cologne edition.  However I cannot find any such publication, unless it is this, which does not contain the Speculum.  Migne printed the text from a manuscript – apparently a Rhenoviensis 138 – in the Patrologia Latina 172, cols. 807-1107 (Speculum online here), with our sermo on col.1033.  Migne certainly does not reprint the 1531 edition, as is obvious on fol. 210.  I could find no sign of a modern edition of the text.

This sermon consists of a summary of legends of St Nicholas.  And there, in the middle, we find BHL 6173; and immediately following it BHL 6175.  These two pieces, listed by the Bollandists, are just extracts from Honorius’ sermon.  They seem to have circulated separately, and this is why they have individual BHL numbers.  But they really have no separate existence.

BHL 6173 has the incipit, “Quidam praepotens vir, accersito aurifice…”.  BHL 6175: “Quidam locuples mercator…”.  In Analecta Bollandiana 17, p.209, there is a list of the contents of the big, late-medieval legendaries – books of the legends of the saints – in Austria.  Here BHL 6173 is given the title “The miracle of the vase of gold” while BHL 6175 is “St Nicholas invoked as a guarantor”.

This seems to make clear what our pieces are.  Honorius abbreviated legends already in circulation for his sermo; and excerpts from his sermo then turn up in legendaries.

  1. [1]Migne, PL, col.15-16.

Getting a manuscript offline from the Forschungsbibliothek Gotha

The Gotha collection of manuscripts is less well-known than it should be, except to specialists.  But anybody doing anything with English and Cornish and Welsh saints’ lives is aware of a semi-mythical manuscript in that collection, with the shelfmark “Gotha Forschungsbibliothek Membr. I 81”.  These lives are mainly accessed in an abbreviated recension made by John of Tynemouth and printed as “Nova Legenda Anglie”.  What makes the Gotha manuscript special is that it contains unabbreviated versions of some of this same material.

We live in a period of transition, where archives know that manuscript material ought to be accessible online.  But at the moment most archives have limited IT resources, both of infrastructure and people skills.  It’s important for extremely online people to remember this.  There may well be just one person at the other end.

A lot of Gotha manuscripts are online.  Unfortunately the website was clearly designed by a non-manuscript person – not at all uncommon, this! -, and it makes it hard to find what is online.  You can’t search by shelfmark.  If they would just put up a single page with all the manuscripts on, listed by shelfmark, and with a link to each ms, that would solve it.

Last Tuesday, a mere 6 days ago, I decided to write to the library and ask.  From the list of contacts I selected a certain Dr Henrikje Carius, and enquired.  I didn’t get a reply, but the following day I had an email instead from Dr Monika Müller:

Memb. I 81 has been digitized, however, the digital copy has not yet been put online due to the lack of a sufficient catalogue entry. It is provided to put the digital copy online in a project planned for next year. In general, the Research library sells already existing digital scans which not are accessible online for 8 Euro. Please, inform me about how you would like to proceed.

Here we see evidence of a library that is in the transitional period; because it’s hard to see why you would do all the hard work of photography and then not put it on the web, just because of cataloguing.  That’s an old trap that librarians sometimes fall into, because cataloguing is never finished.  All the same this was a very helpful reply.  But clearly we were going to get a version of the old-fashioned labour-intensive manual process that used to happen.

I was wary of the 8 euro charge, trivial as it was.  Accounting for money takes loads of manual labour, more than such a charge would justify.  Anyway I agreed to it, mainly out of curiosity.  The next step was that I was sent a long form in PDF format which was an “estimate”, and asked to complete it.  But also:

My apologies, that I have overlooked one aspect: As the manuscript has 230 folios and therefore the scan 460 images, it takes a lot of time to upload the scan. The library charges fees for this service, i.e. 25 Euro for the scans of Memb. I 81.

I didn’t know it then, but the zip file in question was 10Gb, so it did take a while.  I don’t think I’ve ever been charged for this before, however.  On the other hand, it was not so long ago that a CD would be sent out by post.

