Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Lenborough Hoard


Dr Rory Naismith writes:


This week, a selection of items from the Lenborough hoard goes on display at the British Museum. 

It is the largest coin hoard ever to be considered under the Treasure Act of 1996, consisting of 5,251 silver pennies (and two cut halfpennies). The find came to light on 21 December 2014, during a metal-detecting rally at Lenborough in Buckinghamshire. Part of its excavation was filmed by one of the detectorists present. Initial digging uncovered the coins inside a lead container, but they were removed from this in the course of excavation. They are currently being kept at the British Museum, awaiting the result of a coroner’s inquest to determine whether the find constitutes treasure. 

The Lenborough Hoard

The hoard consists largely of pennies of King Cnut (1016–35), of the so-called ‘Short Cross’ type. This was the last of three substantive coin-issues in his reign. However, the hoard also includes an earlier clutch of material from the time of Cnut’s predecessor, Æthelred II (978–1016). These span the second half of his reign, and include one specimen of the excessively rare and historically important ‘Agnus Dei’ type, probably issued in 1009 as part of a programme of prayer and penitence to ward off viking attack.

 Until full publication, it is difficult to evaluate the exact context of the hoard. It belongs to a period when recoinages were being undertaken frequently, recycling the bulk of the currency – though, as in this case, collections of earlier coinage could sometimes be held back as savings or for private usage. The Lenborough find may shed light on how and why some coin-users retained earlier currency. Unfortunately, there is no obvious clue to the identity of its owner, or to the context of its assemblage, concealment and non-recovery. It was no small sum, however. 5,252 pennies amounted to £21 17s 8d in the contemporary system of account. A single penny during this period had considerable buying power – probably tens of modern pounds sterling or Euros – and the total content of the Lenborough hoard was more than most estates recorded in Domesday Book would be expected to produce in a year. It is clearly a lot more than most of the population would ever have handled on one occasion. That said, for the elite of late Anglo-Saxon England the Lenborough hoard would not have been an exceptional sum. The king and leading earls in 1066 were bringing in several thousand pounds a year, and in around 1037, just a few years after the hoard was concealed, the archbishop of Canterbury bought land at Godmersham in Kent for 72 marks of silver by weight – that is, at least 11,520 pennies (the equivalent of two Lenborough hoards). A shrine made for the Old Minster at Winchester in honour of St Swithun under the patronage of King Edgar (959–75) was said in a detailed description written soon after to have contained 300 lbs in precious metal.

The Lenborough hoard is impressive in its scale, and provides a precious insight into the currency of the eleventh century; but at the same time, it is a sobering reminder of just how much silver and gold was available in late Anglo-Saxon England – and of just how much might yet await discovery.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

'Songs of Donegal and other places': A Performance of sean-nós by Lillis Ó Laoire


5 March 2015, ASNC Common Room, 5-6pm 

A session of traditional Irish music with former ASNC student Andrea Palandri and Irish harpist Colm McGonigle will follow the performance.

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic is pleased to announce a performance of Irish sean-nós singing by Dr. Lillis Ó Laoire, on Thursday, 5 MARCH, 2015, at 5pm. The event will take place in the ASNC COMMON ROOM, ENGLISH FACULTY (2ND FLOOR), SIDGWICK SITE, 9 WEST ROAD.  The performance will highlight songs in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and will include pieces from Tory Island, Rathlin and the Isle of Skye.  The event is free of charge and open to students, staff and the public.

Lillis Ó Laoire, Ar Chreag i Lár na Farraige ('On a Rock in the Middle of the Sea')

Dr. Lillis Ó Laoire is an accomplished sean-nós singer from Gort an Choirce, Co. Donegal, and a highly respected scholar.  He is Senior Lecturer in the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at National University Ireland, Galway, and has published widely in the field of Irish language, folklore and ethnography.  His book Bright Star of the West: Joe Heaney, Irish Song Man (co-authored with Sean Williams), was published by Oxford University Press (2011), and was awarded the 2012 Alan P. Merriam Prize presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology.


Mount Errigal, Gort an Choirce, Co. Donegal

Dr. Ó Laoire's monograph, On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island (2007), first published in Irish as Ar Chreag i Lár na Farraige, explores the place and function of traditional song within this small island community on the north west coast of Co. Donegal. Ó Laoire won the prestigious 'Corn Uí Riada’  for his sean-nós singing in 1991 and 1994 and has performed widely in Ireland and internationally. 

The Scottish Highlands

We invite you to welcome him to this special performance at Cambridge University.  Dr. Ó Laoire’s related academic interests and contributions can be found here.

