Codex Millenarius

Cim. 1 - Stift Kremsmünster (Kremsmünster, Austria)

Alternate Titles:

Codex Millenarius maior

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Alternate Titles

Codex Millenarius maior

Extent / Format

700 pages / 34.0 x 23.0 cm

Around 800

Short description

The Codex Millenarius is a plenarium, i.e. it contains all four Gospels in their entirety, but what is more, it introduces the Gospels with full page miniatures of the Evangelists and their symbols, and is the oldest such manuscript to employ this artistic device. This sumptuous 8th century manuscript has been in continual use at Kremsmünster Abbey for more than a millenium, hence its name. In addition, the text is the only well-preserved testimony to a now lost Bavarian-Austrian form of Vulgate. Therefore, this manuscript represents an artifact of tremendous value for researchers in art history, biblical history, cultural history, and linguistics.

Facsimile editions available


A Unique Carolingian Masterpiece

The Codex Millenarius contains all four Gospels in Latin translation and belongs to the three precious holy shrines of Kremsmünster Abbey, which are of outstanding spiritual value and of special cultural and historical interest. Together with Tassilo’s chalice and chandeliers, the Codex Millenarius has been used in liturgy up to this day. Its pricelessness is based on its age, the beauty of its script, and its excellent decoration. In addition, the text is the only well-preserved testimony to a now lost Bavarian-Austrian form of Vulgate. The Codex Millenarius was made ca. 800 either in the scriptorium of Mondsee, the mother monastery of Kremsmünster, or perhaps in Kremsmünster itself. It has remained at Kremsmünster ever since. The illumination goes back to the Carolingian period and comprises a total of eight full-page miniatures depicting the four Evangelists and their symbols, the four relevant sumptuous initials introducing the Gospel texts and a few remainders of the canon tables. The pictorial decoration is further ornamented with a solemn Carolingian script (uncial) which makes the holy text a truly unique holistic work of art.

A Millenary Jewel

The Codex Millenarius owes its name to the millenium anniversary celebrated by the venerable Abbey of Kremsmünster in 1777. When Garampi, the Papal nuncio in Vienna and former prefect of the Vatican Archives, saw the gospel book, he exclaimed: ”Vere hicce millenarius codex est” (”This is truly a millenary book”).

Masterful Illumination and Calligraphy

We know of only a few other comparable manuscripts which pair the evangelists and their symbols on an equal footing in large full-page miniatures of the same size. The Millenarius is the oldest surviving manuscript in which these double images have been preserved to this day. Another unique feature of the Millenarius is the consistent insertion of all eight pictures into big arcades with round arches. These are framed alternately in gold and silver and decorated with interlacing ornament. The depictions of the evangelists and their symbols impress the reader by means of their dynamism and detailed appearance. The open books in the pictures of the evangelists, which show an extremely fine minuscule script, are of particular value in this context. Furthermore, the unique value of the Millenarius is visible in the beauty of its uniform script. A solemn, very standardised uncial from the Carolingian epoch highlights the sacred text. Each single leaf thus constitutes a graphical masterpiece, and was probably executed by a single artist.

A Unique Textual Testimony

The Codex Millenarius is a plenarium, i.e. it contains all four Gospels in their entirety: Matthew, Marc, Luke and John. The text is Vulgate though an important portion is Vetus Latina, which makes one assume that a predecessor was corrected from Vetus Latina into Vulgate. Only three manuscripts of this type have been handed down to us, of which the Codex Millenarius constitutes the best preserved example. The textual form of this Bavarian-Austrian type used in the Church province of Salzburg before Alcuin came along, is rooted in Northern Italy.

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