Continental networks of Hiberno-Latin learning

Sometime in the middle of the eleventh century, the St-Gall monk known to us as Ekkehart IV (c. 980-c. 1060) set down to write a continuation to the century-old chronicle of his monastery, the Casus Sancti Galli. His continuation took the form of a series of anecdotes about key figures in the history of his monastery, starting with the combative bishop and abbot Salomo. Early in the text, while introducing the background of Salomo, Ekkehard shares an anecdote about the most famous couple of Irishmen to visit the monastery of St-Gall in the ninth century.

These two men are the Irish bishop Marcus and the son of his sister, Moengal, whom the monks of St-Gall quickly renamed Marcellus. They appeared on the monastery’s doorstep sometime between 849 and 872, on their return trip from Rome. The monks invite the Irish bishop to stay for a while, but it would seem that their main target was recruiting his nephew, who, Ekkehard says, was most learned in religious as well as secular scholarship (‘in divinis et humanis eruditissimus’).[1] After some deliberation they both decided to remain at St-Gall with some Irish-speaking servants. Their money, horses, and mules were given to their companions who would continue travelling back to Ireland, but Marcus is said to have kept his books, gold, and costly vestments (‘pallia’) for himself and for St Gallus (‘sibi et sancto Gallo retinuit’).[2]

The phrase ‘for himself and for St Gallus’ can either mean that some of Marcus’s books were donated to the monastery while he held on to others, or that an arrangement was made that the possessions of the Irish bishop would fall to the abbey after Marcus’s death. Either way, this phrase constitutes the only explicit mention of an Irish traveller providing St-Gall with books. It is a point worth stressing; there is no other evidence of Irishmen giving books to the monastery of St-Gall. And even in this one instance, we are left with many remaining questions: for instance, we don’t know how many books Marcus actually had on him during his travels, where these books originated, how Marcus had obtained them (some perhaps brought from Ireland, but others were probably collected during his travels), or which texts they contained.

[In a strange twist of evidence, we do know about a book given to Marcus; in the catalogue of Abbot Grimalt’s private library we read that a fine psalter from Grimalt’s private collection was given to Marcus the Irishman, but the book in question remained in the abbey church.[3] Johannes Duft seems to suspect some reciprocity in the offering, suggesting that this book was given in return for the donation of Marcus’s books to the abbey, but this must remain uncertain.[4]]

The reference to Marcus’s books leads us to wonder about the role played by itinerant Irishmen in the continental distribution and dissemination of books, texts and ideas, in particular the dissemination of Hiberno-Latin learning (which, for this occasion, I will define as scholarly works written in Latin, conceived of and composed in Ireland).

It has long been acknowledged that the Alpine monastery of St-Gall was not an Irish monastery, but modern historians habitually refer to some form of ‘Irish influence’ on the monastery.[5] Granted, narrative sources tell us of short- and long-term visitors from Ireland to the abbey (including Marcus and Marcellus); and St-Gall’s ninth-century library catalogue includes a list of books that were written in Irish script, and there are multiple early medieval manuscripts with Hiberno-Latin works still surviving in today’s library. Yet, it is difficult to assess how these things are connected to each other, how unique this really is and how this amounted to something as vague as ‘Irish influence’. In the past, the distribution of Hiberno-Latin scholarship was often credited to the Irish peregrini, as prof. Roger Reynolds in a 2000 article explained with regard to the Collectio canonum Hibernensis: ‘It is well known that the Hibernensis [. . . ] was early spread widely north of the Alps by Irish wanderers and in Irish ecclesiastical and monastic establishments.’[6] For an upcoming book, I am putting this to the test and I am studying the ways in which Hiberno-Latin learning arrived at the monastery of St-Gall and how its Irish heritage was perceived there. The underlying premise of this paper (and also the book) is that Hiberno-Latin scholarship did not rely on itinerant Irishmen for its dissemination on mainland Europe, but, instead, that its works were quickly integrated in what one might call a ‘pan-European’ pool of learning.

Taking my cue from prof. Reynold’s statement, in this paper I will take a closer look at the impressive Hiberno-Latin learned text known as the Collectio canonum Hibernensis, one of the earliest systematically arranged canon law collection and a product of intense scholarly activity in Ireland.

