A German Ecclesiastical Heritage in the Smaragdus Manuscript

UTS Manuscripts Student Series Post 4 of 4*


The curiously-nicknamed “Smaragdus manuscript” (after the author of its first and most prominent text) is a curious collection of medieval writings officially known by its item number at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, UTS MS 006. Written around the year 1100 in a Rhineland (German) monastery, the approximately one-hundred-folio text of Smaragdus of St. Mihiel’s Diadema Monachorum (“Crown of Monks,” written c. 800) is merely the first in a succession of around ten different works compiled together in a medieval, leather-bound codex.[1] Its venerable binding survives with original leather straps, designed when fastened to allow for the natural expansion and contraction of medieval parchment. These works appear eclectic and superficially unrelated, ranging from the lives of ancient martyrs to Anglo-Saxon history. I posit, however, that the apparent hodgepodge is in fact a systematic miscellany designed to recount the missionary foundation of the German church.

a photograph of the "Smaragdus manuscript," a brown leather-bound book, with metal clasps
The “Smaragdus manuscript” (UTS MS 006) at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University Libraries

I look to both codicological and textual features of the Smaragdus manuscript to characterize it as an “historical missionary miscellany”. A proper collation—an analysis of how the manuscript is put together on the level of gatherings of pages—is impossible for this codex, due to the incredible tightness of its binding. However, at a minimum, the codex contains three different groups of texts: the Diadema Monachorum, a miscellany, and Willibald’s Life of Saint Boniface. The presence of quire marks—symbols in the lower margin which number each gathering of pages which make up the codex—on the first ninety-eight folios of the manuscript, regularly spaced in accordance with gatherings of eight, marks the Diadema Monachorum as its own unit. The abrupt end of these quire marks after folio ninety-eight, with the beginning of the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, and the clear change in scribe mark the end of a unit within the codex. Though this “miscellany” section likely has further subdivisions based on its multiple changes in script, the lack of quire marks makes any further codicological divisions impossible. However, a clear transition between distinct units appears at the start of Willibald’s Life of Saint Boniface on fol 102r. Whereas previous folios are 280 x 220 mm, the Life of Saint Boniface gatherings shrink to 220 x 170 mm.[2] The morphological, codicological incompatibility of these texts—the resulting binding is tight and stressed—suggests that its medieval compiler bound these texts together for a reason other than convenience.

From examining the texts contained in the Smaragdus manuscript, I believe we can discern the reason. It contains the following texts: Smaragdus’ Diadema Monachorum; The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas; Haymo Halberstadt’s De Varietate Librorum; Severinus’ Doctrina; Bede’s Ecclesiastical History; the Life of Saint Fursy; Boniface of Mainz’s Epistola XX; Gregory the Great’s Expositio veteris; and Willibrald’s Life of Saint Boniface of Mainz. These seemingly unrelated texts in fact form a cohesive account of the early medieval evangelization of Germany. Though Christianity had existed in Germany in Late Antiquity, in the Roman provinces of Germania and Belgica, the diocesan structure had collapsed wherever it had existed east of the Rhine. The miscellany’s material from Gregory the Great, Bede, and the Life of Saint Fursy—an Irish missionary—gives an account of the Christianization of pagan Anglo-Saxon England by both Roman and Irish missionaries. In the eighth century, Anglo-Saxon Christianity in had grown strong enough to begin sending missionaries to the Continent, where Boniface of Mainz—an Anglo-Saxon—oversaw the Christianization of Germany. In the miscellany’s letter, Pope Gregory II granted Boniface the pallium, effectively establishing him as the premier ecclesiastical official in Germany. In a grant crucial for missionary success, Gregory wrote that “we command you, in accordance with the sacred canons and by authority of the Apostolic See to ordain bishops wherever the multitude of the faithful has become very great.”[3] Without such a privilege of creating bishoprics—similarly granted by Gregory I to Augustine of Canterbury as recounted by Bede—the church could not expand institutionally into formerly pagan countries.[4] Furthermore, Gregory made Boniface the first archbishop of Mainz—Germany’s ecclesiastical primate and primus inter pares.[5] In a real sense, then, the Anglo-Saxon mission of Saint Boniface founded the German church. The miscellany thus offers an account of this ecclesiastical heritage.

I am yet uncertain how the three other texts—Diadema Monachorum, Severinus’ Doctrina, and The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas—fit into the miscellany’s agenda. The Passion possibly provides an ancient prefiguration of Boniface’s own martyrdom and the Diadema Monachorum itself contains moral advice potentially useful for a missionary. Further exploration of this miscellany’s agenda might reveal an attempt to perpetuate missionary tradition by educating monks on past missionaries. Indeed, Germany remained on the border between Latin Christendom and the pagan lands of the Baltic for centuries after 1100. To reach a more definite conclusion, I would need to analyze the excerpted texts in more detail.

[1]New York, Columbia University, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary,  UTS MS 006, Digital Scriptorium, http://ds.lib.berkeley.edu/UTSMS006_22.

[2]UTS MS 006, Digital Scriptorium. With personal measurements.

[3]Ephraim Emerton ed., The Letters of Saint Boniface, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940), pp. 57-58.

[4]Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Leo Sherley-Price trans. (London: Penguin Books, 1990), pp. 90-91.

[5]Isnard W. Frank, “Sancta Sedes Maguntina: Willigis und der ‘Heilige Stuhl von Mainz,’” in 1000 Jahre St. Stephan in Mainz: Festchrift, ed. Helmut Hinkel (Mainz: Verlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1990), pp. 49-50.



Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Leo Sherley-Price trans. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Eldevik, John. Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform in the German Empire: Tithes, Lordship, and Community, 950-1150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Emerton, Ephraim ed. The Letters of Saint Boniface. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940.

Frank, Isnard W. “Sancta Sedes Maguntina: Willigis und der ‘Heilige Stuhl von Mainz’”. 1000 Jahre St. Stephan in Mainz: Festchrift. ed. Helmut Hinkel. Mainz: Verlag der Gesellschaft für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte, 1990.

Louth, Andrew. Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007.

New York, Columbia University, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary,  UTS MS 006. Digital Scriptorium. http://ds.lib.berkeley.edu/UTSMS006_22.

 Smaragdus of Saint Mihiel. The Crown of Monks. David Barry trans. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013.

*The UTS Manuscripts Student Series highlights Blog posts by students who undertook in-depth studies of manuscripts held at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, in the Columbia masters-level seminar “The Medieval Book as Material Culture” (taught by Prof. Alison Beach) in the Fall of 2018. Their compositions will be posted on the Burke Blog throughout the Spring and Summer of 2019.

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