Small in format, the Berlin Vita Sancti Liudgeri is the only illustrated manuscript of Saint Liudger's life. Its Latin text features three cycles of texts, which suggests that the manuscript's text was intended to be read as a part of the series of prayer services known as the Divine Office. The manuscript features a luxurious binding, and its pages are decorated with ornamental headings and initials along with twenty-three miniatures framed in red and painted in bold colors and with generous use of both gold and silver.
Saint Liudger was born around 742 in the environs of Utrecht. After some study at the cathedral school of York, he led missionary trips that played an important role in the Christianization of Friesland (a portion of northernmost Germany on the North Sea). Appointed the first bishop of Münster, Liudger founded monasteries throughout Germany, the most important of which was the monastery at Werden where he was eventually laid to rest. Liudger's popularity is attested by the four separate biographies dedicated to his life, all of which originated in the Werden community.
The Abbey of Werden
Situated near the Frankish-Saxon frontier, the abbey of Werden features prominently in the texts and images of the manuscript. Numerous miniatures highlight Liudger's posthumous miracles in connection with Werden, while two large miniatures are devoted to the monastery itself.
Features of the manuscript's late Caroline Minuscule contextualize the book to west Germany at the end of the eleventh century, supporting its ties to the abbey. With soiled and wrinkled parchment, the deluxe manuscript was clearly used and admired for centuries.
Late Antique Ivory Covers
In addition to its lavish interior decoration, the Vita Sancti Liudgeri boasts a carved ivory diptych on its binding, with one tall, thin panel on each cover. These repurposed ivory panels comprise none other than the diptych of Probianus, a vicarius of the Roman empire around 400 CE. Each plaque is set into a linen-lined oak board dated to 1378. These appear, however, to be replacements for the original wooden boards, since both the book's peculiar proportions and content demonstrate that it was specifically designed to fit the diptych.
Each panel is divided into two registers: two figures flank an enthroned central figure on the top, while two figures are shown writing below. This composition is directly cited in the manuscript's dedication image (fol. 2v). Here Saint Benedict and Saint Liudger flank the enthroned Virgin and Child while two monks write below.
It is unclear how the diptych of the Roman vicarius made its way to Werden, where the manuscript remained until the secularization of the monastery around 1802. Following a twenty-year sojourn in the Paulinische Bibliothek in Münster, it was purchased by the Prussian royal library in Berlin, currently the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin.