Golden Book of Pfäfers

Golden Book of Pfäfers

Monastery of Reichenau (Germany); Pfäfers (Switzerland) — ca. 1070–1450

An ongoing work for centuries: splendid Romanesque and Gothic illumination and an important testimony to medieval monastic life

  1. This sumptuous manuscript, made in Pfäfers Abbey between 1070 and 1450, offers a detailed view of monastic life

  2. It consists of three sections – Gospels, list of abbots, and legal texts – made in the 11th, 14th, and 15th centuries, respectively

  3. The manuscript's Renaissance binding houses a combination of Romanesque and Gothic illumination

Golden Book of Pfäfers

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Golden Book of Pfäfers

The Golden Book of Pfäfers represents a sumptuous 11th century manuscript of purple and gold protected by a luxurious leather Renaissance binding. Aside from its lavishly decorated Gospel texts with purple backgrounds, full page miniatures, and large gilded initials, the manuscript includes a full list of Abbots at Pfäfers and provides a vivid picture of monastic existence there. Today, the luxury manuscript is one of the great treasures of the monastic library at St. Gallin.

Golden Book of Pfäfers

The so-called Golden Book of Pfäfers owes its name to the extremely lavish gold decoration of its miniatures and initials as well as to the gilded silver ornaments of its sumptuous Renaissance binding. The finely chased relief decoration applied on red velvet date from 1590 and bear testimony to the great religious and political significance which the abbey at Pfäfers enjoyed in that period.

A Magnificent Jewel in Gold and Purple

The viewer is above all fascinated by the manifold artistic expression visible in the manuscript. The book consists of three sections made in three different epochs. The first section comprises the Gospels whose illumination encompasses four full-page depictions of the Evangelists as well as numerous luminous gold initials. This section was produced in the late 11th century, undoubtedly influenced by the illuminators’ workshop at Reichenau. It is followed by a complete list of abbots who were active at Pfäfers as well as by a number of legal texts in both German and Latin which are illustrated throughout with colored pen drawings made around 1400 in Pfäfers. Glittering gold and imperial purple lend the codex its valuable character. The significance and economic strength of Pfäfers Abbey are evidenced in the exquisite decorative program. Four full-page representations of the Evangelists, framed in the manner of panel paintings and set on precious marbled purple grounds, mark the beginning of each individual Gospel. Colorful backgrounds and outlining further enhance the luminosity of the golden, vine-covered shafts of the masterly executed initials. The value of the Golden Book, however, goes far beyond these observations. By combining different texts regarding both the spiritual and material basics of life, the codex draws a vivid picture of monastic existence at Pfäfers.


Alternative Titles
Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers
Size / Format
106 pages / 28.1 × 18.8 cm
ca. 1070–1450
Carolingian minuscule Uncial Capitals
4 full-page miniatures of the Evangelists, 31 gold leaf initials, and pen-and-ink drawings
Lavishly decorated Gospel texts, a full list of Abbots at Pfäfers, and other documents provide a vivid picture of monastic existence at Pfäfers
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Golden Book of Pfäfers – Cod. Fabariensis 2 – Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen (St. Gall, Switzerland)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1993
Limited Edition: 50 copies

Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (Standard Edition)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1993
Limited Edition: 430 copies
Detail Picture

Golden Book of Pfäfers

Portrait of Luke the Evangelist

This fine Evangelist portrait has all the hallmarks of Ottonian illumination: classical forms, a rich purple background, and gleaming gold leaf. As his Evangelist Symbol – the winged bull or ox – looks down approvingly and holding the Gospel about to be written, Saint Luke works diligently and uses both hands: his right hand holds a gold stylus and his left holds a knife with which to sharpen it, which he apparently needs to use often because of how hard he is working.

Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (De Luxe Edition)
Single Page

Golden Book of Pfäfers

Incipit Page: Gospel of Luke

Appearing opposite the Evangelist portrait, the opening words of the Gospel of Luke are adorned here by two large “P” initials, which are rendered in glimmering gold leaf elegantly filled in with primary colors. These initials have tendril curls with red shadows that intertwine in a manner that is reminiscent of Insular illumination.

This page is a fine example of art from the Reichenau school, exhibiting both creativity in its design as well as precision in its execution. Arranged in two columns, the text is a testament to the masterful scribe who put it to parchment and is uniformly written with clean, straight margins. Expensive red ink was used in the headers, to begin new sentences, and to complete the words begun by the golden initials.

Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (De Luxe Edition)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (De Luxe Edition)

#2 Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (Standard Edition)

Limited Edition: 430 copies
Binding: Standard edition: Red velvet. All folios are cut according to the original. Facsimile and commentary in a book case.
Commentary: 1 volume (220 pages) by Anton von Euw and Werner Vogler
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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