The Trouble with Prefixes

Consummatum est, inclinato capite tradidit spiritum.
‘”It is accomplished”, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.’

(Homiliae XL in euangelia, homily 37.9, Gregory the Great)

These were the last words of bishop Cassius of Narnia as recorded in Bodleian Library, MS. Laud Misc. 429. The manuscript contains Homiliae XL in euangelia by Gregory the Great (see Bodleian online). Cassius of course quoted from the Bible, Jesus’ last words according to John 19.30. The quotation appears at the end of folio 149v which also contains two scratched glosses in the upper margin, barely visible to the naked eye: ‘[…] braht’ and ‘upbraht’. At first glance, the glosses and the quote have no obvious connection. They stand on opposite sides of the folio (fig. 1) and, semantically, the two similar glosses do not seem to relate to any Latin on the page. It was only when the glosses were captured in a detailed image with the Selene scanner of the ARCHiOx project (ARCHiOx: research and development in imaging) that it was possible to learn more about their origin and meaning.

Fig. 1: Folio 149v of MS. Laud. Misc. 429 (Oxford, Bodleian Library). The position of the scratched glosses is marked in red, the quote by Cassius of Narnia is marked in green.

With the Selene scanner, a clear image of the 3D surface of the object can be created. This is particularly useful for scratched glosses, translations and comments not written with a pen but impressed into the parchment with a stylus. Scratched glosses can usually only be seen by shining a torch onto the parchment at a very shallow angle. But with the new recording system the glosses can be made visible within the context of ink glosses and the main text. Corrections in the main text also become much clearer. Suddenly a sequence of short horizontal scratches become visible, showing where the scribe erased ink with a small knife (fig. 2), apparently to adjust word endings and punctuation. Furthermore, there are longer, finer lines crossing the page that stem from preparing the parchment.

Fig. 2: 3D‑render of the scratches on folio 149v recorded with the Selene scanner. In the top margin, the lexical scratched glosses are visible. On the bottom of the picture are scratches which stem from text erasures.

In the recording, the lexical scratched glosses on folio 149v are clearly visible, except for the first letters. They read (1) ‘[…] braht’ and (2) ‘upbraht’. The words appear right next to each other but are divided by a clear gap. These are not the only lexical glosses in the manuscript. Throughout the text, there are Latin and Old High German glosses, for example the Old High German word ‘agaleizor’ in the right margin of folio 159r and the Latin ‘lapidem’, a few lines below and interlinear (see the digitised manuscript and Hofmann 1963, p. 144). As for the glosses on folio 149v, the second half of the words gives clues as to their language. ‘‑braht’ is the past participle of the Old High German verb ‘bringan’ (see AWB 1,1384), with the basic meaning ‘to bring’ (or in case of the participle, ‘brought’). The first part of the words should therefore be a prepositional prefix which modifies the basic verb. The first part of gloss (2), ‘up’, is known as a prefix – but not in Old High German. The Old High German equivalent of the word is ‘ûf’, with the ‘‑p’ undergoing the Second Consonant Shift (up > uf). That the gloss still has the ‘‑p’ shows that it must belong to a language which did not go through this sound change. To explain this mix of linguistic features, it is necessary to consider the history of the manuscript.

MS. Laud Misc. 429 was written in a German writing centre, possibly Fulda, at the beginning of the ninth century (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 58; Mairhofer 2014, p. 680). It was in Würzburg from the fifteenth century at the latest and was given to the Bodleian in 1637 (Mairhofer 2014, p. 680). However, it is not unlikely that the manuscript came to Würzburg much earlier because of the intertwined history of the two monasteries. In the eighth century, Saint Boniface and his missionaries came from England and founded several monasteries, including the Würzburg cathedral chapter and Fulda as part of its diocese (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 5). As they were closely related, the monasteries frequently exchanged manuscripts in the eighth and ninth centuries, or would order manuscripts from each other’s scriptoria (see Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, pp. 142, 168). Fulda was therefore subject to the same Anglo-Saxon influence that has been widely researched for the Würzburg monastery. Anglo-Saxon traces can be seen palaeographically and linguistically in the manuscripts created during that time (Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, pp. 5ff.; Hofmann 1963, pp. 33–4). Written long after Saint Boniface’s death, when the main impact of the Anglo-Saxon mission had already waned, MS. Laud Misc. 429 still shows signs of Anglo-Saxon script (‘Symptome dafür sind die leicht spachtelförmigen Oberlängen, die mit dreieckigem Ansatz beginnenden, tiefgespaltenen r der rcc-Ligatur.’, Bischoff & Hofmann 1952, p. 58). Ties between early medieval scriptoria of the Würzburg diocese and Anglo-Saxon writing tradition remained strong over the centuries and MS. Laud Misc. 429 is evidence for that.

