Wessobrunn Prayer

Wessobrunn Prayer Facsimile Edition

Diocese of Augsburg (Germany) — About 814

Bringing order into the chaos of the world: one of the oldest German texts as a description of the beginning of the world in verse form and as a model for subsequent medieval illuminators

  1. One of the oldest examples of Old High German poetry was likely written in the late 8th century

  2. The poem explaining the creation of the world out of chaos was inserted in a Latin codex

  3. 18 miniatures adorn the legend of the Holy Cross, one of 70+ texts found in the compendium

Wessobrunn Prayer

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Wessobrunn Prayer

This manuscript contains the Wessobrunner Gebet or Prayer of Wessobrunn and 70 other short, mainly theological texts. The prayer itself, in prose, which gives the text as a whole its name, is preceded by a short creation poem, which, in nine lines of alliterative verse, seeks to explain the creation of the world out of chaos. This small literary monument is among the earliest written examples of poetry in Old High German and is found of a composite manuscript mainly written in Latin ca. 814, which can be determined from a mention of the death of Charlemagne on the last page. The manuscript is also significant for the history of German illumination, containing 18 half-page miniatures concerning the legend of the True Cross, which represent one of the earliest picture cycles of non-biblical content in the history of German illumination.

Wessobrunn Prayer

The Wessobrunner Gebet or Wessobrunn Prayer is one of the oldest examples of Old High German poetry and was likely written in the late 8th century. It was inserted into a Latin manuscript sometime after 800 on fol. 65v-66r and is divided into two parts: a short text of nine incomplete verses of staff rhyme written in alliterative verse, and the actual prayer in freely rhythmic prose. The fragment of a creation myth is also the oldest surviving piece of Christian stave rhyme poetry. It contrasts the chaos before Creation with almighty God in the circle of his angels. An unknown monk decided to incorporate the German poem into a Latin compendium of ca. 70 texts divided into five parts ca. 814.

Artifact of the German Language

Judging by the Bavarian dialect in which it was written, which exhibits some Swabian influences, it was likely created in the Diocese of Augsburg, but probably not at Wessobrunn Abbey. Research suggests that the manuscript could have originated in either Regensburg, Benediktbeuern, Staffelsee, or Augsburg itself. Interestingly, there are also some influences from Low German and Anglo-Saxon, such as the scribe’s incorporation of a “star-rune” in the first line of the poem. The work has survived under the title De poeta as the only larger German text in the Latin manuscript, the rest of which consists of texts that are mostly theological, but also geographical and chronological in nature, and are written down in Carolingian minuscule.

The Legend of the True Cross

Folios 1v −21r contain the legend of the True Cross, which is illustrated by 18 half-page miniatures. The pen and ink drawings, which also likely originate from Bavaria, are simple, have restrained coloring, and represent one of the earliest picture cycles of non-biblical content in the history of German illumination. This is the oldest preserved picture cycle concerning Emperor Constantine the Great (ca. 272-337) and his mother Helena. According to legend, the Emperor’s mother had the pagan temple that had been built over the site of the Holy Sepulchre destroyed so that a Christian church might replace it. During the demolition, three crosses, the Titulus Crucis with the inscription “Here is the king of the Jews”, and the nails used to crucify Jesus were uncovered. The three crosses were brought to a deathly ill woman, who was healed by the touch of the third cross, which was thus believed to be the cross of Christ. Helena then had these relics sent to Constantinople.


Alternative Titles
Prayer of Wessobrunn
Wessobrunner Gebet
Wessobronner Gebet
Wessobrunner Schöpfungsgedicht
Size / Format
198 pages / 18.5 × 14.1 cm
About 814
Carolingian minuscule
18 half-page pen drawings
The Wessobrunn Prayer (fol. 65v-66r) written in the Bavarian language is the only larger German text in the otherwise Latin collective manuscript, which compiles more than seventy texts of a mostly theological, but also geographic and chronological nature

Available facsimile editions:
Wessobrunn Prayer – Clm 22053 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany) Facsimile Edition
Kurt Wolff Verlag – Munich, 1922
Limited Edition: 300 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 Wessobrunner Gebet

Kurt Wolff Verlag – Munich, 1922

Publisher: Kurt Wolff Verlag – Munich, 1922
Limited Edition: 300 copies
Binding: Leather binding with metal fittings and closing pin
Commentary: 1 volume by Carl von Kraus and Annette von Eckhardt
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.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
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