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.


Analysing the manuscripts of the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon

I have made a full collation of all the 9-10th century manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas, as far as the beginning of chapter 6, where manuscript Q (BNF lat. 17625) breaks off.  I’ve recollated the first chapter, since I did that in a rather perfunctory way.

But how do I work out the relationships of the manuscripts?  I’m doing this blind – I can find no “how to” guide – so I’m just guessing, and trying things out.

This evening I decided to pick three places in chapter 1, where the collation already suggested differences in the manuscripts, and collate the 11th century manuscripts for these places in the text.  I’ve put a “heading 3” in my text, so that I can see the Latin around the area:

Screenshot of my Word text with H3 markers visible

I’m experimenting with a trial of Adobe Acrobat Pro 2020 (permanent license), which allows me to open the PDFs in tabs, unlike my elderly copy of Acrobat Pro 9.  I took the opportunity to add bookmarks and stickys to the PDF of each manuscript, as far as chapter 6, as I went.

After I had collated the 10 manuscripts for the three places in chapter 1, I felt the results were a bit thin.  So decided to collate another three places from chapter 5, where I knew that a line, or a phrase, was omitted.

This I did in a separate Word document.  I had a list of manuscripts; and I indicated the 6 places, comma-separated, against each.  In retrospect a spreadsheet might serve better.  They all started out as black text.

But the results were rather interesting, and here they are:

List of manuscripts and variants

Once I was done, I colour-coded manuscripts that were basically the same.  I have three groups!

Not all of my “places” were significant, at least in the 11th century.  Thus I chose “inclammationem” because I had a bunch of witnesses on both sides:

  • “inclamationem”, “crying out against” – Fal., M, P, Q, O, B, C; “in cachinnationem”, “in immoderate laughter” – Corsi, A, Linz 473 (13th), Munich Clm 12642 (14th); “in vocem” – Mom., Lipp.;

But in actual fact there was no variation on this, at least not in the 11th century.  It looks as if it must originate later.  Likewise the sentence beginning “hactenus” and the clause starting “trade” are unimportant.

But “et laudem / ex laude” and “aede / sede” form a clear group.  Likewise the weird Nacta / Notata / etc lines up with them, and splits the “ex laude” group further.

That’s a useful result.  I have learned a bunch about ten manuscripts from this exercise, which took me less than an hour.

So far so good.  Onward.


Forty-Seven Latin Miracle Stories of St Nicholas – Now Online in English

I’ve just uploaded a file containing the Latin text, with a translation, of 47 of the miracle stories of St Nicholas which are found in medieval manuscripts.  These are BHL 6130-6147 inclusive.  A couple of the texts I have transcribed from manuscripts online.  Most are from the Bollandist catalogues of the Brussels and Paris libraries, or from early editions.  The translations are basically from Google Translate, but I have at least read over them and fixed some obvious errors.  As usual I put this file and its contents in the public domain – do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.  Just don’t put your own copyright notice on my work, thank you.

Here are the files:

I’ve also uploaded them to here.

I made this file while working on the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  In the manuscripts this gets tangled up with all these texts, and it gets fairly confusing.  With this file, all I have to do is a Ctrl-F Find, and I can at once see just what the page of text in the manuscript image in front of me belongs to.

There are still more miracle stories to do, but I ran out of puff at this point.  Maybe one day I will return to it and add more!  Or maybe not.


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.


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.

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.


The fragrant underwear of St Nicholas

The medieval miracle stories of St Nicholas are unsophisticated.  One of these, BHL 6168, contains the following episode, which provoked a few unintentional chuckles.

…the blessed and chosen archbishop of our Lord Jesus Christ, Nicholas, when he was about to pass away from this light to the Lord in a wonderful way, and had completed a wonderful life, he gave back his soul to his most holy creator by an evident miracle. …. Then, having washed the most holy body of a holy man according to the custom, they [the clergy] strove reverently to preserve the linens [linteamina] which the living man had used, as being of use to many in posterity.

2.  Now there happened to be a certain man, Jethro by name, who had come from a far country to consult the holy and most wise man. Here, when he found deceased the man whom he had been looking for alive, he began with great sorrow to beg the same priests and clerics, that even something of the holy man’s clothes [vestimentis] might be given to him out of compassion. …

Then the priests and the clerics, considering these things, and valuing such a request and the longing of the man, gave him one of the linens of the most holy man. Then, when Jethro had received the garment of the blessed Nicholas, with great longing he put it back in a new bag, which had not previously been used by anyone for any actual purpose.

I recall that in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, he remarks Johnson admitted that he had “no passion” for clean linen; that is, clean underwear.    Just which “linen” did Jethro receive, one wonders?

It is worrying that there is no mention of washing the clothing.

And he went away happily saying: “I thank you, Lord, because I am carrying the relics of your most holy confessor.” I beseech you, Lord, to give me a son from my loins through these relics of the blessed Nicholas, for your honor and my joy, and public satisfaction.”

