Golden Book of Pfäfers

Golden Book of Pfäfers Facsimile Edition

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

A 400-year period of origin makes this codex itself a special kind of contemporary witness: an Evangeliary from the end of the 11th century from the immediate vicinity of Reichenau forms the beginning. Subsequently, a list of abbots from around 1400, as well as property records and legal texts, offer a detailed insight into the medieval monastic life of the Swiss Benedictine Abbey of Pfäfers. The third part contains German translations of later additions to the Evangeliary and was probably made around 1450. The Romanesque and Gothic illuminations are held together by a magnificent Renaissance binding with gilt silver fittings. They and the 4 full-page miniatures, splendidly but at the same time discreetly decorated with gold, and partly half-page gold initials gave the codex its name. Its contemplation thus becomes a journey through time.

Golden Book of Pfäfers

Since 1838, the Abbey Archives in St. Gall have preserved the Golden Book of Pfäfers, an extremely remarkable document of medieval art and cultural history in several respects. The importance and economic strength of Pfäfers Abbey, which since its founding from Reichenau Abbey ca. 740 had grown into a spiritual center of enormous charisma, become clear in the exquisite decoration of the Evangeliary. In its present form, the manuscript combines three different parts:
Part 1 (fol. Iv-28v) contains an Evangeliary with later entries concerning rents (from the early 14th century). The book decoration includes four full-page Evangelist portraits and numerous gold initials. Date of origin: last quarter of the 11th century. Attributable to the close circle of Reichenau book illumination.
Part 2 (fol. 29r-40v) contains a list of the abbots of Pfäfers, property records, and legal texts. Colored pen and ink drawings throughout. Date of origin: ca. 1400, Pfäfers.
Part 3 (fol. 41r-52v) contains the German translation of the Latin religious and legal texts that were added in the Evangelist section. Date of origin: ca. 1450, Pfäfers.

A Magnificent Jewel in Gold and Purple

Four full-page Evangelist portraits, framed like panel paintings and underlaid with precious marbled purple backgrounds, mark the beginning of each of the Gospels. Formally and stylistically, these miniatures, with their architectural backdrops, stylized vegetal ornamentation of the elaborate framing, and the head type and physiognomy of the figures, are still entirely in the tradition of the famous Reichenau Abbey school. In addition, the carefully executed initials of the 31 selected Gospel texts used as liturgical readings serve both a structuring and decorative function. Colored backgrounds and contours increase the luminosity of the golden, vegetal overgrown letter shafts.

Unique in More Ways Than One

The two-column layout of the text is a rarity in type history. It is not found in any other known Ottonian-Salian gospel altarpiece. The dominant formal design element of the second section is the double arcades, in whose arched openings the text is inscribed. Above them appear the historical figures of high ecclesiastical dignitaries. These colored pen drawings clearly show characteristics of the International Soft Style, which makes the Liber Aureus one of the very rare testimonies of this style in book art. The art historian will appreciate the presence of two different stylistic periods – the Ottonian-Salian and the International Soft Style – in the Liber Aureus, the liturgical scholar will emphasize the Gospel texts of St. John, St. Luke, St. Mark and St. Matthew in a rare sequence, historians and legal historians will appreciate the informative entries on the organization and administration as well as the ownership and legal relations of Pfäfers Abbey.

Treasure from Pfäfers Abbey

The significance of the Golden Book, however, goes far beyond such individual considerations. In the connection of the various texts concerning their spiritual and material livelihood, the codex spans, as it were, the existence of the monks of Pfäfers. Together with the Liber Viventium, the Liber Aureus forms a corpus that is one of the most important memorial books of the Middle Ages. The so-called Golden Book owes its name on the one hand to the very elaborate gold decoration of the miniatures and initials, and on the other hand to the gilded silver fittings of its magnificent Renaissance binding: created ca. 1590, the finely chiseled reliefs on red velvet attest to the great religious and political importance that Pfäfers Abbey still possessed at that time.


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) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1993
Limited Edition: 50 copies

Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (Standard Edition) Facsimile 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)

Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
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#2 Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (Standard Edition)

Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (Standard Edition) Facsimile Edition
Das Goldene Buch von Pfäfers (Standard Edition) Facsimile Edition Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

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
Price: Login here!
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