The paperwork duly caused problems.  Thankfully this was emailed to me – once, this would have been by post.  That is a step forward.  Unfortunately I was away from home and reading the PDF form on a phone.  I could see no way to enter text.  Emails to and fro.  When I returned home, two days later, I found that the PDF was indeed read-only!   So I printed it off, hand-scribbled my agreement, and scanned it back in and sent it in.  I would guess that I should have been sent a Word .docx file instead.  All transitional stuff.  They need a form online that you can enter the data into.

Once  I had emailed the PDF in then things moved swiftly.  Another document in PDF appeared, which luckily I did not have to do anything with.  Then I had to find out just how to send money.  International bank transfer was the sole option.  This is common in the EU, but rarely done outside.  Banks tend to charge 10 euros just for the trouble.  But I was fortunate: since the last time I did this, the banks have introduced ways to do it, and the money went over swiftly.  This morning I received a link to the download – the monster 10 Gb file!  This I shall stash on 3 external drives.

Inside the zip were all the pages in TIFF format, each about 30 mb.  I was relieved to find that they were all excellent quality colour photographs.  I opened one in MS Paint and saved it as PNG, and the size dropped to 20mb.  I then saved it as JPG and the size dropped to… 3mb.  That’s about the size I would expect.

What I want, of course, is a PDF.  I have the tools to create it, and then I can add bookmarks for the various sections of the manuscript.  So the PDF needs to be a reasonable size.

There are about 460 images in the folder, so I’m not doing that conversion manually.  Instead I used ImageMagick.  Looking at my collection of installers, I’ve not done this since about 2011!  But it all worked fine.  I right-clicked on the folder and opened it in Terminal, and then ran:

mogrify -format jpeg *.tif

This ran extremely fast and, in less than a minute, it had merrily converted every .tif image into a brand new .jpeg file in the same directory.  Whatever the image conversion defaults were – some loss of quality, of course -, the jpg file size was 3mb each time, and the images looked just as readable for my purposes.  I then fired up Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 – very elderly now, but still working – and combined all the .jpgs (ignoring endleaves etc) into a PDF.  This itself is a mighty 1.18 Gb, but it will serve my purposes very well.

The next step is to use an online set of contents, and create bookmarks.

Thank you, Dr Müller, and the Forschungsbibliothek staff, for what was a far more efficient process than in the past.


Searching for BHL 6173 (part 2)

In my last post, I started searching online for a manuscript copy of BHL 6173, a miracle story about St Nicholas, which has never been printed.  Two French manuscripts were supposed to contain a copy; neither did.  But two Austrian manuscripts were also listed by the Bollandists in their BHLms database:

  • Heiligenkreuz SB 14
  • Melk SB C.12

Both of these abbeys are in Austria.  This has a union site, which is a good idea.  All the fully digitised manuscripts they have can be located here, and then you drill down.  So far, so good.

There are 93 fully digitised mss of Melk online!  That’s great news.  I find that “C 12” is the old shelfmark – the site in fact lists a concordance of Melk shelfmarks here, but it is useless unless you know which catalogue your source was working from – unlikely with an old reference.  But it’s a fine idea in principle.

In fact “Melk C 12” is now Melk 546, online here.  It’s a 15th century manuscript, so very late.  But we don’t care about that.

Unfortunately the site has been changed since I last looked at it.  It was frankly rather clunky, but it was entirely usable.  It is now rather quicker to find the actual digitised manuscript.  But otherwise the changes are a disaster.  No researcher can work with this.  Negative changes include:

  • Disabled downloads – at least for the public – and instead tried to force you to use their online browser.
  • Set up that browser menu so that Google Translate can’t translate their pop-up menus.  Non-German speakers are not welcome.
  • Made sure the menu options cannot even be copied, in case you tried to use Google Translate that way.
  • Clicking on “fol. 40 r” instead displays f.36r.
  • There’s no way to download the page that I want.  Links point to the wrong pages.

Somebody has really set out to make the researcher’s job impossible.  There are good, solid reasons why researchers hate librarians. Stuff like this, that makes your life harder, is the reason why.  This has cost me an hour of pain, and in reality the manuscript will now be omitted from my list of witnesses.

The only part of all this that is actually an improvement is that the “Scroll” option in the browser – which, weirdly, is horizontal – is quick.  You can skim through the pages.  On fol. 40r I do find “Quidam praepotens vir“.  Not that I can download the page, of course.

