Alcuin, Conflictus veris et hiemis, and other texts, manuscript on parchment [France, c.873]

Alcuin, Conflictus veris et hiemis, and other texts, manuscript on parchment [France, c.873]

Alcuin, Conflictus veris et hiemis, and other texts, manuscript on parchment [France, c.873]

Lot 28 θ: Conflictus veris et hiemis, a verse in hexameters on the debate between Spring and Winter, attributed to Alcuin of York, with the translations and miracles of St. Lomer, with further additions of Carolingian music, in Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment [France (most probably Blois), c. 873 and tenth century]

Est. £60,000-80,000

Fourteen leaves (plus a nineteenth-century parchment endleaf at each end), all conserved in nineteenth century and many remounted on guards and thus uncollatable, wanting 2 leaves after fol. 4 and another 2 leaves after fol. 12 as well as an 8-leaf gathering (now Vatican, Reg. Lat. 479: see below), last 4 leaves smaller than others (measuring 245 by 167mm.), the verse added to original endleaf at front in double column of 41 and 20 lines in a small and legible Carolingian minuscule with an extended  ct-ligature and the characters' names in margin, one descender in lowermost line extended to form an ornate penwork leaf with a bauble mounted in its stem, and main texts relating to St. Lomer in single column of 29-36 lines in two closely related precise and refined Carolingian minuscules, both with et-ligature used integrally within words (but variant forms of capital 'q'/'Q'), the second with an NT-ligature and an uncial 'N' used in main text, crucial names in capitals, some capitals touched in red and others infilled with yellow wash, text opening major sections in capitals touched with red, rubrics of elongated red capitals, small red initials, larger initials in penwork, some with baubles set within their bodies or coloured in green and red, one large initial in delicate blank parchment penwork touched in red and set within dark brown initials terminating in floral flourishes, seventeenth-century scholarly marginalia, endleaf at front reused from a sixteenth-century French choirbook with music on a 4-line red stave, some stains to areas of text, spots from old mould damage at head, margins trimmed often to edges of text, overall good and solid condition on heavy and good quality parchment, 300 by 190mm.; nineteenth-century French brown calf over pasteboards, gilt-tooled with arched frames with floral sprays at corners, with spine gilt with "De S. Launomaro - MS IXe S" 


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1. The main texts here on St. Lomer (also Laumer and Laudomarus) must have been written immediately after the translation of the saint's relics to a church in Blois in 874 (an event these leaves record), but before the foundation of the Benedictine abbey dedicated to the saint there in 924. Another eight leaves from the centre of this manuscript are the first part of a sammelband assembled in the seventeenth century in Italy (now Vatican, Reg. Lat. 479; A. Wilmart, Codices reginenses latini, 1937, pp. 651-2, with the whole manuscript reproduced online). Those contain the opening of the life of the saint, which ends abruptly and is completed by the two words at the top of fol. 10r here.

Crucially the opening of the text in the Vatican leaves refers to the saint as 'our patron'. In addition, there is a hitherto unnoticed contemporary or near-contemporary name added to the foot of the first of the present leaves, probably identifying "Raginoldus feldracanum" as an early user or perhaps donor of the codex. The second part of his name is hard to decipher, but a late medieval hand has added "Raginoldus feldra carutasis", suggesting Carnutum/Carnotum or Chartres as his town of origin (the monastery of Saint Martin au Val du Chartres was one of the temporary resting places of the relics and the community on their way to Blois: see N. Mars, Histoire du royal monastère de Sainct-Lomer de Blois, 1646, p. 29). His name does not occur in the published research of Dom Mars, but there is an unpublished and mostly unstudied six-volume cartulary of the eighteenth century for the house in the Archives départementales de Loir-et-Cher, ms. 11 H. 128, and search for this name there may reveal much.