This text was copied in the first half of the ninth-century at St-Gall in the manuscript now in the Stiftsbibliothek carrying the number 243. It is the only complete, ninth-century copy of the Hibernensis that does not originate from Brittany and it contains the text on which Wasserschleben based his 1888 edition (and we are all anxiously awaiting for Roy’s new edition of the text to come out in print). It is very skillfully copied by two scribes, both writing a very similar, upright and sometimes slightly rightwards leaning Caroline minuscule. Both hands have been identified as of St-Gall origin and the hand of the first scribe, who copied up to page 88, is said to resemble that of Wolfcoz, a very prolic scribe during the abbacy of Gozbert (816-837), which results in a tentative date for the manuscript.[7]

The text of the Hibernensis in St-Gallen 243 is relatively complete, with only a few pages of the first chapters missing. Traditionally, two main versions of the Hibernensis are distinguished; the so-called A-recension and the somewhat longer B-recension. Without going into too much detail: Both recensions have material unique to it and there is some variation of book and chapter divisions, but there is also ample variation between copies of the same recension. Roy Flechner has convincingly made the case for an now-lost undivided ‘proto-Hibernensis’ underlying both recensions.

The St-Gall copy represents the A-recension, although, as many scholars have demonstrated in recent decades, it has ‘uniquely different variants’ and ’less meaningful readings’, to use the words of Prof. Sheehy.[8] When attempting to reconstruct the travels taken by this particular text to the writing desks of the two St-Gall scribes, there are two avenues of research: first, there is the physical evidence of the manuscript itself, including notes and glosses outside of the main text itself, second, there is the text version of the Hibernensis which we may compare with other copies in order to try to identify connections or its place within a textual stemma. I propose to look at both of these aspects briefly now in order to shed some light on the manner in which this text came to St-Gall and how its Irish background was assessed by the monastery’s inmates.



The manuscript does not contain any glosses or other markings that may betray its origin (or use, for that matter) except for the colophon at the bottom of the last page which reads (in my tentative translation)

Ego eadberct hunc librum de ueteris et noui instrumenti testimoniis coaptatum et de sanctorum exemplis patrum collectum, multisque scripturarum floribus ornatum non sine corporis labore depingens, opitulante Deo ad finem usque perduxi.[9]

I, Eadberct, have finished this book furnished with witnesses of the old and new document and assembled with examples of the holy Fathers and adorned with many flowers of writings, writing [it] not without physical labor, with a helping God all the way to the end.’

The colophon does not clarify the nature of Eadberct’s involvement in the production of this manuscript. At first glance, this colophon appears to hold the identity of the scribe responsible for the copying of the text, as the verb depingo would suggest. This would mean, however, that this fellow Eadberct is claiming all the praise for the work of two scribes, rather unfairly leaving his fellow scribe unmentioned (the words ‘ad finem usque’ appear particularly disingenuous).

Alternatively, note the focus in the colophon on the practicalities of the formation process of a collection of canons, that is the ‘furnishing’, ‘assembling’ and ‘decorating’ with biblical texts, patristic works and flowers of writings. It suggest a more active role played by Eadberct in the actual composition of this collection of canons (the past passive participles in the accusative can also be meant as active supines). In that case, the colophon may have been copied straight from the exemplar.

It appears that the ninth-century cataloguer of St-Gall’s books also envisaged Eadberct as a man involved in the earlier stages of the collection’s composition. On page 12 of the monastery’s library catalogue, dated between 850 and 880, we find the reference to MS 243 under the heading de libris diuersis auctorum, with the entry Collectio Eadberti de diuersis opusculis sanctorum patrum, uolumen I.[10] There is no other instance in this catalogue of a scribe of a particular codex being mentioned. In fact, genitive cases are reserved for the author of a work (Gregorii, Augustini etc.).

It appears that the Hibernensis was viewed as ‘Eadberct’s collection’, but whom the St-Gall monks knew or thought him to be must remain unknown. The name Eadberct is clearly Germanic and in this particular spelling seems to be Anglo-Saxon. Were they thinking about the bishop of Lindisfarne (688-98), whom Bede describes as a holy man excelling both in the knowledge of the holy scriptures, and in the observance of divine precepts? Or were they looking closer to home, like the deacon Otbertus, monk of the nearby island-monastery of Reichenau? We will probably never know.



Moving on to the study of the actual text in the manuscript itself; This also brings us to Reichenau. Initially, the idiosyncracy of the St-Gall copy of the Hibernensis provides only problems as it offers no immediately obvious connections with other surviving copies or with partial copies of the A-recension. Yet, there are hitherto unnoticed clues to be found in a B-recension copy from the island monastery of Reichenau.