Following Dr. Ó Laoire’s performance,  former ASNC student Andrea Palandri, who is now pursuing a Masters degree in Modern Irish at University College Cork, will make a special visit to ASNC to perform  Irish fiddle music with Irish harpist Colm McGonigle.

Former ASNC student Andrea Palandri and Irish harpist, Colm McGonigle  (ASNC, 2014)

Drinks and light snacks will be provided in the ASNC Common Room following the performance.

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic extends special thanks to ASNC alumna Shelby Switzer, for her donation to support events relating to Modern Irish language and culture in 2014-15. Her generous gift, which was highlighted in the ASNC Alumni Newsletter 2014, has provided invaluable funding for this event. Shelby studied Medieval and Modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic during her years in ASNC, and has continued to share her deep interest in language and culture in many corners of the globe since her graduation in 2012, teaching English in a small village in the Himalayan foothills and pursuing a career in coding. We are grateful for Shelby's generous contributions to the ASNC community both as a student and as a valued alumna.

If you have any questions, please contact Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson: mg597@cam.ac.uk


Monday, 1 December 2014

'Cake Class' Goes to the UL: medieval Welsh manuscripts in Cambridge



The Medieval Welsh Reading Group, affectionately known as Cake Class, took a trip this week across West Road and over to the University Library, where among the treasures of that institution reside a number of medieval manuscripts of interest to Welsh scholars.

Cambridge University Library

In two groups, organized by ASNC PhD student Silva Nurmio, we were guided by Prof Paul Russell through a selection of six manuscripts and a collection of papers, as kindly arranged for us by Prof Russell and University Librarian Suzanne Paul.  Though the papers (Add. MS 6425), the work of 19th century scholar Henry Bradshaw, were significantly later in date than the rest of the works arranged discreetly around the Manuscripts Reading Room table, they were perhaps one of the most fitting items on view for a group of budding Celticists.  As Prof Russell explained, Henry Bradshaw was responsible for laying much of the foundation for the editing of glossed texts in the field of Celtic Studies, and for transcribing texts such as the Juvencus englynion and all the glosses in the manuscript to be worked on later by Whitley Stokes and others.  The Juvencus englynion, the earliest examples of verse in Old Welsh, were themselves on display just across from Bradshaw’s papers. Found in the margins of a 9th century copy of the Juvencus Codex (MS Ff. 4. 42), we are extraordinarily lucky to have these just next door to us in the UL – not the least because some of them were once cut from the manuscript and removed from the Library before being returned!


A further example of Old Welsh was seen in the Computus Fragment (Add. MS 4543), two small fly-leafs purchased by the UL in the early 20th century.  Dating to the 10th century, these pages probably preserve the longest prose passage of Old Welsh extant, as well as two examples of early Insular art in the zoomorphic heads found on two capital letters.  An assortment of three other manuscripts (MS Ii. 1. 14, MS Ii. 4. 4 and MS Kk. 3. 21) not composed in Welsh nevertheless bear the marks of Welsh scholarship, as attested by what have been categorized as ‘Welsh scribbles’ inside their respective bindings; in fact these are probably notes by Edward Lhuyd telling his amanuenses where to re-shelve the manuscripts.  Finally, the latest manuscript on the table was a personal volume of some Welsh genealogies (MS Mm. 1. 3), copied by William Llyn in the 16th century.  In fact, Llyn helpfully provides the detail that he began his copying on the morning of Friday the 1st of October, 1566; attestations of any kind are rare in Welsh manuscripts, yet here we find a level of detail bordering on the extreme.   ASNC PhD student Ben Guy, who is currently working on the Welsh genealogies, illustrated just how valuable a resource like the UL can be, and how important it is to take advantage of it, as he incorporates his findings from this book into his dissertation.


When you live and work in a place like Cambridge, it can be easy to forget just how lucky you are to be surrounded by such amazing resources.  For a small group of Welsh students and scholars, this Cake Class excursion was a reminder of all the great things that the UL has to offer – a taster if you will.  Though the treat was not as buttery as our usual weekly fare, it was in fact very much sweeter.  Many thanks to the organizers and to the UL.