Fig. 3: Close‑up of gloss (2) ‘upbraht’.

On a different note, there is another, though rather minor possibility for the origin of the scratched glosses. Apparently, there have been exchanges between the Low German and East Franconian region since the Old Saxon Heliand was written under consideration of texts which stem originally from Fulda (Schubert 2013, p. 213). Linguistically, the scratched glosses are acceptable Old Saxon forms. Old Saxon did not undergo the second consonant shift, hence the ‘up‑’, and ‘braht’ is the past participle of ‘brengian’, the Old Saxon equivalent of Old High German ‘bringan’ (Gallée 1993, §408). Even though there is no evidence of an Old Saxon verb ‘upp‑brengian’, ‘upp‑’ is known as verbal prefix (Tiefenbach 2010, p. 431). It is similar with the possible prefixes of gloss (1) which will be considered later. Arguably, these could be two Old Saxon hapax legomena (words which are only evidenced once), however, connections between the scriptorium of Fulda and Old Saxon scribes are hardly documented. On the other hand, the link to Anglo‑Saxon writing is not only supported by other manuscripts from Fulda and by the palaeographical characteristics of the script of MS. Laud Misc. 429 but also matches the linguistic evidence seen in gloss (2): ‘up’ (fig. 3) can very well be an Old English form (predecessor of modern English ‘up’) and the combination of an Old English prefix with an Old High German verb stem is a typical result of Anglo-Saxon influence in German writing centres. Since none of the ink glosses show Old English features (see Hofmann 1963, pp. 114–5) it could be that ink and scratched glosses stem from different scribes who followed different writing traditions.

Fig. 4: Close‑up of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’. The prefix could be read as ‘hu’, but note the difference between the first letter and the penultimate letter ‘h’.

The prefix of gloss (1) is not as easy to decipher. The first letter could be an ‘h’, even though it looks quite different from the ‘h’ in the second half of the word (fig. 4). The latter has a very round curve, while the former shows a sharp bend. And neither in Old English nor Old High German is ‘hu’ a documented verbal prefix.

Fig. 5: Prefix of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’ with the possible reading ‘zu’ in comparison with the ‘z’ in an ink gloss on fol. 159r (image was rotated to align the letters).

Another possible reading is palaeographically less clear but would make sense lexically: ‘zu’. The lines of the first letter could be a crooked ‘z’ (compare the ‘z’ of ‘agaleizor’ on folio 159r), which, to be fair, would miss some strokes (fig. 5). But an Old High German prefix ‘zu‑’ (or ‘zuo‑’) is indeed recorded in combination with ‘bringan’ (AWB 1,1405; the Old English equivalent would be ‘tó‑’, see Bosworth‑Toller online). Both readings assume that the second part of the prefix is a ‘u’. However, the curves of the letters in ‘braht‑’ are very round and those of the potential ‘u’ are not. Because scratched glosses had to be scratched into the parchment with a stylus which was not a very reliable writing instrument, letter shapes could be distorted (Glaser & Nievergelt 2009, p. 207). Differences between the letters within a gloss could therefore happen and could have a number of reasons. The gap after the prefix, for example, could mean that the scribe paused and then held the stylus differently. But it is curious that the letters of the second part are all very neatly rounded and the first ones are not.

Fig. 6: Prefix of gloss (1) ‘[…] braht’ The image on the right shows the same prefix with mark‑up that illustrates the possible reading ‘vul’, excluding the strokes that connect the letters.

A reading which would take the sharp bends of the beginning a bit more into account would be ‘vul’. Just as in gloss (2), this prefix would be Old English, the Old High German equivalent being ‘fol’. Old English ‘full’ is recorded as a verbal prefix (e.g. ‘fullbétan’, Bosworth-Toller online) and the Old High German variant even exists in combination with ‘bringan’ (‘fol(la)bringan’, AWB 3,1049). However, this reading would assume a ‘v’ with an ascender and an ‘l’ which is missing one (fig. 6). Just as ‘zu braht’, it is palaeographically odd but seems lexically sensible.