Luckily for me the amount of text that I want is small, and can be screen grabbed.  Here’s the text of BHL 6173.

It’s not hugely readable, to a layman.  I’ll try transcribing it another time.

Blessedly the manuscript also contains BHL 6175, which I am also looking for.  This is only found in the Melk and Heiligenkreuz manuscripts, plus one in Belgium, KBR 07487-07491 (3182), somewhere between fol. 170v-185v, a 13th century manuscript.  But that isn’t online.

What about the Heiligenkreuz 14 manuscript?  Sadly not.  Some of the Heiligenkreuz manuscripts are indeed online, but not this one.  [Update, March 21: Heiligenkreuz 14 is indeed now online].

That’s our four manuscripts, and we have a single hit, which luckily contains both unpublished texts.

But although the Bollandists with their BHL, and BHLms database, are the essential reference, they are not the sole source of all truth.  Google searches can reveal things unknown to the excellent fathers.

Doing so led me to a massive monograph online here at, by Sarah Staats, “Le catalogue médiéval de l’abbaye cistercienne de Clairmarais et les manuscrits conservés” (2016).  And on page 64, we learn of a 12th manuscript, now Saint-Omer 701, which contains part of the Speculum Ecclesiae of Honorius Augustodunensis (who?).  This contains on fol. 121v-122r a “Sermo de sancto Nicolao” (BHL 6173 and 6175).  That manuscript is online and accessible through Mirador.  Here is part of the opening in question! 

Which is a nice bonus.  I think we can get a text together using those two witnesses, don’t you?

Have a good weekend, everyone.


Searching for BHL 6173

I’ve gathered nearly 50 miracle stories of St Nicholas, using the wonderful Bibliographica Hagiographica Latina (BHL) index.  BHL 6173 (beginning “Quidam praepotens vir, accersito aurifice…“; “A certain powerful man, an accomplished goldsmith…”) is an epitome of BHL 6172, so the Bollandists did not trouble to print the text.  So I need to look at the manuscripts of BHL 6173.

Fortunately the online database, BHLms, does give four results for this text:

  • Paris BNF lat. 11570
  • Paris BNF lat. 11576
  • Heiligenkreuz SB 14
  • Melk SB C.12

The last two institutions mean nothing to me as yet, but the BNF in Paris has loads of it mss online.  Indeed I already have a download of 11570 in PDF form on my disk.  I quickly acquire 11576.  But… as I look at it, it becomes clear that the entry in BHLms for this manuscript is garbage.  Something has gone wrong, although I have no idea who to report this to.  For this is an unlisted copy of John the Deacon, BHL 6104-8, not BHL 6173.

BNF 11570 lists 4 miracle texts right at the end, on folios 253r-260r.  The last of these is BHL 6173.  But when I look at folio 253r, I find instead a copy of the Transitus of St Nicholas.  It’s supposed to be BHL 6151, “Rursus autem alio tempore altera mulier de vico Neapoleos…”.

Paris BNF lat 11750, fol. 253r.

Instead that text appears under a numeral “II” on the last line of the page.  The “transitus” appears to be a version of BHL 6154.  So the two texts, as listed in BHLms, are reversed.  This is not good news – it means that the catalogue is not reliable.

A casual search reveals that the numerals disappear, and the text becomes continuous.  Thankfully the start of each sentence is capitalised.  At fol. 260r there is nothing starting “Quidam”.  Working back, no sentence starts thus.  The text is simply not there.

The other two institutions are Austrian abbeys.  I can’t recall how to locate these for the moment. I will go off and find out!


From my diary

For some months a copy of Charles W. Jones, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan has sat next to my computer, pestering me to read it.  Today I gave up and fed it to the sheet-feed scanner.  It is no more; just a PDF, floating in the void.  Even as I write, Adobe Acrobat Pro is OCRing it.

I did try.  I really did.  But although the book is full of erudition, it is just so annoying to read.  This is entirely the fault of the author, for departing from normal standards of scholarly writing, and introducing a literary conceit.

Jones pretends that the legend of St Nicholas is like a person, and so his chapters bear annoying and pointless titles such as “Boyhood”, “Maturity”, and so forth.  This neatly conceals the content in a quite amazing way.