This copy now lies in Karlsruhe and has a very different appearance from St-Gall 243, written in two columns in a rather small script on large leaves. It now numbers 90 folios, of almost 42 by 30 cm (41,8 x 29,4 cm = 16,5 x 11,5 inches), but it lacks at least 14 quires, perhaps more. With these it would make a very impressive codex. In fact, it is believed to be the first ‘liber praegrandis’ of several that were produced under the guidance of Reginbert, librarian of Reichenau. The first 148 pages are devoted to a large number of texts on dogmatic issues, focusing especially on the creed.[12] The last two surviving quires of the manuscript, bound in the wrong order, contain the Hibernensis parts, comprising material from book 17 chapter 16 to book 42 chapter 13 in the version of the B-recension.[13]

It dates from the first quarter of the ninth-century and Reginbert’s handwriting is found throughout the manuscript (ob. 847).[15] Reginbert occasionally provided the openings of passages, but his instructional hand is also evident in the many corrections he made in this manuscript.[16] And, to be fair, the text was in dire need for correction: it is riddled with spelling errors and grammatical slips. As one would expect, the Reichenau B-recension text does not testify to a connection with the A-recension text of St-Gall.

But Reginbert also added extra words or short phrases. He is known to have done this is several Reichenau manuscripts, and occasionally he not only corrected from the original exemplar, but also recorded readings taken from a second manuscript witness, if one was available to him.[17] This appears to be the case here. And it is in these emendations and additions that we find a very strong link with the St-Gall Hibernensis. In fact, with almost no exception, the hundreds of corrections and additions correspond to the readings in the St-Gall text. Including readings peculiar to the St-Gall copy.

These take the form of a few words in a sentence as in book 29.2, where Jerome is quoted on the topic of theft, stating that both small and large acts of thievery should be fiercely judged, according to the St-Gall text because ‘all thievery is a sin’:

S: Hieronimus in commentario epistulae ad Titum: Fur non solum in maioribus quia omne furatum peccatum est, sed etiam et in minoribus acriter iudicatur.

In book 21.1 a complete quote is inserted into the canon as it stands, uniquely, in the St-Gall manuscript: ‘Let a scriba interrogate Scripture; of this Faustinus says: ‘I have examined and I have interrogated and I have made a judgement’.

c. 21.1 p. 166 main text…scriba interroget scripturam, contemptibilis conuocet omnes Reginbert gloss[inde ait Faustinus] scrutatus su[m] et interrogaui et constitui iudicium eventual reading…scriba interroget scripturam. [Inde ait Faustinus] scrutatus su[m] et interrogaui et constitui iudicium. Contemptibilis conuocet omnes… S (Wasserschleben)…scriba interroget scripturam. Inde ait Faustinus: scrutatus sum et interrogavi et constitui judicium. Contemptibilis convocet omnes…

[Interestingly, Thomas Charles-Edwards in his recent book on Wales and the Britons points to this passage to explicate the insular notion of scribal adjudication).[18]]

In the St-Gall text, book 22.3 on the ‘truth not being loved’ has two extra canons not attested elsewhere, but they are added to the Reichenau manuscript by Reginbert:

‘A sermon: The truth is bitter, and so are they who proclaim it.

Augustine: Truth can be oppressed, but it cannot be defeated.’


c. 22.3 p. 169 …odium parit Reichenau manuscriptgloss in lower margin:TRAC[?]: Amara est ueritas, et amari qui narrant eamAUGUSTINUS: Ueritas laborare potest, uinci autem non potest S (Wasserschleben)S has another two canonsTrac. (?): Amara est veritas, et amari qui narrant eam.Agustinus: Veritas laborari potest, vinci autem non potest


The evidence from Reginbert’s emendations demonstrate that the Reichenau master had access to an additional version of the Hibernensis, different from the one he gave his student to copy. This second version contained the same text as the idiosyncratic copy of the A-recension surviving in the St-Gall manuscript, including its unique features. It would appear this has been lost; if his emendations were contemporary with his other contributions to the book (dated early in the ninth century), and I think they are, the St-Gall book was copied afterwards. This makes it quite probable that St-Gall MS 243 was copied from this version available at Reichenau and not brought to St-Gall by some visitors straight from Ireland. In fact, the St-Gall scribes (and the cataloguer decades later) were unaware of the Irish origin of this canonical work, having procured it from their neighbours at Reichenau and attributing it to a certain Eadberct. Even at St-Gall then, Hiberno-Latin learning could be divorced from its ethnic heritage, providing a case in point for its often quick assumption in a general pool of Western European learning.

[This paper was delivered at the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, May 2015; it is supposed to forerun a book-length re-evaluation of the Irish intellectual presence at the monastery of St-Gall. Some footnotes seem to have disappeared.]



[1] Ekkehart IV, Casus Sancti Galli, continuatio I, ed. Hans F. Haefele, Ekkehard IV. St. Galler Klostergeschichten, Ausgewählte Quellen zur Deutschen Geschichte des Mittelalters 10 (Darmstadt, 1980), § 2 (pp. 18, 20).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Psalterium bonum Marco Hiberniensi dedit, quod est positum in ecclesia’, Paul Lehmann, Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge Deutschlands und der Schweiz, volume 1: Die Bistümer Konstanz und Chur (Munich, 1918), 88.

