I’m still a bit … emotional. I spent the better part of this afternoon in very peculiar company, with Cuthswyth and Kylian, Hieronymus and Duns, from Scotland. We will not come together in this form, in this lifetime again, that is for sure. If I weren’t too shy (and had my white gloves with me) I could even have touched them !

Cuthswyth abbatissa was the abbess of a nunnery, possibly Inkberrow (Eng.) near Worcester (Ger., Eng.). She lived between 650 and 700 and can be found in two contemporary documents. She possessed a book from Italy, the comment of St. Hieronymus (Ger., Eng.) about the book of Ecclesiastes (Ger., Eng.) – not the newest edition, it is written about 500 p.Chr.n. For reasons unknown she felt the need to write her name into this book. In fact she wrote “Cuthsuuithae boec thaerae abbatissan”, and repeated the “abbatissan” again in the line below. See for yourself here. Who says that in the early missionary time scribes were only males ? There is evidence for female scribes, see this article by Dr. J. A. KOSTER – who mentions of course Cuthswyth. And if all this “dating” is nearly correct it would make this humble piece of paper one of the oldest existing evidence or proof for written “English”. Beowulf was written down circa 975, but eventually composed in the 8th century.

Kylian’s book is a bit larger, it’s an Evangeliar dating from the 9th century. They showed us, not

The reason behind all this is that the Dombibliothek is finally digitized and available via the web (list here – enjoy ! ). The work will continue, but it is a milestone for the whole project.
And what we were allowed to see – in this form not again in my lifetime, it is more or less unrepeatable – were some of the cimelia. Access to the books is now possible via the web, the digital representations are state of the art (if your screen is calibrated the colours are true ; it is possible to take measures that are correct – the wizardry behind all this is impressive ; and yes, they made some backups, four to be precise) – and now they are allowed to rest. This evening they will be put back into the safe place and they will stay there. This public show was the last for years to come.
It was a bit emotional for me, when I slowly realised what I was seeing. They had no vitrine. It took place in the manuscript reading room, a place I visit since the early eighties. The books were placed on some higher tables on blue velvet. The head of the departement showed very carefully but full of pride some rare illuminations around – like a priest showing the sanctissimum, a monstranz … I had no idea what I was to see when I went there, so Cuthswyth was a bit of surprise.


14 thoughts on “Cuthswyth

  1. Bwahahaha at LX!!!! 🙂

    How amazing that you got to see something so very ancient and precious! I can imagine that you are still emotional about it.

  2. I misread it as Cuntswyth and mistook the word “Vitrine” for Latrine.

    “They had no vitrine. It took place in the manuscript reading room, a place I visit since the early eighties”

    I thought how unhygienic.

  3. Cthulhu is a slimy blob and should not be allowed near books LX.

    Bless you, Ponita … snirf … This particular book survived roughly 1.400 years of human stupidity and natural disasters, while travelling from Italy (probably Rome), to the middle of England, to Franconia.
    Wonder where the books were through WWII, I have to find out.

    I have to remember to keep you at least at stick’s length away from my shelves, dear Mitzi.

    Wet wipes for Mitzi dear MsScarlet, and extra soft for me please … snirfl …

  4. St.Hieronymus’ comment is of course in Latin LGS, but Cuthswyth’ notice is seemingly the oldest surviving, the earliest evidence of written Old English. I read that at another location within the book another nun used old English words in the Latin text, but could not find the passage in the text – of course I could not simply grab it and flip through the pages, and I still did not have time to search in the digital version. Yessir – you look at a book that is 1400 years old and contains the first written English words, written 1200 years ago somewhere near Worcester. And if it’s true what science could bring together, fifty years before Beowulf was even an idea in a singer’s head.

  5. Agreed, Cthulhu should keep his slimy tentacles off works of art. I had a joke about he even ruins British hats but I couldn’t find the picture. I would say some Duchess wore it to a horse race four years ago, but it was probably more like 10 years ago now. At any rate, I would not know what to do with such books either, except to stare. -M

  6. I would very much like to use them, hold them in my (gloved) hands, and of course read them. But not so much the text itself, but annotations or scribble, & search for traces of the users, Melanie.

    Haha – you saw the figure Austere ! Maybe a bored scribe had too much time – it is really “Kritzelei”, scribble, scrawl, doodle. It has no specific meaning and is no canonised figure in art history or such, just, well – doodle.
    Also on page 1 you find a lot of single letters – these are commonly called “Federprobe”, when a scribe tries his writing tool, his feather, or needs to get rid of too much ink.

    They showed only a few of their books. In fact they have a pretty large collection of Humanistendrucke too, stuff from the very late 15th and early 16th century, mostly from Basel printers. Very nice. And then there is what remains from bishop Julius’ library, pretty prächtige volumes in white leather. A lot to see, and a lot to digitise Foam.

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