The meaning of gloss (1) can be narrowed down by semantically interpreting gloss (2). Both glosses end in ‘braht’ which suggests that they relate to each other. Double glosses are often either synonymous and were meant to provide the reader with lexical variants, or they give alternative semantic interpretations of the lemma. This could be achieved by altering the prefix of a verb. Old English ‘up’ and ‘bringan’ together can have the meaning ‘bring it to pass’, in which ‘up’ is ‘marking effectual action’ (see Bosworth-Toller online; here as an adverb related to a verb, but also recorded as a prefix). In Old High German, only one instance is known in which ‘uf’ appears together with ‘bringan’, in the Muspilli: ‘die pringent sia sar uf in himilo rihi’ (Steinmeyer 1916, p. 66; see AWB 1,1391), and here it means ‘to take (someone) up (to somewhere)’. The form ‘upbraht’ is a past participle. Assuming that the gloss copies the grammatical form of its Latin lemma to translate it in context, it could correspond to Latin consummatum from the aforementioned bible quote. The Latin would fit the possible meaning ‘bring it to pass’, or rather ‘brought to pass’. Their position in relation to each other is rather unusual as they are at opposite ends of the page – glosses are mostly in direct proximity to the word they translate. However, the word summarises the whole tale of Cassius who awaited his death for years after hearing a vision from one of his priests. His last word, ‘accomplished’, could relate not only to his death but also to the long period of waiting. Glossing it on top of the page is similar to a headline.

In this regard, gloss (1) can be expected to have a similar meaning. Of the three presented readings, ‘hu braht’ is the least fitting one. The adverb exists only in Old English and is the predecessor of modern English ‘how’. It references the quality of a verb (Bosworth-Toller online) which does not fit very well in this context. The second variant, ‘zu braht’, works better. The Old High German verb ‘zuobringan’ can have the meaning ‘to bring about’ (AWB 1,1405) – even though the according Old English prefix does not match (‘a prefix denoting separation, division’, Bosworth-Toller online). And finally, the last reading ‘vul braht’ is semantically closest to ‘upbraht’. Old High German ‘fol(la)bringan’ means ‘to finish something, to accomplish something’ (AWB 3,1049). Old English ‘ful’ is a verbal prefix which ‘denotes the fulness, completeness or perfection of the meaning of the word with which it is joined’ (Bosworth-Toller online). Judging from these interpretations, the two glosses could have been designed to give lexical variants which are broadly synonymous for the Latin lemma.

Fig. 7: Profiles of the scratches of gloss (1) on the left and gloss (2) on the right as recorded with the Selene scanner. The line in the glosses marks where the profile was measured.

Again, the ARCHiOx recording reveals more information about the motivation behind the double glosses. Measuring the depth and width of the scratches of the two glosses in the 3D-image shows that their profiles do not match (fig. 7). That means that it is very likely that they were not written in one go. Either the scribe, the writing instrument or the date of writing changed, or possibly all three at once. Whatever the reason for the changing profile was, there was most definitely an interruption between writing the two glosses. Maybe one of the glosses seemed unsufficient to a glossator to translate the lemma, maybe someone working with the text wanted to give a variant of the translation – or maybe a later reader had the same problems in identifying the first gloss as I had and decided to add a more legible translation. With the help of the ARCHiOx recordings, it is possible to gain much more information about a fascinating linguistic phenomenon. The detailed images can paint a clearer picture of how people in the Middle Ages worked with texts. In the case of MS. Laud Misc. 429, the glosses can not only be linked to a rich history of language exchange, but we now have proof that that the manuscript was the subject of work processes that are much closer to today’s way of studying than one would think.

Image credit

Fig. 1: Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 429,, accessed 1 September 2023), with mark‑up by the author

Figs. 2–4: John Barrett, ARCHiOx

Fig. 5: left: John Barrett, ARCHiOx; right: Bodleian Library (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 429,, accessed 1 September 2023), rotated detail by the author

Fig. 6: John Barrett, ARCHiOx, with mark‑up by the author on the right image

Fig. 7: John Barrett, ARCHiOx


AWB = Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch. Auf Grund der von Elias v. Steinmeyer hinterlassenen Sammlungen im Auftrag der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig. Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Elisabeth Karg-Gasterstädt und Theodor Frings. Leipzig 1952-2015ff., (accessed 1 September 2023).

