Sacramentary of Charles the Bald

Sacramentary of Metz – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Ms. lat. 1141 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Tours (France), one of the Monasteries founded by St. Martin — 2nd half of the 9th century

Only preserved as a fragment, yet a consummate masterpiece: Grandiose decorative pages and golden letters in a special jewel of Carolingian book art created for Emperor Charles the Bald

  1. A true jewel of Carolingian illumination with canon pages that surpass all others

  2. It is debated whether this masterpiece is a fragment or an unfinished work

  3. The goal of deploying great pomp, wealth, and plenteousness, is clearly visible

Sacramentary of Charles the Bald

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Sacramentary of Charles the Bald

Why the Sacramentary of Metz exists today as a fragment is disputed: is it a whim of tradition that allowed only the 10 surviving leaves to come down to us today, or was the codex not continued at all after the Canon missae that still survives today? Whatever the answer to this question is, it was created in the 2nd half of the 9th century for Charles the Bald (823-877) by his court school and represents one of the most precious testimonies to late Carolingian illumination today . The depiction of the hand of God at the coronation of the king, for example, is without parallel in Carolingian art, but aptly sums up the self-image of the Carolingian dynasty. The royal splendor of the coveted treasure can also be attested to by the rich ornamentation, which, in addition to the 7 full-page miniatures, seeks to emphasize the theological content in its own way.

Sacramentary of Charles the Bald

The Sacramentary of Metz constitutes a bibliophile jewel which, due to its rich ornamental and miniature decoration, surpasses everything which has come down to us in the canon pages of other medieval sacramentaries. Although the codex is a complete sacramentary which integrates the whole ecclesiastical year, it nonetheless constitutes a fragment, even while still containing the most important portion of the sacramentary (the Canon Missale with the Preface). It has also been suggested that this is only the beginning of a work which has never been completed. Our manuscript has thus always been known and become famous as a sacramentary fragment, its luxury making it one of the most precious testimonies to late Carolingian illumination. It was made in the second half of the 9th century for a king, probably for Charles the Bald, king of an area then called Francia Occidentalis. Both the script, which is mainly executed in golden letters, and the decoration with ornament and miniatures, are of great artistic value and marvelously enhance the contents of the sacred text. The imagery developed in Reims and Metz from late classical vocabulary comes alive in the manuscript which is also influenced by the magnificent Tours school. The existing elements are grouped to a new harmony, and pictorial forms are created which were to influence medieval art for many centuries.

The Unique Decorative Apparatus

Although the manuscript only comprises a few pages (10 folios), it contains magnificent depictions showing great movement and vivacity. At the beginning of the manuscript stands the portrait of the sovereign, depicting the coronation of Charles the Bald by the hand of God. This miniature presents some interesting iconographic details, such as the haloes around the heads of the king and the two bishops, which are interpreted as attributes to those involved in sacramental doings. In addition, an old motif from late classical triumphal art, the coronation of the emperor by the hand of God, attracts the viewer’s attention, as it is unparalleled in the Carolingian period. It constitutes the most unambiguous expression of the conceited idea that royalty is immediately bestowed by God.

Imaginative Ornamental Art

Besides a total of seven sumptuous full-page miniatures, the ornamental decoration is of great importance. It underlines the theological contents and excels in a rich formal vocabulary, great inventiveness and determination, both in detail and in the overall conception of the work. Acanthus leaves, colored pearl bands, frames of precious stones, blossom rosettes, and palmettes imaginatively wind around the holy text. The overall goal of deploying great pomp and presenting wealth and plenteousness, is clearly visible throughout the book.

A Masterpiece of Calligraphy

The graphical presentation of the manuscript is an excellent example of the decorative use and combination of different scripts in a calligraphic masterpiece. The text is predominantly written in gold and on some pages, lines alternate in gold, green and red. The letters are frequently decorated with ornament and some lines and letters are highlighted by purple backgrounds. Besides a fine minuscule, all kinds of decorative scripts are used: capitalis quadrata, capitalis rustica, as well as sumptuous uncials for the main portion of the text.

A King’s Sacramentary

Sacred books used in coronation ceremonies as well as for other celebrations and ritual feasts, were intended to invoke God’s blessing for the sovereign and the whole dynasty. This is probably the context in which the Sacramentary of Metz should be placed. The reason why it remained unfinished might have been the urgent need for a sumptuous sacramentary at the occasion of the coronation of Charles the Bald, as well as the fact that for lack of a complete manuscript, one had to do with the precious fragment, which was just started at the time and contained only the first and foremost portion of the Sacramentary. Based on the rich decorative apparatus, it is possible to state that the Sacramentary goes back to the time of Charles the Bald and is considered today to be the work of a school active at his court.


Alternative Titles
Sacramentaire de Metz
Sakramentar von Metz
Sacramentary of Metz
Le Sacramentaire de Metz
Sacramentaire de Charles le Chauve
Sacramentario de Carlos el Calvo
Size / Format
20 pages / 27.0 × 21.0 cm
2nd half of the 9th century
Carolingian minuscule Roman uncial Roman rustic capitals
7 full-page miniatures, 12 pages with ornamental frames and with splendid ornamental writing
Emperor Charles the Bald (823–877)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Louis XV., Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Available facsimile editions:
Sacramentary of Metz – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Ms. lat. 1141 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Detail Picture

Sacramentary of Charles the Bald

Christ in Majesty

Meaning “almond” in Italian, a mandorla is an almond-shaped frame in which Christ and/or the Virgin Mary are presented, usually surrounded by the Evangelist Symbols or other icons. This particularly colorful and richly gilded miniature shows Christ flanked by two seraphim – angels belonging to the highest of the angelic choirs and described in Isaiah 6 as surrounding God’s throne continuously singing “holy, holy, holy”. A man holding a fish and woman suckling two babes gaze up at this glory.

Sacramentary of Metz – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Ms. lat. 1141 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Single Page

Sacramentary of Charles the Bald

Crucifixion – Te Igitur

This lavish Crucifixion scene, in which the cross forms the opening “T” of the Eucharistic prayer Te igitur, is evidence that this fragment contains arguably the richest and finest Carolingian illumination. The miniature is a kaleidoscope of interlace patterns, gems, pearls, palmettes, and acanthus leaves. Aside from the lavish use of gold leaf, the scene employs radiant shades of red, green, and blue.

Although bleeding from his wounds, Christ is shown triumphant over death with his eyes wide open and appears to stand rather than hang from the cross. Gold dots represent the nails in his feet, hands, and curiously, his nipples and bellybutton. Christ’s musculature is surprisingly realistic for the period and contrasts with his solemn appearance.

Sacramentary of Metz – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Ms. lat. 1141 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Sakramentar von Metz

Binding: Parchment
Commentary: 1 volume (34 pages) by Florentine Mütherich
Language: German

The scholarly commentary which accompanies the manuscript was written by Florentine Mütherich and provides an introduction to the Sacramentary fragment. It places the manuscript in its historic context and particularly explains and acknowledges its place in the history of art.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) All folios are cut according to the original.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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