[4] Duft and Meyer, The Irish miniatures, 35.

[5] See Rob Meens’s contribution to our volume.

[6] Reynolds, ‘Transmission of the Hibernensis’, 23

[7] Albert Bruckner, Scriptoria medii aevi Helvetica: Denkmäler schweizerischer Schreibkunst des Mittelalters, volume 2: Schreibschulen der Diözese Konstanz: St. Gallen (Geneva, 1936-8), 74. Johannes Duft termed the script of both copyists ‘alemannic’, although it is hard to see why this script is anything other than Caroline minuscule, see Johannes Duft, Mittelalterliche Schreiber: Bilder, Anekdoten und Sprüche aus der Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (St-Gallen, 1964), 32.

[8] Sheehy, ‘Celtic phenomenon’, p. 534.

[9] St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 243, p. 254.

[10] This epilogue is discussed below, section 5.6, p. 220. The catalogue survives in St-Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 728 (with a copy in St-Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 267); see Paul Lehmann, Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge Deutschlands und der Schweiz, volume 1: Die Bistümer Kon- stanz und Chur (Munich, 1918), I: 66-82, at 77; and Bernhard Bischo, ‘Bücher am Hofe Ludwigs des Deutschen und die Privatbibliothek des Kanzlers Grimalt’, in: Bernhard Bischoff, Mittelalterliche Studien: Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Schriftkunde und Literaturgeschichte, 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 1966-1981), vol. 3, 187–212.

[12] An exhaustive list of contents is printed by Holder, Die Handschriften, V: 58-69; Bischoff terms the contents a ‘corpus symbolorum’: Bischoff, Katalog, I: 333. On creed commentaries, see also Susan Ann Keefe, ‘Creed commentary collections in Carolingian manuscripts’, in: Kathleen G. Cushing and Richard Gyug (eds.), Ritual, text and law: studies in medieval canon law and liturgy presented to Roger E. Reynolds, Church, faith, and culture in the Medieval West (Ashgate, 2004), 185–204.

[13] The Hibernensis material survives on quires that are numbered 25 and 24. It is interesting to note that according to the entry in the rotulus this book at one time also included penitential works, which often accompanied the Hibernensis in codices from France and especially Brittany. Wasserschleben had already pointed out that the Hibernensis version in this manuscript had some B-recension additions and noted that the text often agreed with readings in the Vallicelliana manuscript, which contains the B-recension; Wasserschleben, Kanonensammlung, xxxiv. Hubert Mordek, David Dumville and, as noted above, Lotte Kéry identied this manuscript as a witness to the B-text; Dumville, ‘Ireland, Brittany, and England’, 89 (with reference to Reynolds, ‘Unity and diversity’, who does not identify the recension); Mordek, Kirchenrecht und Reform, 256. Luned Davies, however, described the version in this manuscript as ‘influenced by the B-recension’, see Davies, ‘The Collectio canonum Hibernensis and its sources’, 33.

[15] On alemannic minuscule, see Bischoff, Latin palaeography, 114.

[16] The identication of Reginbert’s handwriting places the book’s origin firmly in Reichenau. It has been identied with entries in both the Reichenau library catalogue of 821/822 and that of 822; in both cases the entry only lists the first texts of this manuscript, mainly texts on topics of dogma. The description of the manuscript in Reginbert’s own catalogue, the so-called rotulus, is more complete, since it mentions that included in this ‘large book’ (‘liber praegrandis’), following the dogmatic works, are: ‘diuersi canones, id est Graeciae, Africae, Galliae, Hispaniaeque. Postea decretales epistolae antistitum Romanorum ac deinceps canones ex ueteri et nouo testamento compositi, postmodum diuersi libri paenitentiarum’; A. Holder, Die Handschriften der Großherzoglich Badischen Hof- und Landesbibliothek in Karlsruhe, 9 vols. (Leipzig, 1909-1932), V: 69. The catalogue entries have made it possible to date the manuscript, one of Reginbert’s earliest larger books, to the first quarter of the ninth century. It stayed at Reichenau until early modern times; Preisendanz, ‘Aus Bücherei und Schreibstube’, 663; Mordek, Kirchenrecht und Reform, 256 (‘ixin’).

[17] K. Preisendanz, ‘Aus Bücherei und Schreibstube der Reichenau’, in: K. Beyerle (ed.), Die Kultur der Abtei Reichenau: Erinnerungsschrift zur zwölfhundertsten Wiederkehr des Gründungsjahres des Inselklosters, 724-1924, 2 vols. (Munich, 1925), II: 657–83, at 660-1.

[18] Without noting the fact that this sentence is unique to R and S, see Ch-Edw, Wales and the Britons, 208.


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