Strahov Evangeliary

Strahov Evangeliary – Tempus Libri – DF III 3 – Library of Strahov Monastery (Prague, Czech Republic)

Trier (Germany) and Tours (France) — 860–980

Created in Trier under the aegis of the famous Gregory Master: a major work of Ottonian illumination with style-defining Evangelist portraits on a purple background

  1. This manuscript is famous above all for its iconic, style-setting Evangelist portraits on purple grounds

  2. Begun in Tours ca. 860, the work was completed ca. 980 by the so-called Gregory Master in Trier

  3. The manuscript came to Strahov in Prague via the Steinfeld Monastery in 1143, where it is still kept today

Strahov Evangeliary

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Strahov Evangeliary

A primary work of Ottonian illumination that has served as a template for successive masterpieces of medieval book art: the Strahov Evangeliary. Originating from the famous Tours scriptorium in the 9th century, the famous Gospel book was further illuminated in Trier’s church of St. Martin during the 10th century by the famous Master of Registrum Gregorii. This manuscript is famous above all for its iconic Evangelist portraits, which were emulated in numerous successive manuscripts. The rich use of gold leaf is further highlighted by sumptuous backgrounds of purple, green, and vermilion.

Strahov Evangeliary

The Strahov Evangeliary is counted among the primary works of Ottonian book illumination. The manuscript is stored under the shelf mark Ms. DF III 3 in Prague’s Strahov Monastery. It is significant for its illumination, which originated from the so-called Master of Registrum Gregorii or Gregory Master, who was active in Trier. The uncial text and some of the décor of the manuscript appears to originate from the famous Tours scriptorium ca. 860 before it was brought to the Church of St. Martin in Trier where it was further adorned ca. 980. The manuscript measures 26.7 × 16.9 cm and contains 222 sheets of parchment. It is bound in a 15th-century red velvet cover, to which older parts have been applied, such as cast, gilt figures. On fol. 2r is the ownership note of the Abbey of St. Martin reads si quis eum abstulerit, anathematisatus sit “if anyone should steal the book then the Anathema should meet him”. The Gregory Master, who worked for Egbert (ca. 950–993), Archbishop of Trier, revised the manuscript, partly shedding the existing script. He added Evangelist portraits, gilded initials, chapter numbers, and holy names, and put on purple pages, some of them written in gold, while also using vermilion and green backgrounds. This fine manuscript inspired future generations of illuminators.

Style-Setting Evangelist Portraits

The most important addition made by the Gregory Master was the four Evangelist portraits on purple grounds (folios 8v, 69v, 107v, 176v). These images are all divided by a horizontal stripe with an explanatory inscription, so that Evangelist and their symbol are in two separate fields. For example, John is shown from the front and seated on a cushioned box throne with a massive writing desk, on top of which are two rolled-up scrolls and an inkwell with a pen in it. Unlike the other Evangelists, John presents his Gospel in the form of a bound codex in the left hand, the beginning of the text being legible in shorthand. In his right hand, John holds a quill. In the crossbeam between John and his symbol it reads: EST AQUILA ALTA PETENS NARRANS DIUINA IOHANNES, “John is an eagle who aspires to heaven and reports heavenly things”. For the Strahov Evangeliary, the Gregory Master developed a new representational form by adding the Evangelist symbols and the inscriptions. The plasticity of the figures reveals the influence of Late Antique role models, while the animal figures display "natural liveliness" according to Hartmut Hoffmann.

A New Generation of Evangeliaries

The Evangelist images of the Sainte-Chapelle Gospels, another highpoint of Ottonian Illumination created by the Gregory Master, are closest to the Strahov Evangeliary, especially the symbols. Works inspired by him include a single sheet with Mark the Evangelist found in the Preaching Seminary of St. Peter in the Black Forest, which exactly follows the image type of Mark found here. It is disputed whether the sheet is attributed a pupil or to the Gregory Master himself. The image structure is simplified in the Gospel of St. Maximin, shelf mark Ms. theol. lat. fol. 283 of the Berlin State Library. In both manuscripts, a long rectangular field is divided sharply between the Evangelist and his symbol. The attitude of his Evangelists suggests that the painter of the Berlin manuscript was a student of the Gregory Master. A manuscript in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence (Acq e Doni 91) also appears to have this influence. Written in Italy in the 12th century, it has four evangelist pictures and a picture of the Ascension, which clearly draw on German models. With all of this in mind, the Gregory Master is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the Early Middle Ages.

A Czech Velvet Binding

Today the manuscript is protected by a richly adorned red velvet binding originating from ca. 1500, the work of a Czech bookbinder. The front cover is filled with various figures such as a silver crucifix, four gilded figures of the Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, and two saint bishops. Four silver medallions present the Evangelists. Two gilded metal bands are found at the top and bottom of the cover, each with two enameled discs from the Romanesque period. The enamels frame gilded figures of Christ Benedictory at the top with Madonna and Child at the bottom. Cut crystals and semi-precious stones round out the luxury binding, which is protected by silver fittings at the corners (both front and back) and held shut with two gilded clasps.


Alternative Titles
Evangeliarum Strahoviense
Size / Format
444 pages / 27.0 × 16.8 cm
Roman uncial
4 full-page portraits of the Evangelists; 4 full-page purple-dyed Incipit pages
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Strahov Evangeliary – Tempus Libri – DF III 3 – Library of Strahov Monastery (Prague, Czech Republic)
Tempus Libri – Prague, 2012
Limited Edition: 199 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 Evangelistarium Strahoviense

Tempus Libri – Prague, 2012

Publisher: Tempus Libri – Prague, 2012
Limited Edition: 199 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Evermod Gejza Šidlovský, Tomáš Žilinčár
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: €€€€
(7,000€ - 10,000€)
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