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ULB’s collection of medieval manuscripts comprises 423 manuscripts, which makes it the largest collection in North Rhine-Westphalia outside Cologne.

Besides this, ULB also owns a small collection of modern manuscripts.

Indexing, digitalisation and use
ULB’s medieval manuscript collection was indexed as part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Düsseldorf’s manuscript catalogue has been published in several volumes. See here for more information.

With the exception of five manuscript volumes, which could not be digitalised for preservation reasons, all of ULB’s medieval manuscripts have been digitalised in full. Access the digital resources here.

In addition to the 423 medieval manuscripts, ULB has an extensive collection of medieval fragments from the 8th to 16th centuries. The fragments cover a broad range of subjects – from various philologies to liturgy, canon studies, Roman law, music and art. The fragments were inventoried and digitalised as part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). All digital resources and descriptions can be searched in the ULB’s online inventory as well as in the Manuscripta Mediaevalia database.

Hardly any of the modern-day book manuscripts have been indexed so far: a list has been compiled of the 30 manuscripts in the Binterim Library and a list of the remaining manuscripts is currently being planned.

For orders, please contact us at least one day in advance of your visit, either by telephone or in writing. Resources can be consulted in the Special Reading Room under professional supervision.

Since the majority of the secularised manuscripts in ULB’s manuscript collection come from 22 monasteries, collegiate churches and convents in the Rhineland and Westphalia, they are influenced even more strongly by liturgy and theology than is to be expected anyway of collections of medieval manuscripts.

Kreuzbrüderkonvent Düsseldorf: 83 mss.
Kreuzbrüderkonvent Marienfrede: 65 mss.
Zisterzienserabtei Altenberg: 54 mss.
Benediktinerabtei Werden: 21 mss.
Kanonissenstift Essen: 17 mss.

Smaller manuscript collections come from the Marienstift in Düsseldorf (St. Lambertus), the Dominican convent in Paradiese near Soest, the Great St. Martin Benedictine abbey in Cologne and Siegburg Benedictine monastery.

Overview of holdings

Call number group Total manuscripts Total manuscripts
A. Bible manuscripts 18
B. Theological manuscripts 199
C. Hagiographic and ascetic manuscripts 94
D. Liturgical manuscripts 37
E. Canonistic and Roman legal manuscripts 14
F. Philosophical and philological manuscripts 13
G. Historiographical manuscripts 7
N. Codices Novi 12
P. 2

A selection of our most important manuscripts within call number groups A, B, C and D are presented below.

Information on selected manuscript groups

Codex A5 includes the Old Testament writings, which are in part introduced with prologues by the church father Jerome († 420), up to an explanatory preface to the Book of Isaiah, though this is not included itself. The second volume is stored in the parish archives of St. Lambertus in Düsseldorf. Similar to other Old Testament manuscripts, codex A5 does not include the Psalter; for practical reasons, this was often treated as a separate manuscript.

This manuscript’s ornate decorations include 25 extremely beautiful fleuron initials of 6 to 14 lines in height and half a column in width with a blue and red split stem at the start of the book of Genesis through to the book of Sirach in addition to an initial depicting the story of creation on the reverse of leaf 6. One unique feature is the late medieval suede binding whose brass fittings, which were originally nailed to the four corners and the centre of the two covers, have all been lost except for one corner fitting. The manuscript was produced in the first quarter of the 14th century in a Cologne illuminator’s studio; it originates from the Benedictine Abbey of Great St. Martin in the city of Cologne. The large format, artful lettering, ornate decorations featuring both small and magnificent larger initials suggest a liturgical use of this Bible manuscript. This is further suggested by the occasional subsequent division into reading sections on the wide margin. Parallel manuscripts reveal the proximity to French book illumination of around 1300.

Of the manuscripts featuring patristic biblical commentaries, manuscripts B3 and B4 are particularly worthy of note. Codex B3 mainly contains individual books of the Holy Scripture, excerpts of biblical texts and biblical commentaries by church fathers (the latter partly as excerpts). The commentary on the Song of Songs by Gregory the Great is available in full. The most comprehensive text is Alcuin’s ‘Interrogationes et responsiones in Genesim’ (from around 730–804). The copy contained here was made shortly after the text was written.

