Vestiges of a Lost Carolingian Bible Discovered at Princeton

Ink offset on the upper board of EXI Oversize 5707.674q

The fifteenth-century binding of Princeton University Library’s copy of Nicolaus de Ausmo, Supplementum Summae Pisanellae et Canones poenitentiales (Venice: Franciscus Renner, de Heilbronn and Nicolaus de Frankfordia, 1474), preserves the ghostly remains of one of the greatest of all lost books: the ninth-century “Tours Bible” of Trier, a large-format manuscript written at Tours ca. 835 as part of the religious reforms initiated by Charlemagne (742–814), later deposited at the Imperial Benedictine Abbey of St Maximin in Trier, only to be discarded for use as binding waste in Trier during the fifteenth century.

Since the closure of the St Maximin in Trier in 1802, approximately 85 fragments from this lost Carolingian Bible have come to light, all within fifteenth-century book bindings from this monastery’s library. Many are preserved in Trier’s Stadtbibliothek, while others are in Vienna, London, Berlin, Bonn, Koblenz, Walberberg, and three institutions in the United States: Indiana University’s Lilly Library, Cornell University’s Olin Library, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Carolingian ink offset on the lower board, reversed and enhanced image.

Princeton’s vestiges of this lost Carolingian Bible are neither a full vellum leaf nor a small fragment, but rather the reversed offset of ninth-century minuscule script, written in red and black ink, which has adhered to the Trier binding’s bare wooden boards, formerly covered by two vellum fragments from the discarded Tours Bible, which were removed at an unknown date. Decipherable with the aid of enhanced digital images shown in reverse, the preserved text consists of the Latin chapter summaries for 4 Kings (IV Regum), which would have preceded the beginning of that biblical book. The vellum leaf that bore this offset text, which was cut into two pieces and pasted down horizontally across the interior surfaces of the upper and lower boards, appears not to have survived. Thus, the offset in the Princeton binding is the only witness to its existence and the only record of its contents.

Detail of the Moutier-Grandval Bible. London, The British Library © British Library Board.

Some idea of the lost Tours Bible from Trier may be obtained by comparing the offset discovered at Princeton to the same biblical text in the ninth-century “Moutier-Grandval Bible” at the British Library, one of the greatest of all surviving Carolingian manuscripts. In both bibles, a red-ink rubric reads “Incipit capitulatio de Libro regum quarto,” while a series of Roman chapter numerals and initial Ds written in red ink descends the left side of the column. The script and spacing exhibited in each of the bibles is closely comparable, suggesting that they were produced within the same scriptorium.

Comparison of the Princeton offset (top) and Moutier-Grandval Bible in London (bottom).

Inscription on f. 1r

The Princeton copy of Nicolaus de Ausmo, printed in Venice in 1474, reached St Maximin in Trier soon after its publication. There, presumably during the later 1470s, it was inscribed “Ex libris Imperialis Monasterij S. Maximinj” and was bound (with the Carolingian Bible fragments) in wooden boards covered with blind-tooled calfskin; one of the tools impressed into the leather verifies its early provenance, bearing the words “Codex sancti Maximini.”

Detail of binding: “Codex sancti Maximini” stamp

 

 

When St Maximin in Trier was dissolved in 1802, many of its library’s books went to the local Stadtbibliothek, but many others were scattered to the four winds. The Nicolaus de Ausmo of 1474, along with several other books from St Maximin, became part of the collection of Joseph von Görres (1776–1848), a German writer and historian in Koblenz. His collection of printed books was sold by Süddeutsches Antiquariat in Munich (Katalog 32, dated 1903 [i.e. 1902]), no. 2. The catalogue entry mentioned the book’s provenance from St Maximin in Trier, but not the Carolingian binding waste or its offset. The book was owned next by Edward Duff Balken (1874–1960), Princeton Class of 1897, who presented it to Princeton University Library in 1940. The Carolingian offset was discovered and identified by Eric White on March 29, 2018, during preparations for a meeting of RBSC’s Rare Books Working Group, an informal book history workshop for interested Princeton University graduate students.

For further reading:

Die Touronische Bibel der Abtei St. Maximin vor Trier: Faksimile der erhaltenen Blätter… Ed. Reiner Nolden (Trier, 2002).

Florentine Mütherich, “Die Touronische Bibel von St. Maximin in Trier,” in: Studies in Carolingian Manuscript Illumination (London, 2004), 341-60.

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