A new manuscript online : Homiliary compiled by Paul the Deacon, Peterhouse MS 130

1. MS.130, Paulus Diaconus, Homiliarium, f.3v

The fifteenth-century catalogue of the Peterhouse Library, initially compiled on Christmas Eve 1418, gives details of over 450 manuscripts. Our present collection of some 270 manuscript volumes represents over half the working library which was accumulated by the College during the two and a half centuries after its foundation; and is one of only three such collections in Cambridge – nearly all the other colleges, and the University Library itself, having discarded (principally in the sixteenth- century) the bulk of their earliest holdings.

The medieval manuscripts belonging to Peterhouse are now on deposit in the University Library, where they may be consulted. As part of the process of re-cataloguing and preserving the College’s collections, it has been decided to present some of their highlights in the Cambridge Digital Library; the first of the College’s medieval manuscripts to be digitised was the Equatorie of the Planetis, Ms. 75.1. We are delighted to now add a second manuscript to the Digital Library: the Homiliary compiled by Paul the Deacon, (MS Peterhouse 130). According to M.R. James, it is perhaps the oldest MS in Peterhouse’s collection.[1]

Homiliaries, homiliarium, or homiliarius (i.e. liberdoctorum, are collections of homilies for the entire liturgical year, made up of homilies drawn from various sources and conceived of as standard, though no two completely identical manuscript homiliaries have ever been found. The eighth century was a century of liturgical codification, and as new feasts were added to the Office, the demand for homilies became greater. One of the most famous of these homiliarium is that of Paul Warnefrid, better known as Paul the Deacon (about 720-probably 799), a monk of the Benedict convent of Monte Cassino, who compiled it at the command of Charlemagne. Paul the Deacon’s was a compendium of hundreds of works, with traditional texts from the Doctors of the Church and Popes such as Augustine and Leo the Great, but he also added substantial texts from the works of the Venerable Bede, Origen, and sermons or fragments of sermons from a diversity of other preachers. In each case, the source was identified so that those hearing would know from whom the teaching came and where it stood within the tradition; it is now recognised that many of these attributions were incorrect.

The earliest printed edition is that of Speyer in 1482; for centuries beforehand, the homiliary was copied, recopied, and used in monasteries; it has reached us only in revised form. This particular copy was made for the Benedictine Abbey of Holzen in southern Germany more than three centuries later. Holzen had been founded in 1150 by Marquard von Donnersberg as a double monastery of Benedictine monks and nuns. The women’s convent was enlarged in the fifteenth-century; the abbey of monks was dissolved in 1470.

MS 130 was acquired by Peterhouse under the Mastership of Lazarus Seaman, (1644-1660), who testified, with an inscription at the foot of f.1,  that it had been donated by the London bookseller John Rothwell – probably the elder John Rothwell, who was active at the Sun in St Paul’s churchyard from 1628 to 1649, rather than his son, also John, who inherited the business. It had belonged, previously, to Archbishop William Laud, who had a binding bearing his arms made for it, as was his custom: very few of the MS in Laud’s possession have kept their original binding.

2. MS.130, Paulus Diaconus, Homiliarium, seventeenth-century binding stamped with the arms of Wiliam Laud.

Laud had become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. As Chancellor of Oxford University from April 1629 to June 1641, Laud had made several donations of manuscripts both to the library of his College, St John’s, and to the Bodleian Library. In December 1640 the House of Commons impeached Laud for treason, and on 10 January 1645, he was beheaded on Tower Hill in London. Many of Laud’s donations to Oxford came from German Catholic libraries that had been looted by Protestant troops, principally the Swedish armies, during the Thirty Years War. Thomas Howard (b. 1585, d. 1646), 2nd earl of Arundel, art collector and politician, also gave Laud some Latin MSS purchased in 1636 in Germany that came from monastic sources. It seems likely that Peterhouse MS 130, which had spent the first four and a half centuries of its life in Allmanshofen in Bavaria, reached England in a similar manner.[2] Daniela Mairhofer has noted that manuscripts from Germany in the Laud collections were clearly not assembled indiscriminately, but were chosen with consideration and care by a collector with historical and religious interests.[3] There are four further manuscript Homiliarum attributed to Paul the Deacon in the collection donated by Laud to the Bodleian Library, including another example produced in twelfth-century southern Germany. [4]

On f.180b, originally blank, is a later addition to the main book, on a slip. It runs as follows: “Nouerit omnes Christi fedeles, tam future  quam presents quod ego F[redericus] dei gratia romanorum imperator rogatu fundatorum  nouae cellae Sancti Iohannis Baptistae in Holz rogatu etiam ancillarum Dei inibi constitentium regali  clementia locum ipsum in nostrum tuition susceperimus…” Although early in date, this charter is probably a forgery.

3. MS.130, f.180b, inserted slip showing a probable forgery.

On f.211v, there is an added thirteenth-century prayer for protection from eye disease: ”Notum sit omnibus in Christo fidelibus tam futuris, then in a Bavarian dialect: “ Ich beswer hiute dinehir bidem hailigen Christe…” At the foot is written “Nagel”.

4. A prayer for protection from eye disease, in a Bavarian dialect. MS.130, f.211v.

MS 130 is a beautiful manuscript, decorated with foliage, men and beasts, and outlined in red or ink of text, and adorned by historiated initials. It is now entirely accessible online for the first time.

5. MS.130, decorated initial on f.3

[1] Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 305.

[2] Bodleian Library. MSS. Laud: manuscripts given by Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/medieval/mss/laud.htm

[3] Daniela Mairhofer, Medieval Manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Oxford, 2014), p. 17.

[4] M.R. James, A descriptive catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of Peterhouse (Cambridge, 1899), p. 149.

Further reading:

Zachary Morgan Guiliano, ‘The composition, dissemination, and use of the homiliary of Paul the Deacon in Carolingian Europe from the late eighth to the mid-tenth century’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 2016.

Robert Earl Kaske, Medieval Christian Literary Imagery: A Guide to Interpretation, (Toronto, 1988)

Daniela Mairhofer, Medieval Manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A descriptive catalogue (Oxford, 2014).

Hughes Oliphant Old, The reading and preaching of the scriptures in the worship of the Christian church, volume 1 (Grand Rapids, 1998).


By Sophie Defrance.

One comment

  1. Mary Garrison · · Reply

    Thank you for this most useful post. The description of Peterhouse 130 in M.R. James’ Catalogue cited in footnote 4 above does not list any other MSS of the work (note also that it runs from p. 148; as far I can glean from Zachary Guiliano’s work online, only 2 manuscripts of Paul’s Homiliarium were known until recently. It is possible that Mairhofer’s work is intended here, or indeed Guiliano’s?

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