Jena Martyrology

Jena Martyrology – Belser Verlag – Ms. Bos. q. 3 – Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena (Jena, Germany)

Thuringia (Germany) — Ca. 1275

The oldest German language martyrology: a magnificent manuscript about the lives of the martyrs with 366 expressive pen and ink drawings, skillfully integrated into the text and lavishly colored with rich primary colors, gold and silver

  1. Created ca. 1275, the work is based on other martyrologies by Ado of Vienne, Notker and Usuard

  2. It contains two rare vernacular translations and the only complete text of Unterweisung zur Vollkommenheit

  3. The images interwoven into the text have an evocative and animating narrative effect on the reader

Jena Martyrology

Ms. Bos. q. 3 — Fragm. oS 17.2 — Fragment 21 a/b Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena (Jena, Germany) / Universitätsbibliothek (Erfurt, Germany) / Domstiftsbibliothek (Naumburg, Germany)
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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Jena Martyrology

Named after its modern repository, the Jena Martyrology is the oldest work of its kind written in the German language. Created ca. 1275, it is based on other martyrologies by Ado of Vienne, Notker and Usuard. This gem of book art was bound by Nikolaus von Havelberg and is a fine example of the bookbinding work that was done in Erfurt at the time. 366 delicate pen drawings with rich primary colors and illuminated with gold and silver are inserted directly into the text and are five lines tall on average. These images interwoven into the text have an evocative and animating narrative effect on the reader. The magnificent manuscript preserves two extremely rare vernacular prose translations, as well as the spiritual doctrinal poem Unterweisung zur Vollkommenheit or “Instruction for Perfection” in Middle German – the Jena Codex is the oldest, only completely, and also excellently illustrated specimen to survive.

Jena Martyrology

A martyrology or calendarium sanctorum, is a catalog of saints, mostly martyrs, who are usually attributed to the day of their death, which is also their day of remembrance. The Memoria of their martyrdoms had a fixed place in the liturgy, but also in the tightly organized daily schedule of the monks and nuns. Therefore, the respective passages from a martyrology such as the one in the Thuringian University and State Library were read out.

The Martyrdoms of the Saints in Thuringian

The Jena Martyrology was probably written around 1275 for an unknown patron and is thus the oldest surviving German-language martyrology. The dialect of the writing language indicates that the text was written in Thuringia, although it was not a completely new work, but rather a copy of a manuscript from the middle of the 13th century. The codex was probably used in a liturgical context: research assumes that the martyrdoms were recited by a reader to a clerical audience with insufficient knowledge of Latin after the common choral prayer.

Gilded Images of Death and Torture

The text of the Jena Martyrology is based on earlier martyrologies by various Carolingian authors, including Ados of Vienne (799–875), Notker (around 840–912) and Usuard († 877). The entries range from simple enumerations to more detailed accounts of individual saints' legends. The martyrdoms are not only recorded textually, but are also brought to the reader's attention visually.
Almost every daily entry is accompanied by a five-line picture strip in bright colors. Only the entry for December 17 (f. 103r-v) was illuminated twice, while the one for June 30 (f. 49v) was not illuminated at all - probably for reasons of space. The total of 366 colored pen and ink drawings decorated with gold and silver mainly show the saints, but some also depict architecture, ships and other objects, some of which have or had specific real-life counterparts.

Instruction to Perfection

It is not only the extensive and splendid illumination that makes the Jena Martyrology a true treasure of medieval book illumination. The last pages of the manuscript also contain the spiritual didactic poem Unterweisung zur Vollkommenheit, which has been handed down to us uniquely and solely in the Jena codex.
In the couplet rhymes, an anonymous narrator, who introduces himself as a poor man and is thus all the more suitable as a spiritual advisor, first laments his own imperfection while invoking Mary and Christ. Mary then gives him advice, whereupon the author instructs the reader on how to achieve perfection in the Christian-ascetic sense.
The moralizing text also differs from the martyrology in several respects: the poem was written in two columns and not illuminated – but was nevertheless created by the same hand.

A Gem of the Elector's Library

The codex did not receive its brown calfskin binding with lily-shaped brass clasps, which is also reproduced in the facsimile edition, until around 1500, when it was housed in the Bibliotheca Electoralis, the palace and university library at Wittenberg founded by the Saxon Elector Frederick the Wise (1463–1525). The decorative binding is the work of the Erfurt bookbinder Nikolaus von Havelberg (fl. 1477–1505). It is not known how the manuscript came to Wittenberg. However, the martyrology came to Jena as early as 1549 together with the rest of the Bibliotheca Electoralis when Elector Johann Friedrich (1503–1554) lost the electoral district of Wittenberg.


Alternative Titles
Jenaer Martyrologium
Size / Format
226 pages / 24.3 × 18.5 cm
Ca. 1275
Gothic textura
366 mostly five-line colored pen and ink drawings
Martyrologium (ff. 1r-109v); poem "Unterweisung zur Vollkommenheit" (ff. 110r-112v)
Previous Owners
Bibliotheca Electoralis of Frederick III in Wittenberg (Thuringia)

Available facsimile editions:
Jena Martyrology – Belser Verlag – Ms. Bos. q. 3 – Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena (Jena, Germany)
Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2021
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Detail Picture

Jena Martyrology

The Fifth Day before the Nones of October

This picture strip not only visualizes the story of two saints who are commemorated "ante diem quintum Nonas Octobris", i.e. on October 3, but also features a colourful illumination of the city of Cologne, including Cologne Cathedral. The text tells of Bishop Willibrord (ca. 658–739), who, together with two priests, wanted to missionize the "Saxon country". However, they were killed by "the pagans" while preaching and thrown into "a great water" - the Rhine? By a miracle, their bodies, shown on the left, swam against the current to Cologne, where they were "buried with great honor". In the image, the washed-up bodies have just been discovered by a group of clergymen, who are clearly quite astonished by this.

Jena Martyrology – Belser Verlag – Ms. Bos. q. 3 – Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena (Jena, Germany)
Single Page

Jena Martyrology

Calends of July

In the late antique Julian calendar, which was the basis for all dating in the Middle Ages, the first day of the month was called 'Kalendae'. This day is usually visually accentuated in calendars, but also in martyrologies such as this one, by a decorative initial ligature of the letters K and L. The lower section of this page lists the saints whose deaths were commemorated on the calends of the month of Julius, i.e. July 1st. These include St. Arelefus and one of his companions, the high priest Aaron and possibly Martin of Vienne, who are shown in this order at the bottom of the page. Saint Monegundis and Saint Sophie of Milan and her daughters Fides, Spes and Karitas are also mentioned.

The section above is about the saints who are commemorated two days before the 'Kalendis Juli', i.e. on June 29. As victims of the persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero usually depicted together, the apostles Peter and Paul were particularly venerated on this day in the Middle Ages. They both appear in their respective martyrdoms – Paul on the left, Peter on the right.

Jena Martyrology – Belser Verlag – Ms. Bos. q. 3 – Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena (Jena, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Jenaer Martyrologium

Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2021

Publisher: Belser Verlag – Stuttgart, 2021
Limited Edition: 999 copies
Binding: Brown leather binding with blind tooling and two golden clasps
Commentary: 1 volume (176 pages) by Tobias Ertel
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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Formerly 3,690  â‚¬
Special Offer until 06/30/2024 (like new) 2,299  â‚¬
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