With its extraordinarily rich and inventive decorations, the Stammheim Missal is one of the most lavish examples of Romanesque twelfth-century art. The manuscript was produced in the 1170s in Saint Michaels' Abbey in Hildesheim, northern Germany.
Currently preserved in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Stammheim Missal contains songs and prayers for use during Mass. The volume was created in honor of the monastery's founder, Bishop Bernward, and served to promote his canonization.
The manuscript features dozens of elaborately decorated initial letters as well as a number of miniatures, which are strikingly sophisticated in terms of symmetry, color, and shape.
The brilliant colors of a theological masterpiece
The Stammheim Missal is profusely illuminated with miniatures of rare complexity — some of its gorgeous decorations draw upon existing traditions of older service books, while others introduce new theological subjects.
Most of the miniatures feature golden frames, which probably represent the spirit emanating from Christ. The colors are strikingly brilliant, the gold still sparkles, and most of the silver remains untarnished. Fol. 58r features the largest inhabited initial, letter B, in which various figures are shown reading and producing wine surrounded by a tendril decoration.
The manuscript was probably crafted by five artists — four scribes and one illuminator — whose identity remains unknown.
Together with its sister manuscript, the Ratmann-Sacramentary, the Stammheim Missal is an early testimony to the worship of Bishop Bernward, founder of Saint Michael's Abbey. However, the Stammheim Missal's program of illumination is more ambitious in scope and theological complexity.
Some historical background
From the 12th century until 1803, the monks of St. Michael abbey kept this precious book safe. When the monastery was closed during a wave of secularization at the beginning of the 19th century, the last prince-bishop of Hildesheim Franz Egon Freiherr von Fürstenberg took the Stammheim Missal into his care. Until the 20th century, the Missal remained in his family and was purchased by the Getty Museum in 1997.
The Missal survives in its entirety except for the binding. A Carolingian ivory diptych that had been used as binding was removed in 1904 and kept in the Berlin State Museums, where it went lost during the Second World War bombings. Today the binding is composed of wooden boards covered with alum-tawed pigskin.