Würzburg, Cathedral Church of St Kilian, Benedictine Abbey of St Stephen, other religious houses

The diocese of Würzburg was established by St Boniface (d. 754), the Anglo-Saxon missionary, in 741 or 742. He appointed as first bishop his follower and fellow-countryman St Burchard (d. 753); in 752 Burchard translated to the cathedral the bones of the Irishman St Kilian (d. 689?), who was believed to have been an earlier missionary to the area, and from whom the cathedral was to take its dedication. The cathedral school blossomed from an early date - the first bishops of Paderborn were taught there - and the cathedral developed a significant library. It is one of relatively few early-medieval centres with a substantial number of surviving manuscripts, and one of only three cathedral churches with a Carolingian booklist.

The surviving manuscripts from the cathedral library are almost entirely divided between the Bodleian Library and the university library (Universitätsbibliothek) in Würzburg itself. The Universitätsbibliothek holds just under 200 medieval manuscripts which were dramatically rediscovered in 1717 in the loft of the cathedral, where they had been presumably been hidden during the Thirty Years’ War. The Universitätsbibliothek manuscripts were digitized in 2013: with the completion of the current Bodleian project, almost all that remains of this important medieval library will be freely available online.

The earliest surviving manuscripts from the cathedral were not written at the cathedral itself, which may not have developed a scriptorium until towards the end of the eighth century. The bulk of these pre-800 manuscripts are in the Universitätsbibliothek, but the Bodleian holds one, the earliest manuscript of Augustine’s De Trinitate (Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 126), whose distinctive uncial script suggests that it was written in a nunnery in the Paris region. The famous Greek-Latin Laudian Acts (Bodleian MS. Laud Gr. 35), which travelled from Italy to Bede’s Northumbria before being taken to Germany by an Anglo-Saxon missionary, may also have been at the cathedral: this manuscript has long been identified with the ‘actus apostolorum’ mentioned in the earliest booklist of the cathedral, although the identification not certain. At any rate, the Anglo-Saxon influences on Würzburg’s book culture were strong, as they were in other areas of St Boniface’s mission - not only were books imported from England, but ‘insular’ practices of book-production and styles of script and decoration were followed.

By the end of the eighth century the cathedral had a significant library. The selective booklist of that date in MS. Laud Misc. 126 - one of the earliest surviving booklists from medieval Europe - lists thirty-six volumes, mostly patristic texts but also grammar, canon law and volumes of Bede and Aldhelm reflecting the Anglo-Saxon origins of the see.

This collection was greatly expanded in the ninth century, particularly under bishops Hunbert (833-842) and Gozbald (842-855). In fact the bulk of the cathedral manuscripts in the Bodleian date from this period, when insular habits were being replaced by the continental script that we now know as ‘Carolingian minuscule’. The emphasis is again on patristic writers, especially Augustine, but also Jerome and Gregory, with some canon law and penitential material. The only major contemporary texts represented are biblical commentaries by Rabanus Maurus, abbot of nearby Fulda and correspondent of bishop Hunbert. Several of these ninth-century manuscripts are rich in contemporary annotations and marginalia, witnessing their intensive use in the cathedral school.

For all their importance, it must be admitted that these are rather ordinary books to look at. From the surviving evidence there were no efforts to carry out luxury book production at Würzburg; instead, high-quality books, for example for liturgical use, were imported from other centres, particularly from Fulda. The Bodleian’s finest example is the early-ninth-century Gospel book, MS. Laud Lat. 102; two lavish Gospel books in the Universitätsbibliothek were also produced at Fulda.

Of course the surviving books do not necessarily give an accurate picture of the cathedral’s library. For example, there survives very little classical material and in general little trace of the texts that would have been needed to teach the liberal arts in the cathedral school. Even in the fields of patristic writing or biblical commentary the cathedral’s collections were much more extensive than surviving books reveal. Bishop Hunbert referred to texts by Jerome, Victorinus of Pettau, and Ambrose that no longer survive. There also survives a selective booklist of c. 1000 which hints at a library of several hundred volumes; it lists, to give only one example, seven different commentaries on Genesis, for only one of which is there an extant manuscript.

Less survives from the library for the tenth and eleventh centuries. For some of this period, at least, the cathedral school was widely-renowned; and some fifty manuscripts from the Ottonian period have been attributed to the Würzburg scriptorium on palaeographical grounds. Very few of these, however, belonged to the Domstift itself - they formed part of other medieval libraries, notably Einsiedeln and Bamberg, and were perhaps made for ‘export’. The Bodleian’s holdings from this period include only one manuscript written in the Domstift itself, a collection of sermons (Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 157). The two luxury manuscripts of the psalter commentary attributed to Bruno of Würzburg (Bodleian MS. Laud Lat. 96, MS. Rawl. G. 163) were made at Tegernsee, one for an unidentified Würzburg patron, plausibly but not certainly the Domstift.

Little has been written on the later history of the library, school or scriptorium. For the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Bodleian collections comprise the lion’s share of the surviving material. Several of these books are imports, reflecting the ways in which aspects of learning and book production became increasingly specialized in Europe from the twelfth century: there is, for example, a group of glossed Bible books from France. But there are also locally-written Biblical manuscripts, homiliaries and liturgical books. Close study of these manuscripts and their annotations may enable manuscripts from the Würzburg scriptorium in other libraries to be identified as well as shedding light on the cathedral’s intellectual culture.

For the end of the medieval ages the surviving materials are primarily in the Universitätsbibliothek, which preserves a considerable number of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscripts. Many of the Bodleian’s Würzburg manuscripts from this period are of uncertain provenance, an association with the city or cathedral only suggested by liturgical evidence. These include a fourteenth-century martyrology, perhaps from the Würzburg Franciscans (Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 425). A fifteenth-century legendary (Bodleian MS. Laud Misc. 163) may have belonged to the Domstift: that it was also written in Würzburg is suggested by the inclusion of the Life of Burghard, the first bishop of the see. The life was written in the early twelfth century for abbot Peregrinus of the Benedictine abbey of St Burchard in Würzburg, and was also copied in late-medieval manuscripts St Stephen’s and Stift Haug in Würzburg. Some 700 years after the missionaries had founded the see, their lives were still being studied with interest.

  • Matthew Holford

Further Reading

St Boniface, St Burchard, and St Kilian are treated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The essential source for the Bodleian’s Würzburg manuscripts is Daniela Mairhofer, Medieval manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library, Oxford : a descriptive catalogue (Oxford, 2014), which describes all the manuscripts in detail and includes a full introduction. The manuscripts at the Universitätsbibliothek Würzburg are available at the Libri Sancti Kiliani digital site. Other surviving manuscripts from Würzburg are listed in Sigrid Krämer, Handschriftenerbe des deutschen Mittelalters (München, 1989-1990).

The foundational study of the Domstift scriptorium and library to c. 900 is Berhard Bischoff and Josef Hofmann, Libri Sancti Kyliani: die Würzburger Schreibschule und die Dombibliothek im VIII. und IX. Jahrhundert (Würzburg, 1952). The Ottonian period is covered in several works by Harmut Hoffmann: Buchkunst und Königtum im ottonischen und frühsalischen Reich (1986); Schreibschulen des 10. und des 11. Jahrhunderts im Südwesten des Deutschen Reichs (2004); and Die Würzburger Paulinenkommentare der Ottonenzeit (2009).

All the surviving Würzburg booklists are printed, with introductions, in Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge Deutschlands und der Schweiz IV, 2 (1979), 948-1012 .