Braunschweig, Collegiate Church of St Blaise

The church of St. Blaise was elevated to the status of court church in 1038 under the reign of the Welf duke Henry the Lion (ca. 1130-1195). He furnished the church richly in 1173 and designated it as the burial site for his family. The canons not only provided liturgical and pastoral functions for the ducal court, but also served in the chambers and council of the duke. The most famous manuscript from St. Blaise is the Evangeliar of Henry the Lion and Matilda of England, commissioned by the ducal couple in the 1180s for the altar of Mary in the collegiate church. After centuries in exile, this beautiful tome returned to its home in 1989, since which time it has been kept in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel.

Besides this spectacular codex, a further 135 books survive from St. Blaise, from which two distinct groups can be distinguished. One group comprises the 68 liturgical manuscripts that remained in situ into the 19th century, and were passed on to the to the state archive in Wolfenbüttel for safekeeping in 1834. The other group comprises 54 manuscripts and 14 incunabula that are housed in the Herzog August Bibliothek. A further 5 volumes are located scattered amongst Braunschweig, Hildesheim, and Berlin.

In the 1470s a nave with two apses in the late Gothic style was built on the north side of the collegiate church under Duke William the Victorious, inspired by the typical English Perpendicular Style. Even after the eventual establishment of the Reformation in 1568, the church remained an institute for the care of senior clergy in the duchy under the patronage of the dukes.

The story of the church library has been scarcely researched until now. The oldest inventory dates from the year 1602, when canon Paul Chemnitz created a manuscript catalogue. The move of the manuscripts from St. Blaise to the ducal library in Wolfenbüttel took place under Duke August the Younger (1579-1666). At the beginning of his reign in 1635, because of war, the bibliophile duke lived not in Wolfenbüttel, but in Braunschweig, in the proximate neighbourhood of St. Blaise, where he initiated the preparation of a complete inventory of the library under the church deacon. Among those received into August’s manuscript collection were, in particular, large format medical, theological, and legal codices, multiple collective manuscripts. These reflect the contemporary scholarly and practical interests of the canons. The description of the Augustan manuscripts in Otto von Heinemann’s manuscript catalogues (1890-1903) requires multiple corrections. The St. Blaise manuscripts are therefore a worthwhile topic for future research – something that can be facilitated by digitization of these codices.

  • Christian Heitzmann

Further Reading

Ulrich Schwarz: Braunschweig, Kollegiatstift St. Blasius, in: Josef Dolle (Hrsg.), Niedersächsisches Klosterbuch, Bd. 1, Bielefeld 2012, S. 102-123

Anette Haucap-Naß: Die Stiftskirche von St. Blasius in Braunschweig. Ein Überblick mit eienr Handliste der nachweibaren Handschriften und Drucke aus dem Blasiusstift, in: Bernd Schneidmüller (Hrsg.), Die Welfen und ihr Braunschweiger Hof im hohen Mittelalter, Wiesbaden 1995 (Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien 7), S. 205-225

Helmar Härtel: Anmerkungen zu einem Katalogprojekt der mittelalterlichen Liturgica aus der Stiftskirche St. Blasius in Braunschweig, in: ibid., S. 227-236