Latin translations of the Greek fathers in Dark Ages monastic manuscript inventories

How widely known were the Greek fathers in the Latin world during the Dark Ages?  How accessible were they?

One possible source of information is the surviving inventories of medieval libraries.  A collection of these was printed by G. Becker in 1885 as Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui, and it makes interesting reading indeed.  In fact if you want to get an idea of what a medieval library looked like, this is the best thing you can read.  Catalogue after catalogue, monastery after monastery.

If we do a search on “Origen”, we start finding results almost at once.  The seventh catalogue, from Fontanelle, ca. 823-33 AD, has four volumes of his homilies as entries 78-81.  The next catalogue (8), from Reichenau, at much the same time, is better still:

Homilies of Chrysostom on Matthew; Origen on Genesis, on Romans; and books from the Clementine Recognitions.  All of these are, of course, Latin translations.  It raises the question of just what the Latin world of that period had access to.

Back in 2021 an interesting article appeared in the Downside Review by Scott G. Bruce: “Veterum vestigia patrum: The Greek Patriarchs in the Manuscript Culture of Early Medieval Europe”.[1]  The abstract is worth quoting:

This article draws attention to the availability of Latin translations of Greek patristic literature in western reading communities before the year 800 through a survey of the contents of hundreds of surviving manuscripts from the Merovingian and Carolingian periods. An examination of the presence of the translated works of eastern church fathers in the 8th-century florilegium known as The Book of Sparks (Liber scintillarum) and monastic library catalogs from the early 9th century corroborates the impression left by the manuscript evidence. Taken together, these sources allow us to gauge the popularity of particular eastern authors among Latin readers in early medieval Europe and to weigh the influence and importance of Greek patristics in the western monastic tradition.

But the abstract is too modest: the author has surveyed nearly 1,800 Latin manuscripts created before 800 AD – a massive task.  His conclusion:

In conclusion, the legacy of the ancient fathers, in particular those of Greek origin, was an important aspect of the intellectual history of early medieval monasticism that has received little attention in modern scholarship. This article has laid the foundation for the study of the reception of the Greek fathers in the medieval Latin tradition. Its survey of the nearly 1800 Latin manuscripts created before or around the year 800 has shown that doctrinal, devotional, and historical works attributed to eastern Christian authors survived in relative abundance in western monastic libraries. Latin reading communities favored especially the biblical commentaries of Origen, the salvation history of Eusebius, and the homilies and sermons of John Chrysostom, but other Christian Greek authors like Basil of Caesarea, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Ephrem the Syrian, and Gregory of Nazianzos informed their thinking as well. An examination of the early 8th-century Book of Sparks and Carolingian book inventories from the first decades of the 9th century corroborated the evidence of the manuscripts, and also uncovered the presence of lesser known works of Eastern origin that attracted a western audience, including a spiritual guide by Evagrius of Pontus. … The Christological controversies of the late 8th century raised the currency of the Greek fathers even higher among Latin readers like Alcuin, who looked back to the 5th-century east for a language of authority with which to defend traditional Christian doctrine against the misguided interpretation of Christ’s nature put forward by the Adoptionists.

The article is very readable, and is recommended.

Note the presence of Ephraim the Syrian?  This is CPG 4080 = CPL 1143, De die judicii, on the Day of Judgement, found in the catalogue of St Riquier (Becker 11, p.27).  There’s an English translation online here.

Looking in Becker, I find mention of a Discourses to Monks in Whitby ca. 1180 (Becker 109, p.226), but all is not as it seems.  for Becker gives his source:

Edwards. Memoirs of libraries. (London 1859.) p. 109-111 excerpsit ex Young History of Whitby and Streoneshald Abbey {1817} p.918-920.

and the latter is accessible online.  On p.919 here we find that the entry is merely “Effrem” – the rest is speculation by the 19th century editor.  The work supposed here is CPG 3942 Exhortation to the Monks of Egypt (Sermones paraenetici ad monachos Aegypti), the first ten of which are online in English here.  (The translation site has gone, and is now preserved only at

Later in Becker there is yet another “liber, qui vocatur Ephrem” – a book which is called ‘Ephrem’ – as entry 37 of Stederburg (Becker 124, p.253, 12th c.).

It’s very useful to know just what was available in Dark Ages Europe.

