Workshop Report: ‘The Murbach Hymns (MS. Junius 25) – Vernacular Glossing in the Early Middle Ages’

The workshop ‘The Murbach Hymns (MS. Junius 25) – Vernacular Glossing in the Early Middle Ages’ (17–18 February 2022) highlighted a remarkable text ensemble: the Murbach hymns, a Latin hymnal with Old High German interlinear glosses. Taking this text, one of the oldest sources of Old High German, and its manuscript MS. Junius 25 (Oxford, Bodleian Library) as starting point, the importance of vernacular glossing and writing in the Early Middle Ages became clear: It sits at the crossroads of theological, linguistic, and layout approaches to the text.

Helen Gittos and Luise Morawetz discussing MS. Rawl. C. 697 (Oxford, Bodleian Library) at the Weston Library.

Participants from all over the world were able to participate thanks to the hybrid conference format, accessible online as well as in person. To allow all participants the same close-up insights into the materiality of the valuable and fragile manuscripts, the workshop opened with a presentation of the manuscript MS. Junius 25. Due to the excellent equipment of the Bodleian Library, it came to life in the expert hands of the curators, who turned the pages and the whole volume as real-time reaction to questions and requests from the audience, who were introduced to the material and linguistic peculiarities of the rare object. The speakers present at Oxford had the chance to consult and discuss the original manuscripts beforehand.

Over the course of further sessions, scholars from different research communities came together and presented their work on linguistics, pragmatics and material studies. Combining different disciplines resulted in a comprehensive survey of the use and characteristics of vernacular in the Early Middle Ages, including Old High German, Old Frisian and Old English. The theoretical insights were put into practice in a Latin-Old High German compline, which demonstrated how the oldest variety of the German language could be brought back to life. For the first time in history, the glosses of the Murbach hymns were set to music, among other Old High German texts read during the service. The workshop was brought to a close with a consultation of further glossed manuscripts of the Bodleian Library (MS. Auct. F. 1. 16, MS. Rawl. C. 697, MS. Canon. Pat. Lat. 57), partly neither digitised nor edited, which put the focus again on the object – the foundation of historical linguistic studies.

The St Edmund Consort performing the Latin-Old High German compline in the crypt
of St-Peter-in-the-East in Oxford.

The event was designed as a workshop and was intended to allow the participants to interact with each other and develop ideas collectively. Extended breaks were included in which discussions could continue in person as well as online. This opportunity was used by many, despite sessions already overrunning to address all questions. During the sessions, breakout groups allowed smaller groups of participants to share their thoughts before entering the main discussion, enabling equal contributions from listeners and speakers and leading to lively participation.

The interdisciplinary approach to early vernacular and the workshop format worked well, as the high numbers of registrations and intense and vibrant discussions showed. The workshop brought the exciting text and manuscript of the Murbach hymns back into the focus of linguistic research.

We hope to deepen the collaborations established during the event and continue the debates about the status of the vernacular in the Early Middle Ages in future, exploring the interdisciplinary approach further and testing it on other material from the rich collections of Oxford and beyond.

The manuscript in focus. The setup of the workshop in St Edmund Hall (Oxford) during the presentation of Auct. F. 1. 16 (Oxford, Bodleian Library).

I want to thank all participants and supporters of this workshop, above all the speakers (in order of their presentations): Prof. Dr Daniela Mairhofer (Princeton); Prof. Dr Michael Stolz (Bern); Dr Elke Krotz (Vienna); Dr Matthias Standke (Berlin); Prof. Dr Alderik Blom (Marburg); Dr Helen Gittos (Oxford); Prof. em. Dr Elvira Glaser (Zurich); Prof. Dr Stephan Müller (Vienna).

I also want to thank the team of the Bodleian Libraries, Dr Alexandra Franklin, Dr Matthew Holford and Dr Andrew Dunning; Tom Revell, who produced this event; James Whitbourn, who set the Murbach hymns to music, and the St Edmund Consort, who performed the compline; and Will Thurlwell, Prof. Dr Howard Jones and Prof. Dr Henrike Lähnemann, who supported the workshop in person.


In association with the Bodleian Libraries and Oxford Medieval Studies, sponsored by the Centre for the Study of the Book (CSB), The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML).

Convenor: Luise Morawetz (luise.morawetz@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk)

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