But there is worse.  Jones refers to the legend as “N”.  He then writes, in his text, how “N” does this, or that, displays this or that human quality.  It is utterly, utterly wearisome, at least to me, and again obstructs the reader as he tries to work out exactly what is being said.  Jones displays formidable erudition.  But he also displays a tendency to make literary digressions.  Need I add that his footnotes are all banished to an appendix?  And the numbering restarts with each subsection of each chapter?  And that the table of contents does not list those subsections?  To a busy man seeking specific information, such casualness is a burden.

I did try to read through it twice, but gave up.  The last time I did so, I came across a short section which he had translated, so he said, from the Mombritius edition of John the Deacon.  I put a couple of bookmarks in the book, one in the text and one at the back in the notes.  Today I compared that translation with my own text and translation of John.  It was no translation at all, but rather a paraphrase.  No doubt all his translations are the same.  At that point I snapped, and decided that a searchable PDF would be of infinitely more use.  It is gone.

A couple of days ago, a kind correspondent wrote enquiring about the Gotha manuscript I. 81, containing versions of English and Cornish saints’ lives.  This manuscript is described as containing a rather better text than that of John of Tynemouth.  I found a website run by the Gotha collection at Erfurt University.  I was delighted to find that a good solid number of manuscripts were online.  But the website is clearly a first generation effort, constructed by people who never consulted a manuscript in their lives.  It seems to be impossible to find out whether or not a given manuscript is online.

So I wrote and asked if this manuscript was online.  It is not, and not scheduled to go online for a year.  But the photographs already existed; and, for money – seemingly to cover their time – I could have a copy.  I have since been trying to get hold of these.  I get the impression that the library staff are genuinely trying to help.  But the process is much more clunky than it needs to be.  I will probably write something about this, simply as a historical record of what researchers could have to go through in order to access a manuscript, even as late as 2023.

But I am very tolerant of these babysteps by institutions.  The pace of change in their world is breathtaking.  They have limited resources, yet everyone expects everything all at once.  They all have to start somewhere.  Erfurt at least understand that they must move with the times, and are trying.  But the old habits of paperwork die hard!  Still, we have come so far since the days when I was pestering the British Library about these matters.  What I’ve been doing, from a mobile phone, over the last two days, would have been unthinkable a few years ago.


From my diary

I’ve just finished translating BHL 6170, a rather pointless miracle story by St Nicholas, published in 1889 by the Bollandists as part of the second volume of their catalogue of the Latin manuscripts of the Royal Belgian Library.  The Bollandists were very busy at the end of the 19th century, and for each manuscript they tended to print first a list of contents, and then, as an appendix to the entry, one or more previously unpublished pieces in it.  This was a very useful habit, which conveniently gives us access to a great deal of hagiographical material.

Completing BHL 6170 means that I have now got a MSWord file with BHL 6130-6170 in it.  Without checking, I presume that’s 40 pieces of text.  The file has the Latin text, then the Google Translate of it, suitably cleaned up by me.  Actually it’s not in one single file yet, but in several, but that’s just a cut and paste job.

I’m toying with just making available what I have, and then doing a “version 2” etc as I add more.  There’s still a fair way to go.  I’m not bothering with the longer texts, but rather the miracle stories.

The reason for doing this job is to make a tool for those working with the manuscripts of the Latin St Nicholas material.  There’s such a lot of it, and so many miracle stories, that you find yourself getting lost while paging through the PDFs.  A file with the Latin text means that you can just type in a few words from the manuscript, press Ctrl-F (find), and discover what on earth you’re looking at.  The translation is relatively easy to produce, and so is worth including.

Next on  my list is BHL 6171, printed by Falconius in 1751 on pp.127-9, “Ex iisdem codicibus membranaceis Vaticanis, num. 1194 & 5696, a pag.15 a tergo, ad 17”, from the same parchment Vatican mss, 1194 and 5696, from p.15 verso to 17.  Ms. Vat. lat. 1194 is not online, annoyingly, but 5696 is.  Let’s hope Falconius didn’t get too creative with the text.

The first task is to OCR that part of Falconius.  I wish Finereader would cope with the long-s better.