The codex moreover contains vitae of saints (especially of the virgins Euphrosyne and Marina, both of whom were revered in the Eastern church with the motif of the ‘Monachoparthenos’), hymns as well as an excerpt from Augustine’s ‘De opere monachorum’. The origin and date of creation of the manuscript have been confirmed palaeographically. The pre-Carolingian “ab-minuscule” script used (which appears curious today) points to the Benedictine abbey of Corbie in northern France or to scriptoria under its direct influence and to a time of origin not long after 800. (The “ab-minuscule” was replaced by the fully developed Caroline minuscule soon after the turn of the 9th century.) Records from the 13th and 17th centuries confirm that the codex is most definitely the property of Essen abbey library. However, the Essen ownership can be assumed to be extremely probable as early as the Early Middle Ages. This would also locate a highly interesting entry at the end of the codex to Essen, namely one of the earliest surviving letters from a schoolgirl to her teacher (“domina magistr”). This was inscribed on the penultimate leaf of the manuscript in around 900 or shortly thereafter and represents an outstanding indirect testimony to early medieval women’s education linked to the way of life in monasteries and convents. Manuscript B4, which dates from the 8th century, is the text of Alcuin’s commentary on John. Essen has had this codex in its possession since the 10th century.

The best-known of the works by Caesarius of Heisterbach (ca. 1180–ca. 1240), who was a renowned monk from the Cistercian monastery of Heisterbach in the Siebengebirge region of the Rhineland, is the ‘Dialogus miraculorum’ (1219–1223). It is preserved in Düsseldorf as manuscript C27. This collection comprises moralising miracle stories that often draw from oral traditions and are arranged according to 12 themes: external and internal conversion to monastic life, confession, temptation, tempter, naivety, miracles of Mary, visions, the Eucharist, general miracles, the dying, and divine judgement on the dead.

The lively, in part naïve and dramatic accounts are structured in the form of a dialogue between a novice (novitius interrogans) and a monk (monachus respondens). Caesarius assumes the role of the latter, who teaches his novices a God-fearing life and warns them of the dangers of the world. In light of the immensely vivid accounts and collection of the mentality of the time, the ‘Dialogus’ is a valuable resource for medieval cultural history. The miniatures of the codex reflect the Lower Rhenish style with its Northern French and Flemish influences.

Manuscript D1 is a 9th century sacramentary that was most probably created in north-west Germany before ending up in the Benedictine Abbey of Werden. The codex contains the Sacramentarium Gregorio-Hadrianum, i.e. it offers a Gregorian sacramentary as the textual basis, complemented with a content supplement suggested by Pope Adrian I and Charlemagne. It contains the priestly prayers of the Roman Eucharistic celebration according to a recension presumably from the time of Pope Honorius I (625–638) in the Hadrianic adaptation (784/791), which was sent from Rome to Aachen at the end of the 9th century, as well as specific Frankish additions, which in turn contain elements of the Gallican liturgy.

While the artistic design is rather modest (only two initials are decorated and there aren’t any book illustrations or miniatures at all), it has above all attracted the interest of researchers due to a number of quires added in the 1st century after the manuscript was written. A calendar with necrology entries, various lists of vernacular name, a Greek Lord’s Prayer (with a Latin interlinear translation), the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew written in Latin letters, and additions in the margins in Palaeo-Frankish neume script in several places are worthy of note. The mention by name of the pope and emperor in the great intercessions of the Good Friday service allows this sacramentary to be dated precisely to the months between January 868 and December 872. The manuscript’s exact place of origin cannot be determined. However, it is certain that the sacramentary was in the Essen Canoness Abbey (which was still very open to Benedictine influences at the time) from around 873/875. The codex survived the great fire in the monastery there in 946. The supplements that make up the scientific value of the sacramentary were definitely added in Essen. Leaf 221r of the Codex contains the second oldest evidence of the substantival use of the adjective “theodiscus”, the Old High German root word for “German”

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