Myriah Williams 

Friday, 28 November 2014

'A Pamphlet Composed to Bolster a Fiction'? St Eadburg and Canterbury


Alumnae and alumni of the department who read CAM magazine will happily have absorbed the article by Dr Rosalind Love in this term's issue. For everyone else, we point you to the magazine's website, where the current issue can be read online or downloaded for free. In 'Wars of the Word' (pp. 35-37), Dr Love tells of her research into the deeply intriguing Life of Saint Eadburg, a Latin text preserved in a twelfth-century manuscript from the cathedral library at Hereford, but which shows tantalising similarities with the work of a much earlier writer.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A hitherto unknown manuscript of Rimbert’s Vita Anskarii in Kiel

by Dr Paul Gazzoli, British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow 

When modern people read a medieval text, they do so through a modern edition, which has been put together through consultation of the manuscripts. When there is more than one manuscript of a text, they will inevitably be different in some way, and it is the task of an editor to sort out which readings from which manuscripts to use in an edition – and even if a manuscript is in general good, we may find places where other, generally ‘worse’ manuscripts may offer better readings. When a text has been edited before, naturally editors want to have access to manuscripts their predecessors didn’t know about, so finding a ‘new’ manuscript is a bit of a dream come true.

For the past two years I have been working on a new edition of the ninth-century text the Life of Anskar, an account of one of the first Christian missionaries to Denmark and Sweden which provides us with our earliest descriptions of life in Viking-Age Scandinavia. It was last edited in 1884 by Georg Waitz for the Monumenta Germaniae historica (the Trillmich text that is often cited is a reprint of Waitz with an abbreviated critical apparatus). When I started, I was aware of two manuscripts of the text Waitz had not known about, one in the monastery of St Agatha near Cuijk in the Netherlands (which I refer to as F in my edition, from its provenance from Frenswegen in Germany) and one in Heiligenkreuz in Austria (which I refer to as N, from its previous location in Neukloster and origins in Bordesholm, the successor to the earlier monastic settlement of Neumünster – see discussion below and also the table of manuscripts at the bottom of this post). Both of these were discovered in the nineteenth century. I’m now pleased to report that I’ve come across another version of the text unknown to previous scholars.

When I sat down to write the section of my introduction that dealt with N, I wanted to learn as much about its history as possible: where and when it was written, where its copyist found the version of the Life of Anskar he copied. The first two questions were both fairly straightforward, as at the top of the contents-page, the scribe wrote: Liber sanctae Mariae uirginis in Bardesholm ordinis canonicorum regularium sancti Augustini Bremensis diocesis. Quem ego frater Johannes cum naso scripsi in diuersis annis. Oretis dominum pro me unum aue Maria. (This book belongs to St. Mary’s in Bordesholm, of the order of regular canons of St Augustine, in the diocese of Bremen. I, Brother John with the Nose, wrote it over several years. Say one Hail Mary for me.) And although he only tells us that he wrote the book in diuersis annis, he does write the year after some of the texts in it: he doesn’t do this for the Life of Anskar, but for the Life of Rimbert, which follows, he gives the year 1512. This Johann Ness or Johannes cum Naso copied numerous other volumes at Bordesholm and won the praise of nineteenth- and twentieth-century textual critics (such as Bernhard Schmeidler) not only for his prodigious output but also for his diligence as a copyist: for some later works, his text is clearly the best.

Thus it was clear that N was copied at Bordesholm. I set about to see if there was anything I could learn about its library, and found that there was, fortunately, rather a lot: not only had relatively many of the volumes survived (though only a fraction of what there was once), most of them now in the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen and the Universitätsbibliothek in Kiel – no mean feat as the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War and other conflicts could completely destroy libraries – but among them was a medieval catalogue of the library, completed in 1488 (which you can see online here; a later catalogue is bound in front of it, the medieval portion begins on page 26). This allowed me not only to establish that Bordesholm had an earlier copy of the Life of Anskar, in a volume which bore the shelf-mark L ix, but also the other contents of that volume, among which were a life of Thomas Becket and Provost Sido of Neumünster’s Letter on the Church of Bremen, written in 1195 or 1196. This means that (if this volume was written as a whole, and did not have parts written at different dates stitched together) L ix could probably not be older than c. 1200, but was written sometime before 1488 when the catalogue was made.

With this established, I tried to find out just what had happened to L ix, or if (just possibly) it might still be out there somewhere. I found several works from the nineteenth century that dealt with the fate of the Bordesholm library between the secularisation of the monastery in 1566 and the foundation of the University of Kiel in 1665, when the remaining books were transferred to new library there. The single largest other destination for the books was Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, the ducal seat, from which they were later transferred to the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen. Copenhagen’s manuscripts have been thoroughly catalogued, but the Bordesholm manuscripts at Kiel, I found, had last been catalogued in 1863, in two pamphlets published to celebrate the birthday of the King of Denmark – the last time that date would be marked with any public festivities in Kiel, as in the following year the Duchy of Schleswig was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia.