Bischoff, B. & Hofmann, J. (1952): Libri Sancti Kyliani. Die Würzburger Schreibschule und die Dombibliothek im VIII. und IX. Jahrhundert. Würzburg: Ferdinand Schöningh.

Bodleian online = A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges, (accessed 1 September 2023).

Bosworth-Toller online = Joseph Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online, edited by Thomas Northcote Toller, Christ Sean, and Ondřej Tichy. Prague: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, 2014. (accessed 1 September 2023)

Gallée, J.H. (1993): Altsächsische Grammatik. 3rd ed. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Glaser, E. & Nievergelt, A. (2009): ‘Griffelglossen’, in Bergmann, R. & Stricker, S.: Die althochdeutsche und altsächsische Glossographie. Ein Handbuch. Vol. 1. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 202–229.

Haubrichs, W. (2013): ‘Volkssprachige (theodiske) Schriftlichkeit in Fulda (8.–11. Jh.)’, in Schubert, M.: Schreiborte des deutschen Mittelalters. Skriptorien – Werke – Mäzene. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 196–215.

Hofmann, J. (1963): ‘Altenglische und althochdeutsche Glossen aus Würzburg und dem weiteren angelsächsischen Missionsgebiet’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur (Halle) 85, 27–131.

Mairhofer, D. (2014): Medieval Manuscripts from Würzburg in the Bodleian Library, Oxford: A Descriptive Catalogue. Oxford: Bodleian Library.

Steinmeyer, E. (1916): Die kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

Tiefenbach, H. (2010): Altsächsisches Handwörterbuch. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter.

Three Renaissance Grotesques: Holbein, Dürer, Massys

As part of a Workshop on the Grotesque at Magdalen College, there will be a Public Lecture by Professor Alexander Marr (University of Cambridge) 27 September 2023, 5pm to 6pm. Free entry Magdalen College, Grove Auditorium (entry via Longwall Street). All welcome.

The Renaissance grotesque is normally thought of as an ornamental art of the margins: fantastical rather than natural, supplementary instead of central. But what if we were to approach a core subject in the rise of naturalism, the Northern Renaissance portrait, on grotesque terms? This lecture will re-assess three well-known portraits—Hans Holbein the Younger’s Derich Born, Albrecht Dürer’s St Jerome in his Study, and Quinten Massys’s so- called Ugly Duchess—in relation to some key topoi of the grotesque: hybridity, monstrosity, play, and the excesses of fecund imagination. It will suggest that the enterprise of portraiture is (and was) better understood as a facetious game than a mimetic triumph.

Alexander Marr is Professor of Renaissance and Early Modern Art at the University of Cambridge. He specializes in German, Netherlandish, Italian, French and British art ca. 1450- ca. 1800, especially its intellectual and literary aspects in their social contexts. Before coming to Cambridge, he taught at the University of Southern California and the University of St Andrews. From 2014 to 2019 he was Director of the project Genius before Romanticism: Ingenuity in Early Modern Art & Science, funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant (€1.8 million). His awards include a Paul Mellon Centre Senior Fellowship, the Robert H. Smith Residency at the V&A, and a Philip Leverhulme Prize. He was the founding Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Visual Culture and has directed research projects at CRASSH, the DAAD- Cambridge Hub for German Studies, and the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute. Marr is Fellow and Dean of Discipline at Trinity Hall, and Director of Studies there and at Clare College. He is the President of the Leonardo da Vinci Society: a learned society dedicated to the study of art and science from the Renaissance to the present day.


Full Programme (registration needed for anything but the public lecture)


Sophia Shephard Room, Magdalen College

9:00-9:30: Welcome and housekeeping

9:30-11:00: Italian session, chaired by Martin Clayton (Royal Collections Trust, Windsor)

9:30-9:50: What’s so Grotesque About Amor? An Investigation into the (Dis-)Continuity of Classical Forms – Dr Rebecca Bowen (MML Faculty, Oxford)

9:50-10:10: Tracing the Grotesque in Italian “Popular” Prints – Anya Perse (Lincoln College, Oxford) 

10:10-10:30: Engraving, Sculpture, and the Contested Legacy of Horace: The Antipoetic Art of Renaissance Grotesques – Dr Raymond Carlson (Yale University Art Gallery)

10:30-11:00: Discussion

11:00-11:30: coffee break

11:30-12:30: German session, chaired by Raymond Carlson (Yale University Art Gallery)