  1. [1]Vol. 139, p.6-23.  DOI: 10.1177/0012580621994704

Some thoughts about interpolation in patristic texts

The term “Theotokos” (“Mother of God”) becomes the subject of fierce controversy in the 5th century AD.  The dispute was perhaps more political than religious – Constantinople versus Alexandria – but was fought with great ferocity, and lavish bribery, and ended in the victory of Cyril of Alexandria and the exile of Nestorius and indeed a great number of others.  Failure to use the term for Mary was a sign of Nestorianism, which could be fatally bad for you.  The use of the term is still held with passion by  Eastern Orthodox even today.

Therefore, when searching the TLG for the earliest usages of this word, it was something of a surprise to find it in Greek patristic texts from 300 onwards.  It appears in Athanasius, but also before.  Of course there is no reason why the word might not be used, and it need not imply any of the doctrines associated with it in the 5th century.  But all the same it seems odd.

Could these usages be later interpolations?  How could we tell?

I am very much opposed to alleging interpolation as a way to dispose of inconvenient evidence.  In general the texts that have reached us from antiquity do so in a very reasonable state, as far as we can tell.  The main reason for this is, of course, the prosaic one.  Anybody who put himself to the considerable trouble of copying a literary text did so precisely because he wanted a copy of that text.

But once politics and bigotry appear, then the incentive to forgery appears.  Cyril of Alexandria himself refers, in letters 39 and 40, to tampering with a letter of Athanasius:

8.  But when some of those accustomed “to pervert what is right” turn my words aside into what seems best to them, let your holiness not wonder at this, knowing that those involved in every heresy collect from the divinely inspired Scripture as pretexts of their own deviation whatever was spoken truly through the Holy Spirit, corrupting it by their own evil ideas, and pouring unquenchable fire upon their very own heads. But since we have learned that some have published a corrupt text of the letter of our all-glorious father, Athanasius, to the blessed Epictetus, a letter which is itself orthodox, so that many are done harm from it, thinking that for this reason it would be something useful and necessary for our brothers, we have sent to your holiness copies of it made from the ancient copy which is with us and is genuine. – Letter 39 (FOC 76 translation), p.152


25. … For the most God-fearing Bishop of Emesa, Paul, came to me and then, after a discussion had been started concerning the true and blameless faith, questioned me rather earnestly if I approved the letter from our thrice-blessed father of famous memory, Athanasius, to Epictetus, the Bishop of Corinth. I said that, “if the document is preserved with you incorrupt,” for many things in it have been falsified by the enemies of the truth, I would approve it by all means and in every way. But he said in answer to this that he himself had the letter and that he wished to be fully assured from the copies with us and to learn whether their copies have been corrupted or not. And taking the ancient copies and comparing them with those which he brought, he found that the latter have been corrupted; and he begged that we make copies of the texts with us and send them to the Church of Antioch. And this has been done. – Letter 40 (FOC 76 translation), p.166-7.

Much later, at the Council of Florence, the Greeks and the Latins arguing over the filioque found examples on both sides of interpolation.

This is human nature.  Once a behaviour is incentivised, through advantage or fear, then it will appear.

We know something of “forced speech” in these days.  If you look at a job advertisement from most official or academic sources, each and every one will include some reference to “diversity”.  The word is pretty much meaningless of itself; but we all know that it is a code-word, indicating loyalty to a particular political agenda.  A job advertisement that did not contain it might be dangerous!  It might leave the clerks open to an accusation of failure to endorse this policy or that.  Far safer to murmur the code-words.

In the 5th century, failure to use “theotokos” might carry the same risks for any writer.  Once certain views are obligatory, and failure to conform is dangerous, then it becomes important to use the code-words.  “Theotokos” was most certainly a code-word.

A little while ago I was looking at the catena fragments which preserve bits of Origen.  These use the word “theotokos”, but I gather that scholars do not think this part of Origen’s text.  This is not unreasonable.  A catena is a literary work of itself, composed of chains of quotations from the fathers, adapted to form a continuous commentary on a passage of scripture.  I really do not see why a writer would not introduce “theotokos” when composing his catena.  It wouldn’t be wrong, or misrepresentation.  Rather it would be a case of adapting the older writer to contemporary needs.

Likewise a copyist of an integral work might add “theotokos” in the margin, as a note.  Because omissions were also written in the margins, this could easily be mistaken for a copyist omission, and become part of the text when next copied.

But all of this is speculation.  We need to ask whether there is any actual evidence that this did actually happen?  Did later copyists introduce “theotokos” into 4th century texts?  How can we tell?

