Hortus Deliciarum

Hortus Deliciarum – Hortus Deliciarum – Original manuscript lost

Hohenburg Abbey, Alsace (France) — Last quarter of the 12th century

A manuscript from the 12th century that is special in two ways: the first richly illustrated encyclopedia written by a woman as well as an early source for polyphonic music

  1. Abbess Herrad of Landsberg (ca. 1130-1195) reigned over Hohenburg Abbey for 28 years

  2. She is famous for authoring an encyclopedia covering virtually all aspects of knowledge

  3. The original manuscript was destroyed in the Siege of Strasbourg in 1870 but copies survive

Hortus Deliciarum

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Hortus Deliciarum

A 12th century encyclopedia that is both the first to be written by a woman and also represents one of the oldest sources of polyphonic music: the Hortus deliciarum or “Garden of Delights” by Abbess Herrad of Landsberg** (ca. 1130-1195). The manuscript, created between 1167 and 1185, represents a comprehensive survey of knowledge available in the 12th century that ranges from classical authors from antiquity to Arab scholars. Theology, philosophy, history, literature, and more are all covered in the massive text, which originally included at least 336 miniatures. Although the original was destroyed in 1870 during the course of the Franco-Prussian War, various researchers created copies of both the miniatures and text so that the majority of the work has been preserved to the present.

Hortus Deliciarum

The Hortus deliciarum or “Garden of Delights” is an illuminated medieval encyclopedia commissioned by Herrad of Landsberg (ca. 1130-1195), an Alsatian nun and abbess of Hohenburg Abbey in the Vosges Mountains. Work on the manuscript, one of the most celebrated works of the period, began in 1167 and lasted almost 20 years before being completed in 1185. Most of the contents are not original creations but rather a compendium of knowledge from other 12th century works ranging from poems to illustrations and music. Primarily written in Latin with some glosses in German, it draws on sources ranging from classical to Arab authors. Herrad’s own poems, which are addressed to other nuns and would have been set to music, are interspersed throughout the text.

Abbess Herrad of Landsberg

Born at Landsberg castle, the seat of her Alsatian noble family, at a young age Herrad entered Hohenburg Abbey, located about 15 miles outside of Strasbourg. Hohenburg was being run by Abbess Relindis (d. 1167), who enjoyed the support of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I (1122-90) and had been sent from the Benedictine monastery of Bergen in Bavaria to revive the institution. Thanks to this imperial patronage, the abbey thrived and became a powerful center for reform that also offered the most comprehensive education that was available to women during the 12th century. Herrad succeeded Relindis as abbess upon her death in 1167 and continued the work of rebuilding the monastery and consolidating its lands for the next 28 years. She is remembered as being both capable and well-loved by the nuns of Hohenberg.

A 12th Century Encyclopedia

Herrad may have begun work on her epic tome as early as 1159, in which she examines the battle between Virtue and Vice. Originally consisting of 324 parchment sheets folded in two, the Latin text was accompanied by ca. 1,250 glosses in German and 336 miniatures of various sizes. Aside from being the first encyclopedia written by a woman, the manuscript is also one of the oldest sources of polyphony and contains at least 20 song texts, all of which originally featured neume notation and four-line staves The illustrations show a rare degree of artistic imagination and included many symbolic representations of theological, philosophical, historical, and literary themes. Although the work of many hands, the content appears to have been mostly compiled, written, and edited by Herrad who appears to have directed the artists in illustrating the work as well. In the early 19th century, the manuscript was transferred to the municipal library of Strasbourg where it could be studied by lay scholars.

Destruction in the Franco-Prussian War

During the Siege of Strasbourg in the summer of 1870, the city endured heavy artillery bombardment and as a result, the library housing the Hortus deliciarum caught on fire and the manuscript was burnt as a result. Thankfully, portions of the manuscript had been copied at various times allowing for its reconstruction: the miniatures had been copied in 1818 by Christian Maurice Engelhardt while the text was copied and published by Straub and Keller between 1879 and 1899. It is due to the foresight of these academics and researchers that the priceless work has survived to the present.


Alternative Titles
Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (or Hohenbourg)
Size / Format
Ca. 648 pages / 50.0/53.0 × 36.0/37.0 cm
Last quarter of the 12th century
136 large miniatures; 5 half page miniatures; 11 illustrated text pages; 2 full page drawings; 5 calendar tables; 1 tabular family tree
Encyclopedia of the theological and profane knowledge of the time, compiled from Arabic and classical sources. Poetry and music.
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Hortus Deliciarum – Hortus Deliciarum – Original manuscript lost
Limited Edition: 750 copies

Hortus Deliciarum – Caratzas Brothers, Publishers – Original manuscript lost
Caratzas Brothers, Publishers – New York, 1977
Limited Edition: 750 copies
Detail Picture

Hortus Deliciarum

Temple Menorah

The original menorah with seven lamps was made of pure gold for the tabernacle and was later set up in Solomon’s Temple. The Arch of Titus depicts Roman legionaries carrying the menorah from the Second Temple after the capture of Jerusalem in AD 70. It was taken by the Vandals during the sack of Rome in 455 and was recovered from their capital of Carthage by Belisarius in 533, who brought it to Constantinople. It then disappeared from the historical record, but some claim it is hidden in the Vatican.

Hortus Deliciarum – Hortus Deliciarum – Original manuscript lost
Single Page

Hortus Deliciarum

Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts

Philosophy, embodied by a female figure holding a scroll and wearing a crown consisting of three human faces, is enthroned in the midst of the Seven Liberal Arts, which are also personified. The two male scribes depicted below Philosophy are labelled “Socrates” and “Plato” while their four colleagues at the bottom of the page are labelled “Poets or Magicians”.

The miniature takes the form of a rose window in a cathedral and represent the circle of philosophy. Beginning at the top and going clockwise, the figures represent grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. The first three comprise the trivium, the lower division of the Liberal Arts, while the next four belong to the quadrivium, which are taught after the trivium.

Hortus Deliciarum – Hortus Deliciarum – Original manuscript lost
Facsimile Editions

#1 Hortus Deliciarum

Limited Edition: 750 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Rosalie Green, Michael Evans, Christine Bischoff, and Michael Curschmann
Languages: English, French
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Monochrome replica of the lost original document. Volume, format, color and binding may not match the original document.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Price: Log in here!

#2 Hortus Deliciarum

Caratzas Brothers, Publishers – New York, 1977

Publisher: Caratzas Brothers, Publishers – New York, 1977
Limited Edition: 750 copies
Commentary: 1 volume
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Partially colored replica of the lost original document. Volume, format, color and binding may not match the original document. The facsimile edition includes the partially colored reconstruction of the lost manuscript and a commentary volume with transcriptions.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Price: Log in here!
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