3.   Now when Jethro returned to his city, which is called Excoranda, …. he began to build a church, outside the gates of the city on the east side about two stadia away. As soon as this had been completed, Apollonius, the bishop of the same city, dedicated it in honour and memory of St. Nicholas, storing in it that clothing with solemn veneration.

That is, Jethro wisely placed the church, and the reliquary containing the holy underwear, a good couple of furlongs down wind.  For, as we read:

But when the relics of the holy man were placed in a suitable place, they began to emit such a smell [tantum odorem] from themselves that the fragrance [fragrantia] of such an over-strong smell [odoris nimii] extended for two full stadia.

Various miracles then took place at the church, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, etc.  One can only hope that nobody sought a cure for a loss of the sense of smell.  The odour of sanctity, it seems, is strong.  Possibly St Nicholas should have sponsored a soap powder?

To conclude on an even more frivolous note, readers in the United Kingdom may wonder just what brand of underwear was preferred by St Nicholas.  Perhaps he wore “Saint Michael” underwear?

Update (4 Feb 2023): For some real information about the Latin for underwear, rather than my persiflage, please see this excellent post by Michael Gilleland at his blog Laudator Temporum Acti here.


How did he get *that* reading?? (Again) – Recensio 7

From one of the miracle stories of St Nicholas (BHL 6164), appended to John the Deacon.  The story so far.  St Nicholas has sneaked up on a gang of robbers who have looted a customs-house, which was left under the saint’s protection.

Tunc dixit ad eos Sanctus Nicolaus, “O infelices et miseri, quid agitis? Numquid ignoratis, quoniam ego ipse ibidem eram, quando hoc malum perpetrastis? Nam oculi mei conspexerunt, quando has et illas res abstulistis.” Quantitatem et numerum etiam cunctarum rerum, quae de theloneo abstulerunt, singillatim eis exponens, addidit dicens, …

Then Saint Nicholas said to them, “O unfortunate and wretched ones, what are you doing? Do you not know that I myself was there when you committed this evil? For my eyes saw when you took away these things and those things.” Then he gave the quantity, and also the number of all the things which they had taken from the toll-house, listing one by one to them, saying, , …

He tells them, “All is known!” and they panic and take the stuff back. The Latin text here is what I now think the author wrote.

But I was working from the Falconius edition (1751) here, and when I got to this bit, I was a bit puzzled.  Here it is:

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Falconius.

Which is a bit weird.  How is “quanti autem” the accusative for “exponens”?

Well I happened to have a manuscript open (BNF lat. 989, 10th c.), and I saw this:

Latin text of the passage in manuscript BNF lat. 989.

That made more sense.  “Quantitatem” rather than “Quanti”.  The etiam has moved up, so we end up with “etiam &”, a phrase not  uncommon in John the Deacon.  But the “etiam”‘s do move around in the manuscripts.  It’s probably just a copyist error in this particular manuscript.

Next I looked at the Mombritius, the first edition, published before 1480, and I got this:

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Mombritius.

This confirmed the “quantitatem”, but left the “etiam” alone.  Only “numerum” has now become “munerum”, “the quantity and value also of all the stuff…”.  Nobody else has “munerum”, so this suggests to me that the Mombritius edition was based on a manuscript in Gothic hand, where such slips can be rather easy…

Cartoon showing Gothic book hand and its unreadability

I do love that cartoon!

Next I opened another manuscript, Wien ONB 416 (12th c.), which belongs to a separate family from the other manuscripts:

Latin text of the passage in the manuscript Wien ONB 416.

Here again we have “Quantitatem & numerum etiam”, rather abbreviated.

Then I looked at the Lippoman edition (1515), and all became clear.

Latin text of the passage in the edition of Lippomanus.

Here is our “Quanti”, as Falconius gives it!  And here also is his “autem”, or rather “tatem”!!  The silly fool was copying Lippomanus, clearly in a great hurry, and didn’t notice the hyphen.  So he gave two words, “Quanti autem”, where the nice clear printed copy before him read “Quantitatem”.

It’s hard to believe that Falconius did this, so I would tend to think that his compositor/typesetter did it.  Which means that when Falconius sent his edition to the press, he sent a marked-up copy of Lippomanus to the press, rather than writing out his own copy first.

We get an awful lot of information here about these early editions.

  • The editio princeps, Mombritius, ca. 1480, was printed from a manuscript in Gothic hand, and misread.
  • The second edition, of Lippomanus, ca. 1515, may have used Mombritius but certainly did not copy it.  Instead it gives the manuscript reading.
  • The third edition, of Falconius, 1751, was done carelessly and quite possibly by writing changes into a copy of the Lippomanus edition.  There was no change at this point, but the typesetter misread the exemplar before him and got it wrong.

That’s rather nice, really.  I’ve learned a lot from a little.  Once again, I’ve learned not to rely on Falconius.