11:30-11:50: Monk-Calf & Pope-Donkey: Grotesque Monsters in Reformation Polemics – Prof Henrike Lähnemann (St Edmund Hall and MML Faculty, Oxford)

11:50: 12:10: The Grotesque Mathematics of Dürer’s Victoria – Dr Elizabeth Petcu (Department of History of Art, University of Edinburgh)

12:10-12:30: Discussion 

12:30-13:30: Buffet lunch and coffee

14:30-16:00: Discussion of selected prints and objects with Caroline Palmer

(Print room at the Ashmolean Museum)

Reformation prints and pamphlets from the Early Modern Monsters exhibition with Emma Huber and Henrike Lähnemann (The Taylorian Institution Library, Voltaire Room)

16:30-17:00: coffee and tea available Grove auditorium anteroom, Magdalen College

17:00-18:00: Three Renaissance Grotesques: Holbein, Dürer, Massys, a public lecture by Prof Alexander Marr (Trinity Hall and Faculty of History of Art, Cambridge) Grove Auditorium, Magdalen College

THURSDAY 28TH OF SEPTEMBER Sophia Shephard room, Magdalen college

11:00-11:30: coffee 

11:30-13:00: French session

11:30-11:50: Le grotesque au seuil du livre imprimé: à propos de quelques pages de titres gravées /The Grotesque on the printed book’s threshold: on some engraved title-pages – Prof Estelle Leutrat (Faculté d’histoire de l’art, université de Poitiers)

11:50-12:20: Margins Without Center: Montaigne’s Essays and the Radical Grotesque – Prof Chad Córdova (Department of French and Italian, Emory University)

12:20-12:40: Groignet, the slashing tailor. Rabelais’s historiographical grotesque against Raphaël’s Vatican Stanze – Dr Raphaële Garrod (Magdalen College and MML Faculty, Oxford)

12:40-13:00: Discussion 

13:00-14:00: buffet lunch and coffee

14:00-15:00: English session chaired by Raphaële Garrod (Magdalen College and MML Faculty, Oxford)

14:00-14:20: Inside the grotesque: Building Christ’s figure in early modern preaching – Paul Norris (Brasenose College, Oxford)

14:20-14:40: Memorialising the Grotesque: A Pie and a Baby (on the staging of Titus Andronicus)– Dr Sophie Duncan (Magdalen College, Oxford)

14:40-15: 00: Discussion 

15:00-16:00: Exhibition and discussion of selected volumes Magdalen College Old Library

16:00-17:00: farewell tea, coffee and cakes Sophia Shephard room, Magdalen College

Lehnwörter – A Double Bill on Etymology & a Cultural History of Writing through Words

When: Week 8, 10 March  2023, 3–5pm

Where: 47 Wellington Square, 1st floor, lecture room 1

What: Double bill on etymology in German and English with Dr Aletta Leipold (Althochdeutsches Wörterbuch, Leipzig, working also on the history of magic) and Dr Philip Durkin (Oxford English Dictionary, author of ‘Borrowed Words’ & al.). This is part of Henrike Lähnemann’s Paper IV lecture series ‘Topics in German Historical Linguistics’, aimed at honours students of German literature and linguistics but open to anybody interested in history of the German language and its intersection with English.

Aletta Leipold: rûna, rîzan, scrîban – A Cultural History of Writing from the Old High German dictionary

The lecture will examine the evidence of transmission and usage of two Old High German termini technici for writing, rîzan and scrîban. The indigenous Germanic verb *wrîtan, which has remained the general term for the writing process in English, is displaced in German by the Latin loanword scrîbere. I will examine whether there is evidence of this process in Old High German, and where there are overlaps. The third part will focus on the Old High German noun rûna, which is frequently attested in North Germanic as the object of *wrîtan. Unlike in New High German, OHG rûna does not mean ‘rune, Germanic character’ but is predominantly associated with the oral realm. I will discuss whether the designation of the Germanic characters was transmitted into West Germanic or whether it perished with the runes themselves on the continent. Can we see traces of rûna being used in Old High German as a general term for a ‘written character’?

Lecture translated and read by William Thurlwell

Philip Durkin (Oxford English Dictionary): Lexical Borrowing – Fremdwörter, Lehnwörter and German words in English

How can we survey borrowings from German into (modern) English? How does borrowing from German compare with borrowing from other languages, in scale and nature? What issues are there in identifying loanwords, and various types of loan formations? Are concepts such as Fremdwort and Lehnwort of practical use, and what issues do they raise? Link to the OED.