St. Lomer was born c. 530 at Neuville-la-Mare, north of Chartres, where he was ordained as a monk, before withdrawing into the forest of Perche where he founded the monastery of Corbion in 575, becoming its first abbot. He died in 593 while visiting Chartres and was buried near there, until monks from Corbion stole his relics a few years later to return him to his own community. Following a Viking attack on Corbion in 873/4 the community and their relics fled to Parigny near Avranches and then Le Mans before being offered sanctuary within the walled town of Blois. In the tenth century they moved outside the city walls to the church of St-Lubin, and then again in 1186 to the larger adjacent site they occupied for the remainder of the Middle Ages.

2. Dom Noël Mars (1612-1702), the Benedictine monk and Maurist historian of Blois; with his marginal notes and signature, including one on fol. 10r referring to the Acta Sanctorum ordinis S. Benedicti, Paris, 1668, in which footnote 'a' on p. 338 evidently refers to this manuscript: "Haec ex MS. Historia S. Launomari Monasterii Blesensis a nostro Natale Mars erudite composite didicimus". The central leaves of the manuscript may well have become detached by the seventeenth century (see below), and Dom Mars conducted much antiquarian research in the archive of St-Lomer in the last decades of that century, and this may explain this section of it ending up in his possession. In 1789 the revolutionary government of the region suppressed the abbey, and seized its church for the parish of St-Nicholas two years later. Its goods and library were dispersed at the same time, with the Vatican leaves then beginning their journey towards Rome. Delisle notes four manuscripts in the BnF. as well as another in the collection of Herzog August in Wolfenbüttel from this medieval library (Le cabinet des manuscrits, 1868, II, p. 406).

3. Louis de la Saussaye (1801-1878) of the Château de Troussay, near Blois, local historian, archaeologist, and numismatist, with a note of "un manuscrit du Xe siècle ... dant la bibliothèque de M. de la Saussaye" in Dom Mars' Histoire du royal monastère de Sainct-Lomer de Blois, p. 66, n. 2 and 7, n. 2, doubtless referring to these leaves. His sale, 30 September 1887, lot 1148.

4. Schøyen Collection, London and Oslo, their MS 5577; acquired Sotheby's, 5 July 2016, lot 57.

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Alcuin of York (c. 735-804) was the central intellectual figure of the Carolingian renaissance, and was educated in the renowned cathedral school at York under Archbishop Ecgbert (himself a pupil of Bede). By the 750s he was teaching in the school and came to the court of Charlemagne at the emperor's invitation, serving as 'master of the palace school' from 782, taking over the teaching of the emperor himself and his children, and becoming a guiding hand of the religious and intellectual revolution that was to follow. In 796, when entering his old age, he was appointed as the abbot of Marmoutier, Tours, and with characteristic energy spent his last years encouraging the creation and development of Carolingian minuscule and oversaw the early production of the grand Tours Bibles that pushed forward its acceptance throughout Western Europe. Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, called Alcuin, "the most learned man anywhere to be found". He was a prolific author, and the verse here is the Conflictus veris et hiemis, the 'Conflict of Spring and Winter', in which these two allegorical figures debate their various benefits and drawbacks for an audience of shepherds who seek the coming of the cuckoo and the ending of Winter. The verse has been attributed to him since the work of A. Riese, Anthologia Latina, I, 1870, pp. 145-48, and E. Dümmler, Alcuini carmina, 1881, pp. 270-72, and defended by J.I. McEnerney ('Alcuin, Carmina 58', Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch, 16, 1981, pp. 35-42), although some doubt has been cast due to its grammatical forms, and a student of Alcuin proposed instead (C. Castillo in Cuardenos de Filologia Clasica, 5, 1973, p. 61). The verse echoes Vergil, and is the very first debate poem in the Western European tradition (F. Zogg in Vergilius, 63, 2017, pp. 125-40). This is one of the very earliest witnesses to the text, with less than a dozen of the same age or older. Until the emergence of this manuscript, the earliest witnesses to any Alcuinian text to appear on the market were a twelfth-century Dialogorum Sancti Gregorii and two Bible commentaries, all three owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps, and last appearing as Sotheby's, 21 March 1895, lot 5, 10 June 1896, lot 118, and 27 April 1903, lot 148 (this one reappearing with Guiseppe Martini in 1919 and Leighton in 1913), respectively.

