The ten folios of the Sacramentary of Metz are among the finest examples of illumination made at the scriptorium of the monastery of St. Martin at Tours in the second half of the ninth century. Classical in style and yet unmistakably Carolingian, its pages are jewels of medieval calligraphy and illumination. Made under royal patronage, likely Charles the Bald, it overtly illustrates the divine right of kings and the marriage of church and state. Every aspect of the manuscript is of the highest quality from its rich colors and gold lettering to its purple pages and ornate frames.
A sacramentary is a liturgical book containing the texts to be read aloud by the officiant of a Mass, usually presupposing a bishop. Charlemagne requested a current version of the Roman Rite from Pope Hadrian in the late eighth century, which is a version of the Gregorian edition.
This manuscript is named for the city of Metz in northeast France, an important religious center in the Carolingian period. Charles the Bald was crowned in the basilica there and this event is commemorated in the first image in the sacramentary.
The Stunning Harmony of Text and Image
The sacramentary contains six figural images including a representation of Charles the Bald and of Pope Gregory I. Perhaps the finest example of the melding of text and image can be seen in the “Te Igitur” page on fol. 6v where the T of “Te” bears a crucified Christ. Thus the word that introduces the first prayer of the Canon of the Mass becomes a representation of the physical and spiritual sacrifice being celebrated.
Another approach to blending text and image is seen on fol. 4r where the V and D of “Vere Dignum” are formed from gold interlace that visually dissolves among the frills of acanthus all set in a bejeweled frame.
Exquisite Classical and Carolingian Scripts
The Sacramentary of Metz contains the Gregorian version of the Canon of the Mass in Latin. It is incomplete but preserves the major readings. The first pages are written in Roman uncial over eleven lines in alternating gold, blue, and red inks. The scribe often embedded letters within letters lending an elegant and modern flair to the Classical style.
Later readings are executed in Carolingian minuscule in gold and accented with fields of purple. This blending of old and new is indicative of the approach of the Carolingian artists to harness the power of antiquity and make it meaningful and vital within their own society.
A Jewel of French Culture
The early life of the Sacramentary of Metz is unknown. In the seventeenth century, it entered the collection of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Comptroller General and Secretary of State under Louis XIV. Colbert collected fine manuscripts from across Europe and the Near East. In 1732, the collection was sold by his grandson to Louis XV’s Bibliothèque Royale, today the Bibliothèque Nationale.