Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex Vindobonensis 2687 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Monastery of Weißenburg,Wissembourg (France) — 863–871

From the pen of the first German poet known by name and today the largest completely surviving work of Old High German: the famous Bible epic by Rhabanus-Maurus student Otfrid von Weißenburg

  1. Otfrid von Weißenburg (c. 790–875) created one of the oldest and most important Old High German poems

  2. In his work, he puts the biblical stories about the Life of Christ in chronological order

  3. Although bearing the marks of age from six centuries of use, it survives in surprisingly good condition

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony

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Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony

Being able to study under Rhabanus Maurus (c. 780–856) during the 9th century in Fulda is comparable to a stay in Oxford today. In any case, Otfrid von Weißenburg (c. 790–875) probably became a member of the court chapel after his stay, before he worked as a scholar in the monastery of Weißenburg in Alsace in the functions of a teacher, librarian, and exegete. It was there that he completed this Gospel Harmony before 871, a text that compiles a unified account of the life and ministry of Jesus from the Four Gospels and reflects a central interest of the Carolingian Renaissance, namely the understanding of the Christian salvific history through the creative study of the biblical texts. What distinguishes Otfrid from other authors is that he does not write in Latin, but in Old High German, thus becoming one of the first known German poets; he rhymes the total of 7,106 verses with internal rhymes in what was later named Otfridvers, thus replacing the Germanic Stabreim. Otfrid's hand is still tangible in the Codex Vindobonensis 2687: it is the copy that the magister himself used and corrected.

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony

Otfried von Weißenburg (c. 790–875), who probably completed this Gospel book 'formed according to the pericopes of the church year ... after long work between 863 and 871', was a magister at the monastic school in Weißenburg or Wissembourg, today France, and was one of the many students of the influential scholar Hrabanus Maurus (around 780–856) from Fulda. He is the first author known by name whose German-language rhymes have survived. The fact that he worked in the vernacular is astonishing insofar as the primacy of Latin prevailed in the monastic context and the local South Rhine-Franconian dialect was still considered to be a agrestis lingua (i.e. feral language) for Otfried.

The Personal Testimony of a Great Scholar

The many surviving copies of the Old High German biblical epic testify to its great popularity. What is special about Cod. 2687 in the Austrian National Library is that it is the manuscript that Otfrid himself used and corrected. Through the numerous adjustments by the hand of the magister "we experience the development of the final text". This rearranges the canonical information on the life of Christ from the four Gospels in chronological order: the work is divided into five books, each of which tells of a period of Jesus' life. Otfrid thus made a courageous attempt to introduce readers who may not have mastered Latin to the world of the Good News. At the same time, this manuscript also contains instructions on how to read the text, whose innovative internal rhymes, later known as Otfridvers, were to replace the Germanic alliterative verse.

Scenes From the Vita Christi and the Difficult Path to Heaven

The four full-page illuminations are also noteworthy. The first page of the manuscript shows a round labyrinth, which is intended to show the viewer how difficult and lengthy the path to the kingdom of Heaven is. There are also colored pen and ink drawings of key scenes from the life of Christ: his Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion with Mary and John. While the pictures are probably by a single artist, the text was apparently written by four different scribes from the scriptorium in Weißenburg – plus Otfrid's own handwritten annotations. It is therefore probably a collaborative monastic work under the direction of the magister and author.

Dedicated to a King

As was common for religious writings of this kind at the time, Otfrid dedicated his work to important personalities of his day. The first dedication is addressed to Louis the German, King of East Francia ( r. 843–876), and is also written in Old High German. Interestingly, the other two dedication poems are written in Latin and are addressed to other clerics: Solomon I, Bishop of Constance († 871) and his fellow brethren Hartmuat and Werinbert. The manuscript also contains a copy of a Latin letter to Liutbert, Abbot of Weißenburg Abbey and later Archbishop of Mainz († 889), in which Otfrid explains his motivation and approach. All four texts allow the dating of the manuscript to be narrowed down to the period between 863 and 871. Where the codex was located after its creation and use by the magister is a so far unsolved mystery, as it only appears in sources for the first time in 1576 in Vienna, where it has remained ever since.


Alternative Titles
Otfrid von Weißenburg: Evangelienharmonie
Size / Format
388 pages / 25.0 × 21.0 cm
Carolingian Minuscule
4 full-page colored pen and ink drawings, incipits and initials in red display script
Vita Christi, compiled from the four Gospels
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex Vindobonensis 2687 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Detail Picture

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony

The Last Supper

Jesus is sitting at a large round table, which is completely covered in an opulent tablecloth and on which three loaves of bread are lying next to two goblets of wine. The large yellow (golden) vessel in which the Passover Lamb lies is also prominent. With a gesture of speech, Jesus turns to the 12 apostles who are sitting opposite him in two rows. He is probably telling them about the coming betrayal – some of them look at him dejectedly and gesticulate in disbelief, while Judas (in blue) clutches the edge of the table with his fingers.

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex Vindobonensis 2687 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Single Page

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony


Just covered in a red loincloth, Jesus is nailed to the broad Latin cross, the shape of which dominates the miniature. Blood runs from his wounds on his hands and feet and is collected by a chalice on the base of the Instrument of the Passion, emphasizing the Eucharistic interpretation of his death on the cross. The titulus is fully inscribed: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).

Particularly impressive are the figures of Mary and John, who mourn their beloved son and mentor with gestures of despair, while Christ looks down peacefully on his mother in complete acceptance of his fate. He is flanked by Sol (sun) and Luna (moon), who appear grieving in two clipei in the sky and symbolize the all-encompassing significance of Jesus' sacrificial death.

Otfrid von Weißenburg: Gospel Harmony – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex Vindobonensis 2687 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Otfrid von Weißenburg: Evangelienharmonie

Binding: Cloth binding with leather spine
Commentary: 1 volume (46 pages) by Hans Butzmann
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!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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