German, 15th century

Language: Latin

height 21.1 cm
width 11 cm

University of Portland, Clark Library, Ms IV B


Medieval Portland Capstone Student

At the University of Portland Library in the rare book collection is a manuscript with a collection of Latin hymns written on paper. The hymnal dates to 15th-century Germany. It is done in eight paper leaves measuring 212 x 110 mm, with one column and 22 lines. The manuscript is written in formal cursive and widely spaced lines, the rubrication and principal initials are written in red, with varying capital sizes and black ink intermixed with red lines. It has been suggested that red ink in hymn manuscripts was used for the notation of rhythm of the stanza.[1] The hymn book is simple in structure and presentation, the book has a hard cover, however the book cover is not original. This is obvious strictly by the cover’s design, which is hard cardboard with a marble pattern. There has been some reinforced library binding, the tape is visible, especially in the middle pages. The watermarks in the manuscript are done with boeuf head and crown; there is an ownership note on the inside of the first page. The name Michahelem de Rittamsheim (Kittenshein) is noted, this was probably either the owner of the hymnal or the scribe. Noted with the name is, "Boetius De consolation philosophe"; Boetius was seen as a martyr and a profound influence during the middle ages.[2] The first page of the book is blank; with the exception of the small writing that is barely noticeable, the text is three lines long. Continuing through the book are several marginal notes, thought to have been used by a student or teacher of oratory.

Inside the manuscript, each individual page is divided up into columns with the top section boxed collectively, this is the place the author has chosen to title or attribute the hymns. The hymns are inscribed in the main column; on either side of the hymns are margins, wide enough to create full columns perfect for writing notes. It is fascinating because the basic linear structure is simple and plain, and the formal cursive and the small tones of red for practical reasons focus the eye on the writing itself. The composition is balanced by the reoccurring rows, the outlines seem to have been used as a guide, this seems evident from the horizontal line that follows the beginning of each sentence; the letters sometimes stay fairly straight all the way down the text. On either side and within the hymn's text is the more contemporary writing by either a student or teacher. The notes are very extensive and the writing gives the impression that the text was being corrected.  It is apparent because only under certain words do the notes appear.

The cataloging done by Sister Wilma Fitzgerald discovered four attributions to the manuscript, three of which are mistaken attributions done by the original scribe of the manuscript. The first hymn is credited to Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604 CE), Pope from 590. This hymn is controversial in its attribution, the hymn known as, Crux Fidelis, is in fact part of a larger hymn known as, Pange Lingua, which was written by Venantius Fortunatus. The hymn of Crux Fidelis is a traditional rite; any Catholic would be familiar with its use on Good Friday during the Adoration of the Cross. [3] The hymn takes up two pages, with the capitalized initials written in red every third sentence. The smaller cursive is done in black ink with a short red line cutting through each letter at the beginning.

Under the attribution to Gregorius Magnus there are several contemporary interlinear notes that were written by either the student or teacher that filled the margins with notes as well. And under the notes is the hymn. The hymn seems to jump from the end of the poem to the other, not following the basic formula of the hymn which begins with Pange Lingua, then Lustra sex and ends with Crux Fidelis. The hymn begins with "Faithfull Cross! Above all other, one and only noble Tree": O Crux Fidelis, then to the beginning of Fortunatus’s Pange Lingua and back to the middle part of "Lustra sex qui iam peracta tempus implens corporis," ending with the last few lines of the Crux Fidelis. "Sing my tongue" or "nbbbb" was written by Venantius Fortunatus, the attribution to Gregorius Magnus could be from the Gregorian chant. A standardized chant accredited to Pope Gregory I, Crux Fidelis and its larger counterpart Pange Lingua ascribe to the Gregorian Chant[4] this could be the reason the hymn is partially attributed to Pope Gregory I.

Continuing through the hymn book past the Gregorian and Fortunatus hymn is another hymn with an added attribute. The hymn is acknowledged as the "Carmen Elegiacus Paschal" ascribed to Lactantii Firmiani and begins with the hymn "Salve festa dies toto venerabilis," this is also an inaccurate attribution. The title "Carmen Paschale" comes from a series of poems written by Caelius Sedulius that summarize the Old and New Testaments.[5] The hymn "Salve Festa Die" was in fact written by Venantius Fortuntas. The hymn however breaks in initialed structure from the previous "Pange Lingua" hymn. The initials at the beginning of every sentence are now capitalized except the very beginning letter which is a large "O" and inked in all red. The rest of the hymn letters are smaller capitals done in black and continue through the entire hymn. However, the red line is still present throughout the beginning capitals. Similar to the previous hymn is the balanced interaction between the text and the straight column line.

"Hymnus ad Incensum Lucernae" is the last hymn presented in the manuscript. The hymn was written by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens. This is the only hymn in the manuscript that is accurately accredited, above the actual hymn; Prudentius is noted along with the title of his hymnal. He was a Roman Christian poet, who wrote several hymns. In the hymn for the "Lighting of the Lamp" (Hymnus ad Incensum Lucernae), the scribe stays true to Prudentius’s original textual format. However, the closing verse does vary; this was common and for a good example of the text see "Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi" by Clemens Blume and Guido M. Dreves. Samuel Willoughby Duffield discusses how Prudentius's flexible words make his hymns useful and admired in the Christian faith.[6]