Part of the Paper IV lecture series
Runic alphabets in St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 270, p. 52 – Educational manuscript

Keynote Lecture with Kate Rudy (University of St Andrews, UK): Feature it, or hide it?

When: Thursday, 6 April 2023, 2-3.45 pm 
Where: Weston Library, Lecture Theatre 
Speaker: Prof Kate Rudy (University of St Andrews, UK)
Admission: free, but registration is required 

We are delighted to have Kate Rudy as a keynote speaker. The lecture is part of the workshop ‘Cultures of Use and Reuse. Towards a Terminological and Methodological Framework of Reframing and Recycling‘. 

About the Keynote Lecture 

As Hannah Ryley and others have eloquently discussed in recent articles, medieval book materials—especially parchment—were costly but also durable. These two features of parchment encouraged its reuse.  In this talk I survey objects that undergo a shift in media in the process of being repurposed. Folios become objects, prints become miniatures, texts become images, folios become bindings. I will look in particular at the processes of transformation, considering cases in which the old, fragmented object is put on display, and cases in which the frame between the old and the new is smoothed over and minimalized. The status of the old material determines the length to which a craftsperson will go to either underscore, or minimalize, the disjunction between the repurposed material and its new housing. 

About the Speaker  

Kathryn Rudy (Kate) earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University in Art History, and a Licentiate in Mediaeval Studies from the University of Toronto. Before coming to St. Andrews, she held research, teaching, and curatorial positions in the US, the UK, Canada, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Her research concentrates on the reception and original function of manuscripts, especially those manufactured in the Low Countries, and she has pioneered the use of the densitometer to measure the grime that original readers deposited in their books. She is currently developing ways to track and measure user response of late medieval manuscripts.

How to Register for the Event 
If you wish to attend the keynote lecture, please register via this link

Contact Details 

For any enquires regarding the event, please contact: JProf. Dr Julia von Ditfurth (, Dr Hannah Ryley ( or Carolin Gluchowski ( 

This event this generously supported by the Oxford Berlin Research Partnership, New College, Balliol College, the Centre for the Study of the Book, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Bodleian Library. We are delighted to collaborate with Henrike Lähnemann, Alexandra Franklin, Andrew Dunning, and Jim Harris.

Lecture: ‘Old Frisian, a Gem of Old Germanic Studies’ by Dr Anne Popkema

In his lecture on Wednesday 9th November, 5.15 pm, at the Taylor Institution Library Room 2, Dr Anne Popkema, Groningen University, covered linguistic aspects of Old Frisian in comparison with other Old Germanic Languages, especially Old English, an overview of Old Frisian manuscript sources, and the history of Frisia after the Anglo-Saxon conquest.

Header image: A map and an image of the First Hunsingo Manuscript (ca.1300).

P.S. The lecture is also a taster session for the Old Frisian Summer School which will run in July 2023 in St Edmund Hall:

The 2022 Medium Ævum Annual Lecture

The Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature are pleased to announce the 2022 Medium Ævum Annual Lecture will be taking place on Saturday, 2 July (4:30-6pm BST):

Dr Ryan Perry (University of Kent) will deliver the annual lecture on ‘Middle English Books of Devotion and Liturgical Privatisation in Fifteenth-century England’, as part of the ‘Pfaff at 50’ conference at the University of Nottingham marking 50 years since the publication of Richard W. Pfaff’s ground-breaking New Liturgical Feasts in Later Medieval England

Dr Perry’s lecture will examine several devotional texts (such as pseudo-Bonaventure’s Meditationes vitae Christi and its English redaction by Nicholas Love) alongside manuscript assemblages to investigate how vernacular religious materials were put in service of individualised or household reading programmes. Such programmes might imitate the rhythms of the official liturgy or alternatively be understood in some respects as quasi-liturgies, reflecting improvised devotional regimens and structures of pious observance.

Registration details for in-person and online attendance are available at the following link:

Dag Nikolaus Hasse (Würzburg University): What is European? Medieval, Colonial and Postcolonial Perspectives

Friday, 10 June 2022, 5pm, in St Edmund Hall, Old Library

We often talk about Europe, but our traditional ideas about European culture are questionable. This is because we carry views from the colonial and romantic periods that distort our image of history and geography and may prove a burden for future coexistence on the continent. I would like to encourage us to think more openly about Europe, about its broad cultural roots and its intensive relations with its continental neighbours. 
This includes reflecting on medieval clichés: medieval Europe was not a “Christian land” as the Romantics Novalis and Chateaubriand dreamed it. It was much more than that.