The last person to write on the subject I could find was Steffenhagen (Die Klosterbibliothek zu Bordesholm und die Gottorfer Bibliothek. Kiel, 1884), who identified L ix with N – but I knew this could not be so, as not only had N not yet been written when the catalogue was made, but the two did not have the same contents. But the first person to print the medieval library catalogue of Bordesholm, Merzdorf (Bibliothekarische Unterhaltungen, Neue Folge. Oldenburg, 1850) tentatively identified L ix with no. 297 of a later catalogue of the Bordesholm library (made sometime in the mid-seventeenth century before the collection was transferred to Kiel). This meant that if Merzdorf was right, there was a possibility that L ix had made it to Kiel after all: indeed, Steffenhagen identified no. 297 with a manuscript at Kiel with the designation Cod. ms. Bord. 95.

What further ignited my curiosity was Steffenhagen’s description in which he denies the manuscript could be L ix: ‘Von Ratjen als Sermones bezeichnet und nicht identificiert. Mit L ix des alten Katalogs nicht identisch, welcher Codex jetzt in Wiener-Neustadt liegt.’ (Called Sermones by Ratjen [author of the 1863 catalogue] and not identified. Not identical with L ix of the old catalogue, which is now in Wiener Neustadt.)

It was the words nicht identisch in particular that set me off – this suggested that the volume had not identical, but similar content – in other words, it could be L ix, which shared some content with N, but not all (and as I mentioned above, I knew Steffenhagen was wrong about L ix being N). I became even more curious when I turned to Ratjen’s 1863 catalogue and only found the description: ‘Sermones. 187 Bll. 4. Die Handschrift hat von Feuchtigkeit sehr gelitten.’ (Sermones. 187 pages, quarto. The manuscript has suffered badly from damp.) Evidently, it was in a bad condition and neither Ratjen nor Steffenhagen could be troubled to report its contents.

The only thing to do then was to see if someone at Kiel could give me further information. To my good fortune, an internet search revealed that only last year a project had begun to produce a modern catalogue of the Bordesholm manuscripts. I got in touch with Kerstin Schnabel of the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, who is working on the project and who has written a dissertation on the Bordesholm library.

She was able to tell me that, in fact, L ix is still lost, and it did not live on as Cod. ms. Bord. 95. But the latter did, among other things, contain a copy of The Life of Anskar! Although the manuscript (from the fifteenth century) is severely damaged by water and mildew (it seems Ratjen was understating things badly when he merely referred to Feuchtigkeit), she told me that the contents-page is at least still somewhat legible, and lists the Life of Anskar at folia 170 to 178. This indicates it must be a condensed version, notably shorter than the abbreviated version to be found in the manuscript I designate F in my edition (from Frenswegen in Germany, now just across the border in the Netherlands at Sint Agatha, Erfgoedcentrum Nederlands Kloosterleven, St Agatha C 13), but not to be confused with the short legend which only takes up a couple of pages (of which Kiel also has a copy in Cod. ms. Bord. 3).

Thus, this manuscript provides us with evidence of a hitherto unknown shortened version of the Life of Anskar, which although it may not be of the greatest value as a witness to the original text, will be able to tell us more about how the Life was known in later medieval northern Europe. I would suspect that the text may be related to F, which also shares some significant variants with a seventeenth-century copy of the text in Amiens (which I call m). But in any event I will have to wait to find out, as the manuscript needs to be restored first. Ms Schnabel told me that the pages are all badly mildewed (and moreover, are fragmentarily preserved and have come out of their proper place in the manuscript) and cleaning them and putting them in order again will be a time-consuming process, which will begin next year as part of the ongoing project to catalogue the Bordesholm collection – which, no doubt, will turn up other things of great value to medievalists interested in northern Germany and Scandinavia.

Table of manuscripts mentioned

F Sint Agatha (Netherlands), Erfgoedcentrum Nederlands Kloosterleven, St Agatha C 13. Fifteenth century, originally from Frenswegen in Germany. Contains a version of the Life of Anskar, abbreviated by the omission of several chapters. Discovered in 1894, ten years after the publication of Waitz’ edition.

N Heiligenkreuz (Austria), Stiftsbibliothek, Fonds Neukloster D 21. Late fifteenth/early sixteenth century, originally from Bordesholm, written by Johannes cum Naso. Discovered in 1853 but unknown to Waitz.

m Some seventeenth-century pages added to Amiens, Bibliothèque Louis Aragon, 461 (a Corbie manuscript from around 1300; the first few chapters of the Life of Anskar was removed at some point. The writer of these pages supplied the missing text from a manuscript which shares many variant readings with F, and added the note telling us the name of the cleric he thought had taken the missing leaves).

L ix the lost exemplar of N, from Bordesholm, probably written sometime between c. 1200 and 1488.

Kiel, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. ms. Bord. 95. Fifteenth century, collection of saints’ lives, including Anskar. The full contents are still unpublished.