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.