Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliothek, GKS 1588

fire beastThough imperfectly preserved, this manuscript is a useful example of a hagiographical libellus, that is, of a booklet which brings together texts of various types all concerned with the same saint. This instance combines a copy (one of the earliest now extant) of Abbo of Fleury’s Passio S. Eadmundi (fols. 2r–28r) with liturgical texts and notation for the office of St Edmund on the day of his passion (fols. 28r–32v). Written in late Anglo-Caroline script, it was produced at Bury St Edmund’s Abbey in the late eleventh century. The first leaf was orginally left blank, and two sequences (hymns) in honour of St Nicholas, were added later, probably in the twelfth century. The hand certainly looks English.

The manuscript had found its way to the Abbey of Saint-Denis in Paris by the late thirteenth-century when a library signature was added to fol. 2r; another shelf mark of the same abbey was written on fol. 1r in the 15th century. Later the manuscript belonged to the library of Gottorp Castle in Schleswig. Gottorp’s manuscripts were transferred to Copenhagen in 1735. The Passio S. Eadmundi was composed between 985 (when Abbo of Fleury arrived in England) and 988 (when Archbishop Dunstan, to whom it is addressed, died). Abbo returned to France in 987.


Facsimile: Copenhagen, Kongelige Bibliothek, GKS 1588.

Principal Text: Passio S. Eadmundi, regis et martyris (BHL 2392), ed. M. Winterbottom, Three Lives of English Saints, Toronto Medieval Latin Texts (Toronto, 1972), pp. 67–87 [XJQHC].

Translation: F. Hervey, Corolla Sancti Eadmundi: The Garland of Saint Edmund King and Martyr (London, 1907), pp. 6–59.

Commentary. On the Manuscript, see Winterbottom, Three Lives, pp. 8–9; A. Gransden, ‘Abbo of Fleury’s Passio Sancti Eadmundi’, Revue Bénédictine, 105 (1995), 20–78, at pp. 64–65; R. Gameson, ‘Book Culture in Northern Europe during the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries’, in E. Petersen (ed.), Living Words and Luminous Pictures: Medieval Book Culture in Denmark, Essays (Copenhagen 1999), pp. 20–51, at 38 (suggests that the book was made for as well as at St Edmund’s, only for it to be superceded within a generation by a more elaborate libellus, that found in London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius B.II).

The purpose of Abbo’s Passio has been the subject of some discussion: e.g. A. Gransden, ‘Abbo’s Passio Eadmundi’, esp. pp. 40–56 (written out of genuine gratitude to Dunstan and in order to promote the cult), arguing against D. N. Dumville, English Caroline Script and Monastic History: Studies in Benedictinism, A. D. 950-1030, Studies in Anglo-Saxon History 6 (Woodbridge, 1993), pp. 77-78 (written to validate a putative Benedictine reform of St. Edmund’s in the 980s), and M. Mostert, The Political Theology of Abbo of Fleury, Middeleeuse Studies en Bronnen 2 (Hilversum, 1987), pp. 44–45 (written and conceived after Abbo’s return to France in the autumn of 987 as a princes’ mirror for Hugh Capet).

For the liturgical items, see D. Hiley, ‘The Music of Prose Offices in Honour of English Saints’, Plainsong and Medieval Music, 10 (2001), 23–37 (brief references) [Cambridge Journals]; A. Hughes, ‘British Rhymed Offices: A Catalogue and Commentary’, in S. Rankin and D. Hiley (eds), Music in the Medieval English Liturgy: Plainsong and Mediæval Music Society Centennial Essays (Oxford, 1993), pp. 239–84, at 260–1 [VWVOA], and R. M. Thomson, ‘The Music for the Office of St Edmund, King and Martyr’, Music and Letters, 65 (1984), 189–93 [JSTOR].

Material for Comparison: There are some images available of London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius B.II, the twelfth-century Bury manuscript which was produced, Gameson thinks, to replace GKS 1588. It dates from soon after 1100 and combines Abbo’s Passio S. Eadmundi and with the miracle-collection attributed to ‘Hermann of Bury’. Five images from this manuscript may be consulted at the British Library’s Online Gallery: (1) fol. 2r, the opening page of the dedicatory letter to St Dunstan; (2) fol. 25v, the first of the miracles added by ‘Hermann of Bury’; (3) fol. 27r, another miracle story; (4) fol. 76v, another miracle story; (5) fol. 86r, a page from the Ely register with which the former manuscript was bound. The significance of fol. 86r lies in the inscription at its foot which shows that it belonged to Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631).

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