If you would like to participate remotely, please contact Henrike Lähnemann to be added to a teams call.

Storyteller (meddah) at a coffeehouse in the Ottoman Empire. The first coffeehouses appeared in the Islamic world in the 15th century. Source: Wikimedia

Oxford Medieval Studies Pilgrimage Day 2019

On Saturday the 9th of March, thirty-one pilgrims (and one canine pilgrim companion) met at St Helen’s Church in Abingdon, ready to walk the twelve miles to Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. Much like the Canterbury Tales, our party was diverse; there were students from across the UK and across disciplines and stages, porters, academics from far and wide and members of the public (one of which who had run a half marathon the very same morning). As a BYOB (Bring Your Own Beliefs) pilgrimage, there were also a range of reasons for pilgrimaging present among our group. This was the start of the Oxford Medieval Studies Pilgrimage Day 2019, a day that would engage with the practice, literature, history and revitalisation of medieval pilgrimage.

At St Helen’s we handed out pilgrim badge replicas, kindly funded by the Oxford Pilgrimage Studies Network, to each of our pilgrims. Beautifully recreated in pewter by Lionheart Replicas, the original badge dated from the fifteenth century and depicted two pilgrims, one male and one female, ready to set out on their walk. After some quick ground rules, some advice for how to make the most of a pilgrimage and a rousing reading of the opening lines to the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from Rebecca, we set off on our journey.

 Although the preceding week had been plagued with rain and wind, the day was miraculously sunny with only the occasional gusty spell, the perfect walking weather. Our next stopping point was only five minutes away: the Abingdon Abbey buildings. The curator of the buildings, Tim Miller, led us around the surviving buildings of the Benedictine Abbey, including Unicorn Theatre, the Long Gallery and the Chequer. Tim was an excellent guide for us, bringing the stories of the abbey and its uses to life and showing us the most impressive parts of the building, such as the beautifully painted remains of a Tudor room partition decorated with roses and pomegranates.

After leaving Tim, we then had a long walk ahead of us. We walked through the grounds of Radley College and across the countryside until we reached the picture-perfect village of Sunningwell and its church, St Leonard’s, at just past midday. This was our lunch stop, many of the pilgrims pausing to eat their packed lunch in the sunny grounds of the church or enjoying some hot chips and a pint at the local pub. This church is now mostly fifteenth century, but the village and its association with Abingdon abbey traces back far further. It also features a stunning seven-sided porch at its entrance, the victorian stained glass of which was designed by J.P. Seddon.

We then moved off again, quickly looking at the well after which the village took its name. The landscape was a little steeper as we climbed Boar’s Hill, but the view on the descent of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’ was worth it, and we then arrived at St Lawrence’s Church in South Hinksey. Father Ben Drury kindly gave us an history of the church and pointed out the distinctive minstrel’s gallery and the little private window for viewing mass.

We then set off on the last part of our walk, trekking over the train lines and the river, then through the outskirts of the city to Christ Church Cathedral – our pilgrims had made it home! We rounded off the walk with Rebecca reading from the Book of Margery Kempe, a moving passage describing how she reaches the English shore after a stormy passage, before our pilgrims dispersed for a well-earned rest.

The last order of the day was a talk from Dr Guy Hayward, co-founder of the British Pilgrimage Trust, at St John’s College. Guy talked about his experience of pilgrimage, its history and how he is working to revive the practice in the UK – the perfect reflective end to the day with the lasting message that we should all work to bring pilgrimage back. If you would like to walk a pilgrimage to Oxford, we encourage you to check out the BPT website and let us know how you get on!

Some feedback from our pilgrims:

‘Talking with people about their different life experiences was enlightening’

‘I think it was great. The highlight for me was doing a journey together with people from different walks of life.’

‘Well co-ordinated, well supported, very friendly. Had a lovely day. One to remember.’

‘Really enjoyed it, would love to do more’

We would like to say thank you to the OMS Small Grant at TORCH for their support, and that of the Oxford Studies Pilgrimage Network. We would also like to say a special thank you to Guy Hayward, Tim Miller, Fr Ben Drury and Robert Culshaw for helping the smooth running of the day, and, of course, our brilliant pilgrims.