One obvious way to assess this is to find copies of the patristic texts prior to 400 AD, and look.

This leads to the next question: do we have any copies of the writings of patristic writers like Athanasius prior to 400?  How could we find out?

I’m not sure that this is a very easy question to answer.  For Latin texts we have E.A.Lowe’s Codices Latini Antiquiores.  But to the best of my knowledge this is safely offline and inaccessible.  And anyway we need Greek.  There might be papyri.  These might be safely dated; or not.  But how do we find out?  A critical edition of a specific work ought to tell us at least something.  Probably that’s the way to go.

But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we had no 4th century manuscripts of 4th century fathers.  Surviving 4th century manuscripts are few.

So how can we detect any such process of interpolation of “code-words” into patristic texts?

At the moment, I suspect, all we can do is be cautious in this area.


16 page lost section of ancient “Julian Romance” text discovered in Vatican manuscript

A pair of researchers have discovered and published a lost ancient text in the Vatican library.  It’s the long-lost opening portion of a text usually dated to the early 6th century, and known as the “Julian Romance.” This is a novelisation of the reign of Julian the Apostate, who reigned ca. 362 AD, and his persecution of the church.  The work was composed in Syriac, but widely translated in antiquity into other nearby languages including Greek.

The publication is Marianna Mazzola & Peter Van Nuffelen, “The Julian Romance: A Full Text and a New Date”, in: Journal of Late Antiquity 16 (2023) pp.324-377. (Paywalled here; first page here).  This prints the Syriac text, with an English translation, and a thorough study.

Here’s the abstract:

The Syriac Julian Romance, a tripartite fictional account of the reign of the Emperor Julian, was hitherto only partially known from two manuscripts. This article publishes the missing first section from Vat. Sir. 37, a section that narrates the death of Constantius II. The complete text allows us to demonstrate that the narrative was composed by a single author and that the tripartite structure does not reflect three older, separate texts. Further, we identify the Miscellaneous Chronicle of 640 as the source for most of the historical information in the Romance. This implies a new date in the first half of the seventh century, which is supported by other chronological indications in the Romance.

The majority of the text of the Julian Romance was already known, and can be found in British Library Additional MS 14,641.  But this copy was obviously missing a large chunk at the start.  A small part of the beginning was later found in Paris BNF Syr. 378.  But there was still, obviously, a large amount missing.

Marianna Mazzola was one of the scholars:

I was checking the historiographical excerpts contained in Syriac doctrinal florilegia for a project I have been collaborating with at Ghent University and stumbled on this text mistakenly cataloged by J. Assemani as an excerpt from Michael the Syrian’s Chronicle on the Death of Constantius II.

I did not remember such a passage in Michael’s Chronicle so I started to translate it and realised that the style was not at all the plain, dry style of Syriac chroniclers. Gradually, I realised that it could be the Romance of Julian and finally when on the last page my text overlapped with that of MS Add. 14641, I no longer had any doubts.

The article is written with Peter van Nuffelen in which we also propose a new date on the basis of the new textual evidences. Looking forward to hear any remarks! We are aware this is a much debated text that has always sparkled much scholarly discussion.

In response to a query, she added:

I worked on the on-line manuscript. Sadly, it was still COVID time when I worked on it, and it was impossible to travel to the Vatican Library. Certainly further study of the manuscript would be an important addition.

The manuscript is indeed online, and may be found at the Vatican site here.  The article lists the contents of the manuscript.  The new text is on folio 168v-173r.  Here’s the opening:

