Hortus Deliciarum

Hortus Deliciarum

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

A precious 12th century manuscript that is both the first encyclopedia written by a woman and an early source of 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

  1. Description
  2. 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
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
Poems and musical pieces from texts by Arab and classical writers
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Hortus Deliciarum
Limited Edition: 750 copies

Hortus Deliciarum
Limited Edition: 750 copies
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.

#2 Hortus Deliciarum

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.
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