By Eleanor Baker (1st year DPhil Medieval Literature and Rebecca Menmuir (2nd year DPhil Medieval Literature

Image gallery:


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How Black is Middle Dutch Moorish black?

by Sophie Jordan

Moriaen is black, and so is his suit of armour. Like the Green Knight in the English tradition or Ither in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, Moriaen’s most noticeable trait is the colour of his equipment, which matches his body. The Christian son of an Arthurian knight and a Moorish princess, Moriaen comes to Arthur’s court and surprises its members by demonstrating that he has all the qualities of an Arthurian knight, despite his unusual appearance.

But is this black knight necessarily Black? Should we understand the fearful reactions and the rejection he initially experiences as racist?

In the 13th century Middle Dutch text, Walewein, the Dutch equivalent of Gawain, encounters the eponymous hero Moriaen in full armour. Walewein’s first thought is that the fierce foreigner must be the Devil:medieval manuscript image of a black knight with Latin next to it, decorative green foliage border

Figure 1 Historiated Initial representing the black knight Walewein by Astrid Anquetin, especially commissioned for this blog post – not to be reused without permission

‘Nochtan waende Walewein bet / Dat ware die duvel dan een man / Daer si waren comen an, / Maer dat hine horde nomen Gode / Men had hem niet mogen ontstriden ode / Hine ware die duvel oft sijn geselle / Ende ware comen uter hellen, / Omdat sijn ors was so groet, / Ende hi was merre dan Lanceloet, / Ende daertoe sward, alsict seide.’ (l.480-489)

‘Nevertheless [Walewein] deemed that this was a devil rather than a man whom they had come upon! Had they not heard him call upon God no man had dared face him, deeming that he was the devil or one of his fellows out of hell, for that his steed was so great, and he was taller even than Sir Lancelot, and black withal, as I said afore.’ (translation J. Weston)

Because of the focus on Moriaen’s looks in this and other descriptions, it is hard to tell whether his black skin is perceived as one part of his identity or whether it is racialised. Walewein’s association of a physical trait with a moral judgement seems to fit the common definition of race, and being so negatively charged, his reaction might be interpreted as racist – meaning that the racial type of the large black Moor is classified and compared to others. Of course, by using the image of the Devil, black could not be ranked lower, both symbolically and morally.

Yet Moriaen, regardless of the wordplay which links him to his country, does not represent the people of Moriane overall. On the contrary, both his story of disinheritance and isolation, and the absence of other black characters in the plot single him out as a lone wolf. While his skin colour certainly stands out in Arthur’s country, it doesn’t identify him as a representative of Moorish high society. Since the inhabitants and customs of Moriane are barely sketched, there is no opportunity for a collective stereotype to form on the basis of the black knight’s portrayal, either among the white characters or the tale’s readers.

Figure 2: St Maurice as black knight, Statuette commissioned by the Abbess of Medingen in 1506 to celebrate the convent’s patron saint

On the other hand, Moriaen’s skills and his great physical strength, suggested by his tall figure in the above quotation, help him gain the other knights’ respect and the king’s praise. These chivalric qualities, inherited from his father, are more than enough to convince Walewein of Moriaen’s worth and to balance out the initial doubt provoked by the hero’s blackness. On several occasions, Moriaen is even favourably compared to Lanceloet, who is traditionally Arthur’s best knight.

Although dark skin is interpreted as hellish, the narrator insists on dissociating appearance and internal being: Moriaen’s skin colour and his more personal traits are dealt with separately, making him a supposedly ugly but no less powerful hero. Blackness is not essentialised, nor is it therefore racialised.

Where at first there seems to be a wide gap between ideal knighthood, as outlined in Arthurian romance, and Moriaen’s dark appearance, the narrator’s focus on action and courtly values fully restores the Black Knight’s potential to be accepted in Camelot. This is the tale of a knight who ultimately succeeds in his quest and receives great honour, just like any other.


Sophie Jordan completed the Master of Studies in German this summer, and she is now studying the anthropological aspects of the question of skin colour as difference at the University of Manchester.

Recommended reading:

Claassens, Geert H. M., and David F. Johnson. King Arthur in the Medieval Low Countries. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2000. Google Books,

Devisse, Jean, trans. William Granger Ryan. ‘Christians and Black.’ The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume II, Part 1, ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. pp.31-72. A&AePortal,

Heng, Geraldine. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. New York; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Cambridge core,