Goslar Gospels

Goslar Gospels Facsimile Edition

Goslar (Germany) — ca. 1240

Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine elements: a masterpiece of stylistic pluralism from Germany adorned with magnificent miniatures

  1. This large luxury manuscript was intended for use in church and other public displays to the faithful

  2. Indicators point to Goslar Convent in Lower Saxony as a probable place of origin for the incredible codex

  3. The text is a work of art in and of itself, the labor of a skilled scribe who masterfully executed the letters

Goslar Gospels

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Goslar Gospels

One of the most exquisite creations preserved to this day from the Staufer period: the Goslar Gospels. This is a large luxury manuscript intended for use in church and other public displays to the faithful. A full-page miniature prefixes each Gospel along with a full-page initial made to give the beholder an overall impression of the text that follows, but Saint Luke, to whom history attributes the highest credibility among all the Evangelists, was assigned an additional initial and miniature page. The manuscript has 30 full-page miniatures, which are typically divided into two or more scenes, and incipit pages as well as numerous golden initials. The text is a work of art in itself, the labor of a skilled scribe who executed the letters with an instantly discernible mastery. Altogether, this a splendid work of the early German Gothic style that is counted among the finest illuminated manuscript of the 13th centuries.

Goslar Gospels

The Goslar Gospels, so called after its probable place of origin in Lower Saxony, is one of the most exquisite creations preserved to this day from the Staufer period. Totaling 30 illustrations of biblical scenes, it was meant to instruct both educated and lay readers in the word of God. The book owes its importance to a very special production and combines different elements of the most diverse styles in a wonderful new harmony. The gospel book was predominantly used in church services where the word of salvation was read to believers. As Jesus Christ himself is present in the Gospels, a gospel book was given the utmost veneration in liturgy. Its open pages were offered to the faithful to be kissed and it was carried around town in processions. It can thus be assumed that this sumptuous work was not only accessible to a few privileged visitors of a library but that the entire community could admire it.

The Sacred Texts of Christendom

The structure of the codex is in line with the usual Gospel tradition. The prologue, which contains epistulas and a preface by Saint Jerome (among them a typology of the Gospels and an explanation of the symbols attributed to the four Evangelists), a letter of Saint Eusebius (on the origins of the harmony of the Gospels) and a prologue on the Gospels by an anonymous writer, is followed by the four gospel texts which are in turn each introduced by a table of contents (”capitula”) and a prologue (”argumentum”).

A showpiece of German Book Illumination

This sequence of texts and their inner structure also determines the decorative pattern of the Goslar Gospels. A full-page miniature prefixes each Gospel along with a full-page initial made to give the beholder an overall impression of the text that follows. Saint Luke, to whom history attributes the highest credibility among all the Evangelists, was assigned an additional initial and miniature page. The richly gold embellished miniature pages each display two or more scenic illustrations which, like the episodes inserted into the initial pages, are illustrations of the four Gospels. The imaginative and inventive decoration with initials lend the text pages of the gospel book a very special charm, the initials being ornate in a different manner, according to the function they fulfil. Some of them are decorated with colorful rançons and small inserted drolleries on a gilded ground, but there are also finely outlined initials filled with gold rançons, as well as golden letters on colored grounds, interlaced with fine scrollwork. The art of drawing and painting is practiced in a most sensitive manner throughout the Gospel, which thus belongs to the highest rank of illumination of its period.

A Beautiful and Fascinating Script

In addition to the precious quality of the pictures, which were meant to interpret the word of God for medieval believers, educated and laymen alike, the marvelous pages filled with script deserve the greatest attention. The scribe used a Gothic minuscule (textura), so typical of the first half of the 13th century, which he forms to a very beautiful script and wonderfully outbalanced letters. It must have been a very experienced copyist who wrote down the words of the Gospels with such great regularity, never negligent and with an ever-steady hand. When beholding the pages, one feels the great dignity of the medieval scribe to whom copying the word of God was in itself an act of worship.

The Binding

The facsimile edition is superbly bound in leather. The original manuscript, however, was protected in a binding of great artistic value, which has been preserved in its entirety up to this day, a very rare feature indeed. Although damaged in places and bearing the trace of time, it is still impressive with its fittings of gilded silver plate, with magnificent ornaments, embossing, filigree, precious stones (among them two antique gems), vitreous pastes and pearls. The upper plate shows a crucifixion scene in a Byzantine style, while the lower plate displays a silk embroidered Coronation of the Virgin. The topic illustrated on this plate leads us to assume that the adornment might have been the work of the nuns of Goslar Convent who wished to honor the Virgin Mary to whom their church was consecrated.


Alternative Titles
Goslarer Evangeliar
Goslar Evangeliary
Size / Format
258 pages / 33.5 × 25.0 cm
ca. 1240
Gothic Textura Quadrata
30 masterful full-page miniatures and incipit pages, numerous golden initials
The Four Gospels with letters by St. Jerome, St. Eusebius, and others

Available facsimile editions:
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1990
Limited Edition: 300 copies
Detail Picture

Goslar Gospels

Incipit Page: Gospel of John

With a rich gold leaf background and strong primary colors, this is a fine specimen of German illumination spanning the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The elaborate column filled with scenes from the life of Christ as well as various drolleries serves as the “I” initial for the opening words of the Gospel of John: IN PRINCIPIO ERAT VERBVM ET VERBVM ERAT APVD DEVM ET DEVS ERAT VERBVM – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jhn. 1:1)

Das Goslarer Evangeliar
Single Page

Goslar Gospels

Gospel of Mark

Each Gospel in this manuscript is prefaced by a full-page miniature combining an Evangelist portrait with two other scenes. In the top left we see Mark the Evangelist at his writing desk, to his right the baptism of Jesus, and below the commissioning of the Apostles. All three are backed by brilliantly burnished gold leaf, which further highlights the rich shades of red, blue, and green used by the artist.

The compositions are masterful, the figures are dressed in robes with a highly stylized, jagged fall of folds evocative of the emerging Zackenstil. There are also some curious details: hybrid creatures appear below the surface of the water in both biblical scenes. They represent the demons being left behind by the former pagans who are freed by baptism.

Das Goslarer Evangeliar
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Goslarer Evangeliar

Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany) Facsimile Edition
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany) Facsimile Edition Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 300 copies
Binding: Brown leather. All folios are cut according to the original. Facsimile and commentary volume in slip case.
Commentary: 1 volume (132 pages) by Renate Kroos, Frauke Steenbock, Woflgang Milde, and Dag-Ernst Petersen
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.
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