Produced in the early ninth century at the court scriptorium of either Charlemagne or his successor Louis the Pious, the Lorsch Gospels is a splendid example of Carolingian book manufacture. Also known as the Codex Aureus, this lavishly illuminated Gospel book is enhanced throughout with gold, silver, and purple, and it is particularly notable for the carved ivory panels on its covers. Described in 860 as an evangelium pictum cum auro scriptum habens tabulas eburneas (illustrated Gospel book, with writing in gold and having ivory panels), the book was always valued for its sumptuousness. The manuscript’s state of preservation is excellent, as it appears to have been used only on rare occasions.
The Lorsch Gospels takes its name from Lorsch abbey, where it was housed in the Carolingian period. The codex contains the complete Latin text of the accounts of Christ’s life attributed to Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, preceded by prefaces and canon tables presenting columns of numbers indicating the concordance of passages among the Gospels. At the end is a capitulary, specifying on which days particular passages from the Gospels were to be read at Mass.
A Crowning Achievement of Carolingian Art
The manuscript’s painted decoration includes four full-page Evangelist portraits, a full-page miniature of Christ in Majesty, sumptuously painted incipit and text pages, and twelve canon table pages with elegantly painted architectural surrounds. One of the incipit pages features a rare representation of the ancestors of Christ. The illumination is in the Court Style associated with Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious.
Writing in Gold
The text is written almost entirely in gold in two columns in a lavish display script modeled on Roman Uncial. Some text at the beginnings of new sections is written in colored Square Capitals on gold and silver backgrounds, and one page features gold and silver writing on a purple background with two large, interlace initials. The text of the capitulary is written in Caroline Minuscule.
Made for an Imperial Monastery
The manuscript was in the collection of the Benedictine monastery at Lorsch as early as 860, and it was probably made for that religious house. A royal abbey since 772, it was extremely rich in the ninth century, with lands extending from the North Sea to the Alps. The manuscript is now housed in three different collections: the Victoria & Albert Museum (the front cover); the Batthyaneum Library in Alba Iulia, Romania (the first half of the text); and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (the second half of the text and the back cover).
A Precious Binding Composed of Carved Ivory Panels
The beautiful ivories on the front and back covers completed the expensive decoration of this luxurious manuscript, with the Virgin and Child enthroned between saints on the front and Christ trampling beasts flanked by angels on the back. Each cover was assembled from five separate panels, with carving that was likely executed at the court of Charlemagne around the year 810. The ivory carvings represent the most ambitious such work attributed to Charlemagne’s court workshop in Aachen.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Lorsch Gospels":
- Das Lorscher Evangeliar facsimile edition published by Prestel-Verlag, 1967
- Lorscher Evangeliar (Leather Binding Edition) facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 2000
- Lorscher Evangeliar (Ivory Binding) facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 2000