Dating from the end of the 11th century, the Vita Sancti Liudgeri constitutes one of the most fascinating manuscripts of the late Ottonian period. Around this time, several monks of Werden abbey produced this richly illustrated biography of Saint Liudger who had been active in the services of Charlemagne. 23 miniatures, on gold and silver grounds, are dispersed over 68 pages, impressively reviving the era of Charlemagne and his conversion of Saxony. This Vita is the only illustrated description of Saint Liudger’s life and features among the world’s oldest surviving manuscripts of a saint’s biography. A highly important document of medieval history, culture and religion, the book provides an account of the exemplary life and wonders of Liudger. Both the composition of the paintings, the forceful expression of their figures, the colours as well as numerous details allow us to ascribe the manuscript to the tradition of late Ottonian illumination. Saint Liudger was born around 742 in the surroundings of Utrecht. He attended courses of theology in the cathedral school of York where he was taught by Alcuin, the later counsellor of Charlemagne. Liudger was a missionary with heart and soul. His first missions led him to Friesland. Around 790, Charlemagne appointed Liudger head of the mission in East Friesland. In 791, he sailed to Helgoland from where he was expelled in 792 during a rebellion. In the same year, Charlemagne entrusted him with the mission in western Saxony. In 793, Liudger founded a monastery in the settlement of Mimigernaford which was later to become today’s city of Münster. After its elevation to an Episcopal see, Liudger was ordained its first bishop in 805. He went on to found a Benedictine monastery at Werden in 799. Saint Liudger died in 809 in Billerbeck and was brought back to Werden where his body rests today.
- Images courtesy of the Berlin Staatsbibliothek