ܐܝܟܙ ܐܟܠܡ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܪܒ ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܕ ܗܢܩܦܡ ܠܥܕ ܐܬܝܥܫܬ ܒܘܬ
.ܝܗ̈ܘܗܒܐ ܠܥ ܦܣܘܬܬܐܘ ܗܡܥ ܬܘܠ ܫܢܟܬܐܘ ܐܒܪ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܕ ܗܬ̈ܡܘܝ ܘܡܠܫ ܕܟ ܠܥܒ ܝܗܘܬܝܐܕ ܗܪܟܘܒ ܢܝܕ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ .ܝܗ̈ܘܢܒ ܐܬܠܬ ܗܪܬܒ ܢܡ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܘܕܚܐܘ ܐܬܘܝܘܐ ܐܕܚܒ ܢܘܗܬܢܝܒ ܐܘܗ ܬܝܐ ܐܡܠܫܘ .ܣܘܛܣܘܩܘ .ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩܘ .ܗܡܫ ܬܝܡ ܆ܬܠ̈ܬ ܢܝ̈ܢܫ ܟܝܐ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܘܪܲܒܕ ܕܟܘ .ܢܘܗܬܘܢܪܒܕܡܒ ̇ܗܣܟܛܒ ܐܝܕܪܕ .ܐܬܢܝܫܡ ܣܘܛܣܘܩ ܒܘܬ ܕܟܘ .ܝܗ̈ܘܚܐ ܕܝܨ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ̇ܬܟܪܲܫܘ ܉ܐܫܝܫܩ ܢܘܗܘܚܐ ܣܘܢܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ̇ܗܠܟܒ ܪܚܬܫܐܘ .ܐܡܠܥ ܢܡ ܕܼܢܥ ܘܼ ܗ ܦܐ ܆ܢܝܬܪ̈ܬ ܢܝ̈ܢܫ ܐܬܘܟܠܡܒ ܕܼܒܥ ܛܠܲܬܫܐܘ ܐܝܡܘܪ̈ܕ ̇ܗܠܟ ܐܬܘܟܠܡܠ ܕܼܚܐܘ .ܢܘܗܘܚܐ ܣܝܛܢܛܣܘܩ ܼ ܘܗ ܐܬܘܢܪܒܕܡܘ .ܐܝܢ̈ܘܝܕ ܐܢܝܢܡܒ ܥܒܪ̈ܐܘ ܢܝܫܡܚܘ ܐܐ̈ܡܬܫ ܬܢܫܒ .ܐܬܘܟܠܡ ܝܗܘ̈ܕܝܐܒ ̇ܬܢܩܬܘ .ܢܘܗܝܠܥ

[168v] History of the death of Constantius, son of Constantine the victorious king.

(1) When the days of Constantine the Great ended, he was gathered to his people and joined his fathers, and his three sons reigned after him: Constantine, his first-born who was named after him, Constantius, and Constans, and there was peace with one pacific consent between them, current in their government. After they had ruled for around three years, Constantine the oldest brother died, and the rule remained with his brothers. After Constans had reigned for two years, he also died, and Constantius, their brother, was left [in control of] the entire realm and the governance. He took the entire realm of the Romans and ruled over them. The realm was established under his control in the year 654 of the era of the Greeks…. (etc)

The new material is 16 pages in translation, so not a small discovery.  It renders obsolete much of the existing scholarship.  The authors discuss the date of the Julian Romance.  They make clear a word-for-word connection with the Miscellaneous Chronicle of 640, which therefore kicks the date of composition back from the early 6th century well into the 7th, and locates events around the reign of Heraclius.

It’s a fine article, and a wonderful discovery for 2023.  It goes to show that there is still stuff out there!  Never assume that even a well-studied and major collection has any idea about what is on their shelves.  The age of discovery is not over.  It just requires effort, and a bit of luck.

The discovery also shows the huge value of digitisation of manuscripts.  The Vatican have the best programme for mass digitisation known to me.  But isn’t it time that some other major manuscript libraries did the same?


Working out the manuscript affinities from a collation

Yesterday I finally finished collating the 4 editions and a selected 12 manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  This gives me a Word .docx file with every line of the text, the collation beneath it, and my translation under that.  In the left margin, it gives me a list of significant-looking variants:

I’ve had to recollate the early chapters, because I got better at this as I went on, and the earlier stuff needed to be redone, extra manuscripts added etc.

The text still contains a lot of working notes.  I have already found that it is a mistake to remove these too early.  Keep them to the last, and then remove them all as a specific activity, rather than along the way.

But then the question arises: how do I analyse this data in order to get a stemma out of it?  It’s too big, and I can’t get my head around it.

After some thought, I decided to create an Excel spreadsheet and process the supposedly significant variants into it.  This morning I did so.  I found that this required some intervention.  Actually I had to “simplify” some of the variants as I put them in.  Because unique variants are most likely errors, or mistakes, of no special meaning.  It’s the stuff in common that you need.  So where 3 manuscripts have “meritis” and the 4th has “et meritis”, and the 5th was “procul”, I entered the first 4 all up as “meritis”.

I also ignored variants that were merely endings.  The truth is that all the ending variants probably arise from scribes misreading abbreviations.  There’s just so many!