Latin hymns all denote an importance to the Christian faith; the hymns by Fortunatus and Pope Gregory I both contain universal connotations that have a practicality to them. They both focus on certain points of the year important in Christian worship, one for Good Friday, the other hymn to be used on Easter. The hymns of Sedulius and Prudentius hold a more classical position in poetry during the 5th century. The choice of these hymns together is not easily answered, but it is evident that the author of the hymn book chose four of the most important hymnists of the Middle Ages. Germany during the 15th century was still part of the Holy Roman Empire so it does not seem odd that the hymn book would have been written in Latin. During the later part of the 15th Century, Germany begins to change, the influence of the German theologian Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, desired to make scriptures and religion, in general, more accessible to the everyday person.[7] During the 15th Century in Koln, Germany a similar manuscript containing works by Prudentius and Fortunatus was done.  It offers insight into the importance of these works in German theology,[8] as well as an understanding of the creator of the manuscript, who may not have been as educated or just a beginning scribe as seen in the apparent mistakes. By comparing it to the Koln manuscript it is evident that the poets were correctly recognized. The manuscript has some very interesting features: its simple style and the erroneous attributions are intriguing and further research into the student/teacher marginal notes seem vital to completed study of this manuscript.

[1] Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe "Orality and the Developing Text of Caedmon's Hymn" Speculum, Vol. 62, No. 1,(Jan., 1987), 8
[2]  Chisholm, Hugh. The Encyclopaedia Britannica; a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. New York, Encyclopedia Britannica; Edition 11. 1922. 117
[3] Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. The Latin Hymn-Writers and Their Hymns. Edited and completed by R.E Thompson. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1889. 96
[4] Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. The Latin Hymn-Writers and Their Hymns. 108
[5] Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. The Latin Hymn-Writers and Their Hymns. 86
[6] Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. The Latin Hymn-Writers and Their Hymns. 70
[7] Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. The Latin Hymn-Writers and Their Hymns. 402
[8] Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Saint John’s University, 2008 www.hmml.org.


Chisholm, Hugh. The Encyclopaedia Britannica; a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. New York, Encyclopedia Britannica; Edition 11. 1922.

Duffield, Samuel Willoughby. The Latin Hymn-Writers and Their Hymns. Edited and completed by R.E Thompson. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1889.

Dreves, Guido Maria. Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1961.

George, Judith. Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems by Fortunatus. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995.

Hill Museum and Manuscript Library. 2008. Saint Johns University. 20, July 2008 http://www.hmml.org/

Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe “Orality and the Developing Text of Caedmon's Hymn”. Speculum, Vol. 62, No. 1, (Jan., 1987), 1-20

Ruth Ellis Messenger. “Salve Festa Dies”: Transactions and Proceedings of The American Philological Association, Vol. 78 (1947) 208-222.

Slavitt, David R. Hymns of Prudentius: The Cathemerinon, or The Daily Round, By Aurelius Prudentius Clemens. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Watson, J.R. An Annotated Anthology of Hymns. With a foreword by Timothy Dudley-Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.


Wilma Fitzgerald, PhD, SP - Quoted with permission from an unpublished study

Ms. IV B.

Gregorium Magnus. Planctus super morte Christi lamentabili. [Erroneous attribution], Venantius Fortunatus. In honore sanctae Crucis, Lactantius Firmianus. Carmen elegiacus paschale [Erroneous attribution]. Saec. XV med. Germany.  Eight paper leaves. i + 8 + i. 275 x 200 (212 x 110) mm., one column, 22 lines.  Written in formal cursive. Rubrication and initials in red. Numerous marginal and interlinear glosses and metrical interpretations designed for use by student. Watermarks on  [f. 1, 3] are with boeuf head and crown and on [f. 7, 8] with boeuf head and "banner". Cover of paper boards 285 x 210 mm. Ownership note [f. 1]: In presenti libro continetur liber subscriptus Boetius De consolatione philosophie pertinet ad fratrem michahelem de Rittamsheim [Kittenshein].

[f. 1v] Gregorius Magnus [erroneous attribution]. Planctus super morte Christi lamentabili.

O crux fidelis inter omnes arbor una nobilis / Nulla silvam talem profert fronde flore gramine / Dulce lignum dulces clavos dulce pondus sustinet /

[f. 2] Venantius Fortunatus. In honore sanctae Crucis.

Pange lingua gloriosi prelium certaminis .../... Sola digna tu fuisti ferre pretium seculi / Atque portum preparare nauta mundo naufrago / Quem sacer cruor perunxit fusus agni corpore / Gloria honorque Deo vosque quo altissimo / Una patri filioque inclita paraclito / Cui laus sit et potestas per eterna secula.

[Chev. #14481; PL 53. 785; 88. 88; Drev. 2, 44.]

[f. 2v-4v] Lactantii Firmiani [erroneous attribution] Carmen elegiacus paschale.

Salve festa dies toto venerabilis evo / Qua deus infernum uicit et astra tenet / Tempora florigero rutilant distincta sereno .../... Ecclesia pastor ubere lacte //. For this text see Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi von Clemens Blume et Guido M. Dreves 50, 83 Leipzig 1907 Reprint 1961. (where the concluding verses vary); Chev. #20315, 17949; Daniel 1, 169-72; PL 138. 1084.

[f. 5] Prudentius. Hymnus ad incensum lucerna  sive Hymnus ad ignem benedicendam sive De nouum lumine Paschalis sabbati.

Inuentor rutili dux bone luminis / Qui certis uitibus tempora dividis / Merso sole cahos [choas] ingruit horridum / Lucem redde tuis Christe fidelibus .../... Per quem splendor honor laus sapientia / Maiestas bonitas et pietas tua / Regnum continuat numine triplici / Texens perpetuis secula seculis. Amen.