Looking for manuscripts of John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas” (BHL 6104 etc)

When using Google, it really helps if you have the BHL (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina) number for the text that you are interested in.  You can find interesting things!

My next project is to translate the “Life” of St. Nicholas, written in Latin by John the Deacon.  I shall use the Falconius text of 1751, which appears to be the most recent.

While working on the start of this, I saw that Falconius identified two manuscripts as the basis for his edition (as well as the older Mombritius edition).  One was from Naples, and basically unidentifiable.  But the other was one of the Queen of Sweden’s manuscripts in the Vatican, which he identified as Ms. Vaticanus latinus 5696.  He also commented about a heading in that manuscript.  So I thought that it might be fun to go and see if it was online.

There’s no trouble in finding the manuscript – it’s here.  Unfortunately it’s 300+ pages, and in a low-quality microfilm scan.  I couldn’t even find the right portion of the manuscript.  But I wondered whether perhaps Google might help, might give me the page, or rather folio number.

To my surprise, I found something like a Vatican manuscript catalogue online.  My first hit was for another manuscript, Vat. lat. 1197, here.  Clicking on the book icon leads you to the manuscript; but clicking on the “Autore” link for “Iohannes Diaconus Neapolitanus, sec. X-XI” led me to a remarkable list of manuscripts and folio numbers!  (The link is here, but hardly looks very permanent.)

The page lists 8 manuscripts, 5 of them online.

The “Life” is divided into several parts by the BHL, and seems to be transmitted in sections.  I would imagine that this is because portions of it formed readings in church on the saint’s day, December 6th.

So from this I could find the start of the work.  Here are a couple of pages from Vat. lat. 1197, folios 13v and 14r, facing pages.  The individual pages are downloadable, so here are the first two (click for larger versions):

Ms. Vat. lat. 1197, folio 13v.
Ms. Vat. lat. 1197, folio 14r.

But this was not all.  I also found Fribourg/Freiburg, Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire/Kantons- und Universitätsbibliothek, Ms. L 5, (13th c., second third, after 1235) online here., and starting at fol. 53v.  Here too the first page is downloadable:

Freiburg L. 5, Fol. 53v.

This also told me about an article: “Pasquale Corsi, «La “Vita” di san Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni diacono», dans: Nicolaus. Rivista di teologia ecumenico-patristica 7 (1979), p. 361-380 (seulement BHL 6104-6106).”

A catalogue page informed me of Durham Cathedral Library Ms. B.IV.14, (early 12th c.) but there was no link to the online manuscript.  I had to google to find the online book itself, here.  This contains three items of interest:

(h)     f.170-181  – Vita S. Nicholai,
Author: John, the Deacon of Rome, approximately 824-approximately 882
Edited: BHL 6104, 6105,6106

(i)     f.181-189  – Miracula S. Nicholai
Edited: BHL 6150, 6151, 6152, 6153, 6154, 6160, 6161, 6164, 6167, 6172

(j)     f.190-200v – Translatio S. Nicholai Barium A.D. 1087, cum miraculis,
Author: Johannes Barensis
“Post beati Nicholai gloriosum ab hac vita” (incl. verses “Tempore quid miseris”, quoted Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica 3,VII,ix
Edited: BHL 6104, 6105, 6106

Here the page could not be downloaded, only viewed through the rubbishy viewer:

Durham Ms. B.IV.14, fol. 170r.

Another manuscript, Paris lat. 17625, is online here as a dreadful microfilm, but properly online bound in two volumes here and here. It was written before 968 AD, but all it has is a few pages at the end, on f. 258v-261v.

BNF lat. 17625 f. 258v

Another, Paris. lat. 18303, written between 1076-1100, is here, again as a microfilm, but also as a properly digitised ms, f.3r-59r, BHL 6104, 6105 and 6106.  The whole ms can be downloaded as PDF, which is really useful.  Here’s the first page of our work:

BNF Latin 18303, f.3r

Nor was it just online manuscripts.  Another page at the IRHT informed us that “Johannes Neapolitanus diaconus (0860?-0910?)” was responsible for BHL 6104-6113, and that:

Dated between : 875-885
Number of Manuscripts According to Bibliography : 608
Bibliography:

  • BHL 6104 : Prologue de la Vita sancti Nicolai, plus de 120 mss
  • BHL 6105 : plus de 150 mss.
  • BHL 6107 : plus de 70 mss
  • BHL 6108 : plus de 170 mss
  • BHL 6110 : 2 mss.
  • Clavis Scriptorum Latinorum Medii Aevi, Auctores Italiae, 700-1000, 157-158.

All of which is jolly useful. (I don’t have access to that Clavis, but clearly I need to do so!)

But note the developing confusion about John the Deacon, and the various dates assigned to him.  Durham indeed thinks he comes from Rome – the prologue to the Vita says that he actually is a “servant of St. Januarius” in Naples – and links to a John Hymmonides (825-882?), who is clearly who they have in mind, but is not the same person.  I shall have to look further into who this John may be.  Surely there is a list somewhere?

This brief search, undertaken at work during lunchtime, is not likely to be all that is available.  Yet it is already far more than Falconius had at his disposal to edit the text!

We are indeed very fortunate to live in such times.

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