I then put a column for each manuscript, and put them in.  In the end I only had 19 locations where the text gave clear divergence into families.  On each row I coloured one set of readings in red, and another set in black, just so I could see the groupings (because you just try skim-reading “vocitatur” and “vocaretur”!).  Where a manuscript didn’t have that part of the text, I indicated with hatching.

The result looked a bit like this, except that M was originally on the left and C on the right.

As soon as I did this, I could see the PQO group, and the BGD group, which I was aware of anyway. I drew the vertical black lines to separate the groups.

Then I did some rearranging.  M, which I had thought isolated, I moved to be with W.  C, which I sort of thought was related to O, was now obviously part of the PQO group, so I moved that.

All the same some things do not jump out.  I’d already found that G is actually a copy of B in the first 6 chapters, but then switches to a copy of D!    Indeed the layout on the page is identical.  But that does not jump out from that table.  I’m fairly sure that I can eliminate G.

So … have I learned much?  A bit more than I knew before, perhaps.  But clearly I have a long way to go.


20th century annotations in the margins of a Darmstadt manuscript

This evening I was looking at a manuscript – specifically Darmstadt 344, written in the 3rd quarter of the 11th century (catalogue here, online here).  I have a PDF of the manuscript – sadly monochrome, but quite readable – and I started to look for what is “chapter 14” of the life of St Nicholas, which ought to be in here somewhere.  A few miracle stories appeared, and I started adding bookmarks for each.  And then…

… then I rubbed my eyes, and wondered.  For there were Arabic numbers against each miracle story!  Very familiar numbers!

Because these are the BHL numbers for each miracle story – the identification number in the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina.  This was published in 1900.  So these are modern.

It’s not a surprise to find medieval or early modern marginalia.  But who on earth in 1900 thought that it was appropriate to write on the manuscript itself?!  Some scholarly twit or other, evidently.


Plutei manuscripts online at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, but … not useful

UPDATE: A comment below informs me that the address for the BML is currently the rather awkward  If you use the search box at top right and enter Plut.20.2, you will get to the manuscript details, and there is an icon to view the images in Mirador.  The site does now feature an IIIF interface.

Quite by accident, while googling for a Latin incipit, my attention was drawn to MS. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 20.2.  Not, of course, to the online manuscript itself, which remained resolutely hidden to my Google search.  But rather to the MirabileWeb page, here.

From this I learned much about this hitherto unknown (to me) manuscript.  I did not learn the date of the manuscript – who needs to know that, eh?! – but I did learn that the 6th item in the book – a legendary for the whole year -, on folios “9-16”, is none other than the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  It’s not even listed in the Bollandist BHLMs, but it’s a manuscript of our text alright, and a jolly nice one.

But is it online?  Well, who knows?  The digital library for the BML is at, and it is as user-friendly as a cornered rat.  I selected manuscript, Plutei, asked for more shelfmarks, and was able to find Plut.20.2, displayed with an obviously temporary address, as a mass of unreadable thumbnails.  The site also told me that the manuscript is 11th century.  So it’s a (capital letters on) Manuscript Of Significant Interest to us.

What I actually needed was way simpler:  I needed  Now that’s a great URL address!  It’s simple, and it’s obvious.  Someone at the BML site is on the ball!  But I didn’t find any indication that this was the url on the site itself.  I only discovered this trick accidentally while messing around with Google.

At least I now know how to find BML manuscripts online.

Now into the images.  There’s no IIIF interface that I could see, so we are reliant on whatever browser the library staff (who won’t be using it themselves) care to give us.

At first sight it’s not too bad.

That’s a very nice, clearly written manuscript – all good – and all we need now is to download the part of it that I want.

Which you can’t do.  No PDF download.

My next thought was whether I could get individual images – I only need a dozen pages – but no luck here either.  There is a “download” of individual pages, if you right-click on them, except that it doesn’t do anything useful.  All it gives you is a screen grab of whatever is on the screen – either a tiny image, or part of an image.  No dice.

So I can’t actually work effectively with this manuscript, or consult it unless I want RSI from all the dragging and squinting.  The BML ought to talk to the Austrians at, if they want to force researchers to use their site.

In fairness this is clearly version 1.0 of the site.  It’s hardly usable, but it’s still better than nothing.  I can’t seriously work with the manuscript through that dreadful interface, nor can anybody else.  But no doubt things will change.


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.


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.


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.