Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 209

This book is most remarkable for its original seal-skin binding: there is something surreal about a book covered in fur! Its contents comprise:

  1. Augustine of Hippo, Soliloquia, ‘Soliloquies’ (fols. 2r–31v);
  2. Augustine, De gratia et libero arbitrio, ‘On grace and free will’ (fols. 32r–55r);
  3. Passio et miracula beati Olaui, ‘The Passion and Miracles of the Blessed Olaf’ (fols. 57r–90r) [BHL 6322 and 6324–5];
  4. Origo et consuetudines monachi Cisterciensium super exordium cisterciensis cenobii, ‘The origin and customs of the Cistercian monks at the emergence of the monastery of Cîteaux’ (fols. 91r–99r);
  5. Thurstan, archbishop of York, Epistola de egressu monachorum Fontanensium de cenobio sancte Marie Eboracensis, ‘Letter about the departure of the monks of Fountains from the monastery of St Mary in York’ (fols. 99v–108v).

Though the work of several hands, the script and decoration are reasonably consistent until folio 107r. To this point the scripts are typical, late twelfth-century, proto-Gothic bookhands, thereafter and in mid-text it takes on an early thirteenth-century, ‘semi-diplomatic’, aspect. Since item five is about the foundation of Fountains Abbey (1132) and because the manuscript has an ex libris inscription claiming the book for the same house (fol. 2r), it seems almost certain that it was copied and bound there in the late 12th century.

For present purposes the main item of interest is the Passio et miracula beati Olaui. Here a brief passio of Norway’s most important saint, a king who was martyred at the Battle of Stiklarstaðir (Stiklestad) on 29 July 1030, is combined with a ‘book of miracles’ comprising some fifty miracula. Mistakes in Scandinavian names imply that the scribe was not familiar with Norway and its languages, but Fountains had a daughter house at Lyse in Hordaland, and this may explain the Passio’s presence in this codex. The Corpus 209 version of Olaf’s life and miracles is in part—if not in its entirety—the work of Eysteinn Erlendsson, the second archbishop of Niðaróss (1157–88), who took refuge in England for three years after he was exiled in 1180. It is clear earlier versions of Olaf’s hagiography also existed and these are variously attested in other manuscripts, but the history of their texts and the present work’s relationship with them remain uncertain.


Facsimile: Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 209.

Text: Passio et miracula beati Olaui (BHL 6322 and 6324–5), ed. from a twelfth-century manuscript in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, with an introduction and notes by F. Metcalfe (Oxford, 1881), pp. 67–116.

Translation: D. Kunin, A History of Norway and the Passion and Miracles of the Blessed Óláfr, ed. C. Phelpstead, Viking Society for Northern Research, Text Series 13 (London, 2001), pp. 26–74 [MOHP].

Commentary: For the Passio et miracula beati Olaui and its relationship to the shorter Actus Olaui (ed. G. Storm, Monumenta historica Norvegiæ (1880), pp. 125–44), which seems to represent an earlier version of the work even though the MSS are all later, see Phelpstead’s comments in Kunin, History of Norway, pp. xxvi–xxxix, and the extensive references which he makes to earlier contributions.

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