Medieval European Literature

Carolingian Renaissance

The Roman statesman and writer Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 – c. 585) was the creator of a new, Christian paradigm of culture. In his southern Italian estate, Cassiodorus founded a monastery. The monastery had a large library, a school and a scriptorium – a workshop where manuscripts were copied.
The library consisted of works of classical Latin and late Roman Christian literature. In the school, puples learnt to read, write and do translations from Greek into Latin. Cassiodorus expounded his Christian education programme in the book “On the Soul”. He set the task to preserve the best examples of Roman culture and to integrate them into the Christian system of values. Cassiodorus considered intellectual work to be the principal element of the emerging Christian culture.
These ideas, as well as the art of copying books were adopted by the monastic Order of St. Benedict. In the Early Middle Ages, Benedictine monasteries became centers of conservation of book knowledge and education.

European culture has been shaped by Roman and barbarian traditions. Their integration initiated by Cassiodorus, was completed in the period of the so called Carolingian Renaissance.

Carolingian Renaissance (8th-9th centuries) was the first time of the flowering of culture after the barbarian invasions that caused the fall of the Roman Empire. Renaissance has affected all areas of the Empire of Charlemagne (742/748-814). King Charles established uniform laws and worship to control the conquered areas, and he began with the unification of the liturgy. To this effect, the Anglo-Saxon Alcuin (ca. 735 - 804), Emperor's Advisor on religious and cultural issues, made the revision of St. Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible. Alcuin was abbot of the St. Martin's monastery in Tours where he organized very intensive production of Bibles. The National Library of Russia possesses the Gospel created in Tours. The book is adorned with canons tables and the opening words of the prologues, written out in gold and silver ink on purple ribbons.

Purple Gospel of Matthew
At the court of Charlemagne, there were produced Gospels written in gold and silver ink on purple dyed parchment. There has survived a poem of the scribe Godescalc who transcribed books for Charlemagne, 'Gold letters on purple sheets promise the kingdom of heaven and heavenly joy through the shedding of red blood'. The National Library of Russia stores 4 leaf from the purple Gospel of Matthew written in gold ink, which headers and notes in the fields are executed in silver ink. The manuscript was created in the Palatine School of Charlemagne in Aachen. Books, copied in the court scriptorium, were intended for kings, cathedrals and monasteries.

Augustine. Retractations
For example, the manuscript treatise “Rectractationes” (an English translation of the Latin title is "Retractations") was created by St. Augustine during the 8th century in one of the centers of the Carolingian Renaissance, the famous Corbie Abbey. The composition includes revisions and edits that Augustine found it necessary to add to his works in his later years.

In the scriptorium at Corbie, the uniform script known as Carolingian minuscule was developed as a European calligraphic standard. The Carolingian minuscule, in calligraphy, is legible writing that easy to write and clear to read. In the 15th century, Italian humanists sought for manuscripts of Roman authors in monasteries and found antique works copied in Carolingian minuscule. For humanists, clarity and simplicity of Carolingian minuscule associated with the classic heritage. As humanists mistook Carolingian minuscule for script of Ancient Rome, they began to write in this hand. So a new type of writing emerged – a round humanist script from which the modern Latin book font is derived.

Evangelia cum prologis, argumentis et capitulis.

10th cent. France (Tours).
Parchment. In Latin.
From the Collection of P. Dubrovsky.
Evangelium secundum Matthaeum (XXVI, 43 – XXVII, 49).
Gospel of Matthew (XXVI, 43 – XXVII, 49).

8th cent. Germany.
Purple dyed parchment. In Latin.
The Gospel is written in gold, headers are executed in silver ink.
From the Collection of P. Dubrovsky.
Aurelius Augustinus, ep. Hipponensis.
Augustine. Retractations.

Late 8th cent. France(Corbie).
Parchment. In Latin.
From the Collection of P. Dubrovsky.