Named after the scribe who wrote and signed it, the Godescalc Evangelistary preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris with the shelfmark Nouv. acq. lat. 1203 is of exceptional importance for reasons of patronage, illumination, and function of the book.
The manuscript stands out in the Carolingian production of manuscripts because of Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard both mentioned at the end of the manuscript as patrons of the codex (fols. 126v-127r).
More importantly, Godescalc’s poem compares the book’s gold and silver with the heavenly stars and thus provides clues for understanding the ways in which the book’s shining materials evoke Christ’s divine nature.
The Godescalc Evangelistary is traditionally considered the earliest known manuscript produced in Charlemagne’s Court School in Aachen. Charlemagne and Hildegard commissioned this luxury manuscript produced starting October 7, 781 and completed on April 30, 783.
The manuscript was probably made to celebrate Charlemagne’s march to Italy, his meeting with Pope Adrian I, and the baptism of his son Pepin. The details of Charlemagne’s march are contained in the dedication poem.
The codex is decorated with four full-page miniatures of the Evangelist portraits. This is a traditional decoration for Carolingian books of the Gospels, depicting the writers’ features at the opening of each Gospel.
In the Evangelistary, however, the passages from the Gospels do not occur in ordinary sequence, but in arrangements for reading in church services, and for this reason the Godescalc Evangelistary represents all the Evangelist portraits at the opening of the book.
Two additional full-page miniatures depicting Christ in Majesty and the Fountain of Life recall Late Antique iconographic motives.
The Gospels readings are written in gold and silver ink with capitalis and uncial script. The scribe elegantly wrote the text on a purple ground with a frame embellished with fictive gems. Godescalc’s poem explains the reasons for the words to shine with precious metals:
Golden words are painted [here] on purple pages,
The Thunderer’s shining kingdoms of the starry heavens,
Revealed in rose-red blood, disclose the joys of heaven,
And the eloquence of God glittering with fitting brilliance
Promises the splendid rewards of martyrdom to be gained.
Godescalc’s artistry emphasizes the meaning of the word made flesh, Christ’s incarnation as described at the beginning of the Gospel of John. In fact, the portrait of John is placed in a privileged position facing the miniature of Christ in Majesty.
Heavily damaged leather binding, with an intricate dry-stamped decoration.