Fragmenta membranea

Fragmenta membranea

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Tuomas Heikkilä

The Fragmenta membranea collection

The Fragmenta membranea collection at the National library of Finland contains the vast majority of the remains of books written and used in the eastern parts of medieval Sweden, the Diocese of Turku. The collection is extremely important for the study of the oldest book culture in Finland. Fragmenta membranea also sheds new light on how Latin culture and its written artefacts spread over Europe in the Middle Ages.

The Fragmenta membranea database contains 9,319 digitized parchment leaves meaning 18,638 pages which come from approximately 1,500 different medieval manuscripts. The collection contains a wide variety of materials from the turn of the tenth and eleventh centuries until mid-sixteenth century. Altogether 64 % of the leaves come from liturgical manuscripts while 16 % represent jurisprudence and 14 % theology in its various forms. Bibles and hagiography are both represented by 3 %. Due to the history of its origins, the manuscripts of the collection, apart from few exceptions, are written in Latin.

The leaves in the collection come from books that were confiscated by the Crown in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These were then unbound and the loose leaves were reused by the central administration as covers for bailiffs’ account books. Because of this most of the leaves have not only medieval content but also notes made by the bailiffs and the administration in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The parchment covers were removed from the account books in the 19th century. The account books themselves are currently preserved in the National Archives whereas the covers constitute the Fragmenta membranea collection.

Structure of the collection

The collection is divided into seven series:

  • I. Missalia. Consists of 2,690 leaves and contains the remains of 369 missals.
    Catalogue of the series has been published: Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. I. Missalia. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja IV. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1922.
  • II. Gradualia a ja b. The series consists of 726 leaves and contains the remains of 129 gradualia and seven lectionaria.
    Catalogue of the series has been published: Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. II. Gradualia, lectionaria missae. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja VII. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1925.
  • III. Breviaria. The series consists of 999 leaves and contains the remains of 190 breviaries.
    Catalogue of the series has been published: Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. III. Breviaria. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja XVI. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1932.
  • IV. Antiphonaria. The series consists of 910 leaves and contains the remains of 212 antiphonals.
    Catalogue of the series has been published: Taitto, Ilkka, Catalogue of medieval manuscript fragments in the Helsinki university library. Fragmenta membranea IV:1–2. Antiphonaria. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja 67. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 2001.
  • V. Bibliae & theologiae auctores. The series consists of 1,573 leaves and contains the remains of 53 Bibles and 161 theological volumes. A preliminary catalogue has been composed and it will be finished and published as soon as possible.
  • VI. Iuridica. The series consists of 1,509 leaves and contains remains of approximately 200 legal manuscripts. Cataloguing of the series has started but it is currently far from completion. Therefore some of the fragments of this series are currently located in the database as their own temporary DIG series, which also contains other currently uncatalogued materials such as the few fragments written in German and Swedish.
  • VII. Varia liturgica & hagiographica. The series consists of 912 leaves originally from 137 different liturgical and hagiographical manuscripts. A preliminary catalogue has been compiled, and it will be published as soon as possible.

In academic references the number of the series as well as the number of the individual fragment must be indicated. All references should be in the following form: "Helsinki, National Library, F.m. I.234." / "Helsinki, Kansalliskirjasto, F.m. IIb.7."

Research on the Fragmenta membranea collection still continues. Digitising the parchment leaves and organising them into a database offers new possibilities for reconstructing coherent wholes of the fragments and identifying items which belong together. The aim is to keep the database as updated as possible with new findings. Therefore feedback from the users regarding its contents is highly valued. Feedback can be sent via email to doria-oa@helsinki.fi.

History of the collection

As Reformation began in Sweden in the 1520's, a large portion of earlier religious texts and literature in Latin suddenly lost their significance. Since books made of parchment were nevertheless valuable and durable objects, their pages were put to new use. What happened was that a large portion of medieval liturgical books, both printed and handwritten, were confiscated from churches, monasteries and convents by the Crown and their leaves were taken apart. The result was a number of loose double leaves which were mostly reused as covers and, to a lesser extent, as pastedowns for various account books and other such volumes which the growing administration of the Crown produced between 1530's and 1630's. As covers the parchment leaves travelled to the Archives of the Central Government located in Stockholm.

The treaty of Fredrikshamn which ended the Finnish War in 1809 also marked a new turn for the medieval parchment leaves. As the Russian Empire defeated Sweden and occupied Finland, it ordered Sweden to surrender all current and historical documents concerning Finland back to the eastside of the Gulf of Bothnia. As a result, most of the account books from the 16th and 17th centuries were also returned. Although the peace treaty did not apply to the remains of medieval books, thousands of parchment fragments were shipped to Finland as covers of account books.

The materials were first taken to Turku and from there to the Senate archives which later became the National Archives of Finland. In the 1840's and 1850's the covers were removed from the account books and a collection of over 9,000 medieval parchment leaves was founded and taken to Helsinki University Library, nowadays the National Library of Finland,

Use and representativeness of the collection

Although the collection is large even from an international viewpoint, it does not convey a totally representative sample of the variety of books made and used in the medieval diocese of Turku. The crown did not reuse all medieval parchment books and most of the ones that were saved have nevertheless been destroyed in the course of the centuries. Only a few dozen of the books written or composed in the Middle Ages still remain in Finland.

The collection contains remains of only those books which the Crown confiscated. Since particularly church libraries were obliged to assign their valuable books to the Crown, the collection may carry an overly heavy emphasis towards religious and liturgical materials. On the other hand, it has been estimated that only half of the parchments used as covers have been preserved to our time. Originally the number of parchment leaves intended to be reused was significantly larger than what is known today and thus a significant portion of our literary legacy from the Middle Ages has been lost in the course of the centuries.

The material of the manuscripts has also played a role in the making of the fragment collection since only books written on parchment could be reused as covers for account books. Therefore the collection contains no leaves from manuscripts written on paper even though such books were used in Finland during the last centuries of the Middle Ages. However, most of these books have been destroyed.

The Stockholm Riksarkivet preserves a collection of approximately 22,500 parchment leaves from which the Helsinki Fragmenta membranea was separated in the beginning of the 19th century. The attempt to separate only the part relating to Finland turned out to be difficult, and therefore the Stockholm collection still contains fragments concerning Finland. On the other hand, the Helsinki collection also includes fragments not connected to Finland but other parts of the Swedish realm. Therefore the two collections are best used together. Digitisation and cataloguing of the Riksarkivet collection has been under way for some time, but so far the results are only available within the archive.

Previous research and origin of the database

Cataloguing the Fragmenta membranea collection started in 1840s when archivist Edward Grönblad organised the parchment leaves which he had removed from the account books. The first systematic attempt to catalogue the fragments was taken on by musicologist Toivo Haapanen in the 1910s. In the following decades he catalogued most of the liturgical materials (series I–III). Around the same time church historian Aarno Maliniemi focused on the calendar fragments.

The collection has later been recognised as an important source of information for the research on the oldest literary culture in Finland, but the fragment leaves were for decades largely left unstudied since they were difficult to interpret and only partially catalogued. In the 1970s Anja Inkeri Lehtinen began to catalogue the theological and legal materials (series V–VI), and the work is still in progress. In the 1980s Jyrki Knuutila started work with the manuale materials. In 2001 Ilkka Taitto published his catalogue of the antiphonaria (series IV).

The project Literary culture in medieval Finland led by historian Tuomas Heikkilä between 2006 and 2012 created for the first time a detailed view of the oldest literary culture in Finland. The project also produced a preliminary catalogue of previously uncatalogued materials in the fragmenta membranea collection (Series VII).

In 2008 the National Library of Finland took upon to Heikkilä's initiative to construct a digital research database of the medieval fragments. The Helsingin Sanomat Foundation offered generous funding for the project and later the Ministry of Education and Culture also contributed to the endeavour. The parchment fragments were conserved and digitised in Mikkeli at the Centre for Preservation and Digitisation. At different periods, cataloguing work has been done by Lari Ahokas, Tuija Ainonen, Seppo Eskola, Toivo Haapanen, Tuomas Heikkilä, Jesse Keskiaho, Jyrki Knuutila, Anja Inkeri Lehtinen, Aarno Maliniemi, Samu Niskanen, Suvi Randén, Samuli Simelius, Jaakko Tahkokallio, Ilkka Taitto and Ville Walta. Lari Ahokas and Tuija Ainonen entered the catalogue data into the database.

Contents of the database and the cataloguing fields

The database contains an enlargable image of each parchment leaf in the collection. Individual leaves that according to the present state of research stem from the same medieval book, are presented under one shelfmark. The printed catalogues are also available for the fragments in series I–IV.

The database offers the following information of the fragments (where applicable):

  • Shelfmark
  • Contents
  • Genre
  • Language
  • Origin
  • Author
  • Liturgical use
  • Date
  • Additional information

The information is primarily based on the catalogues of each series (see Catalogues). Additional information contains research results regarding the particular fragment and possible dissenting interpretations regarding their cataloguing. Information concerning each cataloguing field is indicated by the use of CAPITALS in the additional information field. The following Bibliography contains information about related research. Because the Swedish Riksarkivet contains a number of parchment leaves that are related to the fragmenta membranea collection and vice versa, the Riksarkivet Medeltida Pergamentomslag database is also a valuable source of information for research on the Helsinki collection.

Catalogues of the collection

Printed catalogues (F.m. I–IV)

Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. I. Missalia. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja IV. Helsingfors; Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1922.

Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. II. Gradulia, lectionaria missae. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja VII. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1925.

Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. III. Breviaria. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja XVI. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1932.

Taitto, Ilkka, Catalogue of medieval manuscript fragments in the Helsinki university library. Fragmenta membranea IV:1-2. Antiphonaria. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja 67. Helsinki 2001.

Unprinted catalogues (F.m. V–VII)

F.m. V: Anja Inkeri Lehtinen.

F.m. VI: Anja Inkeri Lehtinen.

F.m. VII: Tuomas Heikkilä, Jesse Keskiaho, Jaakko Tahkokallio, Seppo Eskola, Ville Walta, Samu Niskanen, Suvi Randén, Lari Ahokas, Tuija Ainonen, Samuli Simelius.

Stockholm, Riksarkivet

Databas över medeltida pergamentomslag. Stockholm, Riksarkivet (MPO).

Bibliography

Stockholm, Riksarkivet, Medeltida pergamentomslag database (MPO).

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Brunius, Jan (ed.), Medieval Book Fragments in Sweden. Ed. Jan Brunius. Stockholm: Kungl. vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien 2005

Brunius, Jan, "De medeltida bokfragmenten och deras proveniens". Ny väg till medeltidsbreven. Från ett medeltidssymposium i Svenska Riksarkivet 26–28 November 1999. Skrifter utgivna av Riksarkivet 18. Stockholm 2004, 390−430.

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Haapanen, Toivo, "Denkmäler des gregorianischen Gesanges in Finnland". Bericht über den Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongreß in Basel. Veranstaltet anläßlich der Feier des 25jährigen Bestehens der Ortsgruppe Basel der Neuen Schweizerischen Musikgesellschaft, Basel vom 26. bis 29. September 1924. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel 1925, 184–188.

Haapanen, Toivo, "Dominikanische Vorbilder im mittelalterlichen nordischen Kirchengesang". Gedenkboek aangeboden aan Dr. D.F. Scheurleer op zijn 70sten verjaardag. Bijdragen van vrienden en vereerders op het gebied der muziek. 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff 1925, 129–134.

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Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. I. Missalia. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja IV. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1922.

Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. II. Gradualia, lectionaria missae. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja VII. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1925.

Haapanen, Toivo, Verzeichnis der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenfragmente in der Universitätsbibliothek zu Helsingfors. III. Breviaria. Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston julkaisuja XVI. Helsingfors: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto 1932.

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Taitto, Ilkka, "British Saints in the Fragmenta membranea Collection at the Helsinki University Library". Ex insula lux. Manuscripts and hagiographical material connected with medieval England. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto, 1–11.

Walta, Ville, Kirjallisuus, kirjat ja kirjoittaminen Naantalin luostarissa (1438–1591). Pro gradu -tutkielma. Historian laitos, Helsingin yliopisto 2008.

Fragmenta membranea