Vita Sancti Liudgeri

Ms. theol. lat. fol. 323 - Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)

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Extent / Format

68 pages / 30.0 x 12.5 cm

Before 1100

23 miniatures

Short description

One of the oldest Vitae to survive the Middle Ages also concerns one of the most important saints for the history of Germany. The Vita Sancti Liudgeri is a superb Ottonian manuscript relating the life and works of Saint Liudger. Born near Utrecht, Liudger studied in Anglo-Saxon York under the famous Alcuin, the leading scholar of Charlemagne's court and a personal advisor to him, before serving the Frankish emperor himself. Aside from missionary work in the east of Charlemagne's empire, he also founded two monasteries: Wenden, and another that grew into modern Münster. The illuminated manuscript featuring 23 miniatures backed by gold and silver is one of the oldest surviving Vitae of the Middle Ages, and is the only known illustrated account of the saint's life.

Facsimile editions available


One of the Oldest Vitae

Dating from the end of the 11th century, the Vita Sancti Liudgeri constitutes one of the most fascinating manuscripts of the late Ottonian period. Around this time, several monks of Werden abbey produced this richly illustrated biography of Saint Liudger who had been active in the service of Charlemagne. 23 miniatures on gold and silver grounds are dispersed over 68 pages, impressively reviving the era of Charlemagne and his conversion of the Saxons. This Vita is the only illustrated description of Saint Liudger’s life and is among the world’s oldest surviving manuscripts of a saint’s biography. A highly important document of medieval history, culture and religion, the book provides an account of the exemplary life and wonders of Liudger. Both the composition of the paintings, the forceful expression of their figures, the colors, as well as numerous details allow us to ascribe the manuscript to the tradition of late Ottonian illumination.

The Legend of Saint Liudger

Saint Liudger was born near Utrecht ca. 742. He attended theology courses in the cathedral school of York where he was taught by Alcuin, who became Charlemagne's counsellor. Liudger was a missionary with heart and soul. His first missions led him to Friesland. Around 790, Charlemagne appointed Liudger head of the mission in East Friesland. In 791, he sailed to Helgoland from where he was expelled in 792 during a rebellion.
In the same year, Charlemagne entrusted him with the mission in western Saxony. In 793, Liudger founded a monastery in the settlement of Mimigernaford which was later to become today’s city of Münster. After its elevation to an Episcopal see, Liudger was ordained its first bishop in 805. He went on to founded a Benedictine monastery at Werden in 799. Saint Liudger died in 809 in Billerbeck and was brought back to Werden where his body rests today.

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