Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands

HAB and Bodleian provide insights into medieval manuscripts

About one year ago the Herzog August Bibliothek and the Bodleian Libraries joined forces in the digitization project “Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands”. The project is funded by the Polonsky Foundation and the HAB thus succeeds the Vatican Library as a cooperation partner of the Bodleian Libraries.

Canon picture from the missal Cod. Guelf. 35 Helmst., fol.127v

Dr. Leonard Polonsky is convinced that “it’s too dangerous to have unique exemplars of anything in one place and digitization enables us to secure all of this material and of course make it broadly available. It’s an opportunity you can’t resist“. 

Focusing on this objective, the project launched in December 2018. Since then, over 60 manuscripts from different monasteries in Lower Saxony have been digitized and 34 of which are publicly available on the project website already:

One remarkable example is Cod. Guelf. 35 Helmst. – a missal from the Lüchtenhof, house of the Brethren of the Common Life in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony. This medieval service book from the year 1462 was made for personal use by the Brethren at the Lüchtenhof, as an entry on the inside of the front cover shows. The high costs for this parchment manuscript were probably donated by Henning von Reden and his wife Ilse Barner, whose kneeling figures next to the coat of arms are shown beneath the canon picture. The von Reden family belonged to the ancient nobility of Lower Saxony and their members played an important role in the Diocese of Hildesheim.


In addition to eleven initials, elaborately decorated with miniatures and gold leaf, this canon picture on fol. 127v is the most artistically demanding page in the codex. It shows Mary and John standing next to the Cross of Christ and the frame is decorated with roundels displaying the symbols of the four evangelists. The picture leads up to the Eucharistic Prayer with which the priest brings to mind the sacrificial death of Christ in the mass.

Fol. 128r from the missal Cod. Guelf. 35 Helmst.

The beginning of the text on the opposite page is decorated with an initial depicting a story from the Book Exodus: Moses attaches a bronze snake to a pole in the form of the tree-shaped T-initial in order to protect the people of Israel in the desert from the bites of poisonous snakes. In the medieval interpretation of the Bible this was read as a prophetic hint at the redeeming power of the cross.

All 529 photographs of the folios of this manuscript can be viewed at in high resolution. The digitization of manuscripts such as this allows a broad public access to this valuable cultural asset and at the same time complements the HAB's research on the holdings of Lower Saxon monastic libraries of the Late Middle Ages. In the coming months we will continuously report on the progress of the project.