The online 'BHL manuscripta' database lists only two witnesses to the next texts here, the Translations and Miracles of St Lomer, and the later translation of 872 and the subsequent miracles (BHL 4737 and 4739), both of the thirteenth century. The first of these appears to have never been printed, and both are the earliest witnesses to their texts, and of fundamental importance to their future study. Until the emergence of this witness it had been supposed that tenth-century Corbion was the centre of the production of texts relating to St. Lomer, whereas now that can be backdated to the late ninth century and set in the context of the site of the saint's relics in Blois.

Ninth-century codices now emerge on the market only every decade or so, and each time cause something of a sensation. Sir Thomas Phillipps' MS 4558 passed to Rosenbach in 1926, and thence to Edward Harkness (1874-1952), and then on to the New York Public Library. J. Pierpont Morgan was able to secure two, in 1902 (now Morgan Library & Museum, M. 191), and 1927 (M. 728), and the grandest bookseller of the twentieth century, H.P. Kraus, in a lifetime of searching, obtained and sold only three (see his In Retrospect, 1978, nos. 5-7). To these must be added the Gospels of St. Hubert, sold in Sotheby's, 26 November 1985, lot 93, and the Gospels of Queen Theutberga, last appearing in Christie's, 15 July 2015, lot 20. All of those were grand liturgical volumes, either Gospel Books, a Gospel Lectionary or a Sacramentary, with size and illumination far beyond that here. However, it is the small and personal nature of this book which contains its charm, in that it was put together by the members of a single community to preserve their unique liturgy, central to their way of life. It is unlikely many other codices such as this will appear on the market again.

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The original form of the codex and the age of its additions:

The discolouration and surface damage to the recto of the initial leaf here suggests that it was the initial leaf of the original codex, and perhaps its limp parchment front binding, for some time. As now, this was followed by the Translations and Miracles of St. Lomer (fols. 2v-9r here, wanting two leaves after fol. 4), preceeded by a prologue (fols. 2rv), and followed by a blank page (fol. 9v). Then there once followed the eight leaf gathering now in the Vatican with the Vita of the saint, which opens with a blank recto, and ends wanting the two words "... familiaritur credebat" that are at the head of our fol. 10r. The account of the translation of the saint to Parigny in 872 and his miracles follow, ending here on fol. 13v (wanting two leaves after fol. 12). This libellus was then most probably arranged in three gatherings of eight (with the last wanting a blank endleaf and a final leaf which served as the limp parchment binding). This codex seems always to have been a small one, collecting together the crucial texts and records of the saint in the period immediately before his translation to Blois in 874. Such hagiographic compilations are well known from the Middle Ages, and often associated with campaigns for the recognition of the sanctity of the saint or promotion of their cult.

To this a number of late Carolingian hands added the poem of Alcuin and music in early Metz (Messine) staffless neumes related to the worship of St. Lomer (chants: "Angelorum consortia quereris sanctus Lanomarus", "Gloriosus vir dei Launomarum", "In civitate Carnotum", and "Ecce homo qui toto corde dominum dilexit") to blank space on the inside of the first leaf as well as at the end of a text on fol. 9r. The dating of the hands here is not straightforward. Some features, such as the ct-ligature with an extended loop which appears in both Alcuin's verse and the music added to the same leaf are usually thought to indicate a late tenth century and more properly eleventh century date (for early examples see Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibl. Clm. 14485 from the last decades of the tenth century; reproduced in Pracht und Pergament, 2012, no. 29). However, other aspects such as the strong NT-ligature and the arch-backed 'a' found in the "laeta" of the sixth line of the second column of verse as well as the "sanctus" in the first line of the music, point towards an earlier date, and we should probably place these in the first half of the tenth century.

Est. £60,000-80,000

Auction Details

The History of Western Script
A Selection from The Schøyen Collection, in celebration of the Collector’s Eightieth Birthday 

Wednesday 8 July | 10.30am
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