Working With Liturgical Fragments, Part 7 - A Minor Breakthrough

The world of medieval fragments can be an immensely small world sometimes, with very narrow confines for what is at all possible, and for how far you can go and how much information can possibly be found. Sometimes this can be frustrating, and sometimes this frustration comes from the tantalising possibility that there might just be enough of a clue to solve the entire riddle with only one piece of information that stands out and that makes it possible to pin some sort of identification on the fragment in question. Such breakthroughs do happen more often than one might fear, and they are always frightfully rewarding, no matter the size of the ground that has just been gained.

I recently had one such minor breakthrough, and it was a great relief to be able to solve yet one more clue and fill in one more tiny scrap of information.

Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek 534.11

The fragment that yielded this minor breakthrough belongs to the book shown above, the so-called Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek 534.11, which is a seventeenth-century herbal by the German doctor and herbalist Jakob Dieter (1522-90), also known by his nome de plume Tabernaemontanus. As can be seen above, the massive book has yielded seven tiny little fragment strips, some of which have been identified, some of which are still very far from being identified. In a previous blogpost I presented one of these seven fragments, found on the top of the spine and containing text from a sequence for the mass of Saint Stephen (December 26).

The fragment on the top of the spine was easy to read and consequently easy to identify. The fragment on the bottom of the spine, however, was much more difficult as many of the letters were obscured by pieces of string that had fastened to the vellum and made parts of the words illegible. Even though I was able to read some of the letters, it remained very difficult to assess how the word was written in full, which is always essential when dealing with Latin, as a search in the databases can yield very different results. For instance, as seen above, it was possible to make out the letters "gaudi", but it was difficult to say whether it should be "gaudia" or "gaudie" (which is the medieval spelling of "gaudiae").

Fortunately, however, there was one single word which was written in full: "baratra", meaning depth or abyss, and often used as a synonym for hell. I was very excited about this find, I typed it into the database - and nothing at all came out of it. This came as a bit of a shock to me, because even though I'm used to not finding the texts I'm looking for even though I have at least one complete word to go by, I thought "baratra" would be sufficiently special to make it possible to track it down. No such luck.

After a while, however, it dawned on me that the database I'm relying on, the CANTUS index, is notoriously unwilling to accept medieval Latin spelling, and I then remembered that in classical Latin "baratra" is spelled with an h, "barathra". I tried again, and I was immensely happy to find that not only could the chant be identified, it also belonged to the same text as the fragment on the top of the spine: It belonged to a sequence for the mass of Saint Stephen, and it came from the very same page and belonged even to the same section, as only three and a half words separated the text of the first fragment with the text of the second fragment. I was elated at this, as it allowed me not only to identify yet another of the seven fragments, but also to reconstruct more fully a small portion of the original book as there were now two fragments from the same page.

A minor breakthrough, but one that made all other dead ends completely worthwhile.