Vita Kiliani

Ms. I 189 - Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek (Hannover, Germany)

Alternate Titles:

Kilians- und Margaretenvita

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Alternate Titles

Kilians- und Margaretenvita

Extent / Format

80 pages / 20.6 x 15.0 cm

Around 975

21 miniatures, 2 full-page initial letters with plait-work at the beginning of the vitae and 4 splendid initial letters

Short description

Martyrologies were popular devotional texts that allowed the faithful to contemplate the deeds and deaths of prominent Christian martyrs, as well as providinig medieval artists with material for their miniatures that ranged from the divine to the gruesome and so pushed their creative boundaries. Although these Vitae were usually devoted to just one saint, they sometimes focused on two, such as in the case of the Passio Kiliani et Margaretae. Saint Kilian was an Irish monk who met his martyrdom in 7th century Franconia, while Saint Margaret from Antioch was martyred in the 4th century during the persecutions of Diocletion. The overall decoration is of such high quality and luxury, including sumptuous golden miniatures, that we may rightly assume that the codex was made on request of the Ottonian court, probably in Fulda ca. 975.

Facsimile editions available


A Treasured Imperial Ottonian Relic

This manuscript constitutes a unique testimony to early medieval book production. Here, we encounter for the first time the book type libellus, a "small book" usually dedicated to the life of a saint. In this rare case, the book deals with two saintly persons, whose lives and deaths are recounted in the manuscript and illustrated with numerous miniatures. One of them is the Vita Kiliani, telling the story of Saint Kilian, an Irish bishop who spread the Christian faith in Franconia. He was active in Würzburg around 680 and confronted the ruling class with Catholic ethics and the canon law, thus sealing his martyrdom. Saint Margaret also died as a martyr. She was among the most highly venerated saintly women, both in the Occident and the Orient. Legend has it that she was born in Antioch and lived at the peak period of Christian prosecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian (early 4th century). When she refused to renounce her faith, she was tortured and finally beheaded.

21 Miniatures of Outstanding Quality

The most important episodes in the lives of both Saints are illustrated in sumptuous golden miniatures. However, the richly embellished initials and interlaced bands also draw the viewer’s attention. The overall decoration is of such high quality and luxury that we may rightly assume that the codex was made on request of the Ottonian court, probably in Fulda. The Passio Kiliani et Margaretae was executed in 975 and thus ranks among the most impressive testimonies to the magnificent art of illumination practised in the era of the Ottonian kings.

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