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  Home > History > Medieval >

The Schaffhausen Adomnán
Schaffhausen Adomnán

Our Price:95.00
Authors: Damian Bracken and Eric Graff
Affiliation: School of History, University College Cork and Liberal Arts, Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio, USA
Publication Year: Hardback February 2015
Pages: 282
Size: 340 x 239 mm

ISBN: 9781782051183

This is the first in a series of facsimiles of major Irish historical manuscripts. Each will be published with an interpretive commentary.

This first book reproduces the earliest surviving copy of Adomnán's Vita Columbae, the Life of St Columba, dating from the late seventh century. Columba established one of the greatest Irish monastic and cultural foundations of the Middle Ages on the Island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, in the 560s.

The monastery of Iona had close associations with the kings of the northern part of Ireland, Scotland, and northern England. It was the spiritual centre responsible for the conversion of Scotland and northern England to Christianity, and was the mother house of a great monastic federation that stretched from Lindisfarne, in the east of England, to Durrow, in the heart of Ireland. The Life was written by Adomnán, the ninth abbot of Iona, before 697, to mark the centenary of his patron's death. Like Columba, he was a member of the powerful Uí Néill (O'Neill) dynasty.

Adomnán's Life of St Columba has been described as perhaps the most sophisticated saint's life to be written in western Europe in the course of the seventh century. It bears witness to the scholarly and spiritual attainments of early Irish Christian culture. The manuscript reprinted in facsimile is one of the foremost achievements of that learned culture and has been preserved in the Stadtbibliothek, Schaffhausen, Switzerland since the eighteenth century.

Introduction-Damian Bracken; Report on the Codex: Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, Generalia 1-Eric Graff; Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, Generalia 1: The history of the manuscript-Jean-Michel Picard; The Schaffhausen manuscript and the composition of the Life of Columba-Mark Stansbury; Some orthographic features of the Schaffhausen manuscript- Anthony Harvey; A note on the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the Schaffhausen manuscript of Adomnán's Vita Columbae- Deirdre McMahon; Index

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  4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 The Schaffhausen Adomnan February 8, 2016
Reviewer: Thomas O'Loughlin, History Ireland from UK  
So what have we got in these two volumes? First and foremost, we have a colour facsimile of the entire manuscript, from outside front over to outside back cover, which is virtually full-size (I could not find it stated in the comments on the volume that the facsimile is full-size but the reproductions measure approximately 285mm by 210mm, which accord with those of the manuscript; see commentary volume, p. 22). The images are clear and sharp, and are arranged in this book exactly as they are encountered in the actual manuscript, making the facsimile a joy to work with. The desire to have such a reproduction goes back, as a formal project, to Eoin MacNeill in the 1930s - he imagined that the task would be carried out by the Irish Manuscripts Commission - but it was never realised (and there is a note concerning this endeavour by Deirdre McMahon on p. 105 of the commentary volume). Even earlier, however, in the 1850s, the value of seeing this manuscript was recognised by William Reeves in his edition of Adomnan (Dublin, 1857), for, using the limited technology of his day, he reproduced portions of several pages. So a very long-standing desire of scholars is now fulfilled. Indeed, we might even be glad that the project of the late 1930s did not succeed: the clarity of these digital photographs is so much better than even the best that were then made, and the use of colour is so much more informative than even the best 'black-and-white' reproductions of the past that comparison seems inappropriate. When, for example, a page of this facsimile is held next to a page of the 1933 facsimile of the Annals of Innisfallen (overseen by R.I. Best and Eoin MacNeill and printed by Oxford University Press), one cannot but be struck by the quality and value of the present work. Likewise, when one compares the four pages of reproductions that were included in the Andersons' edition (between pp 176 and 177) one sees the difference between what was seen as a good set of images of this manuscript and having the sense of looking at the codex itself.

Accompanying the facsimile is a set of essays introducing the manuscript. The detailed report (pp 17-55) on the codex by Eric Graff is a masterly description of what we can learn from the actual object and will repay close study. One hesitates to decide which part of this study is the most useful, but his clear demonstration of how the codex's six gatherings were assembled (five gatherings each of six bifolios, together with a sixth gathering of five) is a model of clarity and useful information. Also dedicated to the codex as such is the essay by Jean-Michel Picard, setting out what we know of the history of the manuscript from Iona until its current resting place in Schaffhause (pp 56-69). Not the least feature of this essay is that it narrates the last 200 years of the manuscript's history - giving generous credit to the insights of William Reeves - and so draws together information that, even if known, had to be pieced together from a scattered variety of books and articles, many of them hard-to-obtain publications in German from the nineteenth century. Together, these two essays allow historians to make full use of the information latent in the codex. With this are two further essays that use the text of the Life as found in the codex to give us insights into the intellectual world of the monastery that produced it. Mark Stansbury's essay (pp 70-89) uses the codex to provide insights into the sequence of events by which Adomnan brought together information, written and oral, and eventually produced his Life. If the work of Graff can be seen as a 'forensic study', then this essay is pure 'detective work'. It is not without precedent: A.O. Anderson did much on the topic in the preface to his edition, but this is a far more complete study, with the evidence laid out clearly and convincingly. It is likely to become the standard introduction to the background of the Life for many years to come. In the diagram (p. 89) of the stages by which Adomnan's work evolved to become the text now found in the manuscripts, Stansbury has summarised his research and produced a document that I suspect will be cited in every future study of the Life. The fourth essay is by Anthony Harvey (pp 90-104) and examines what we can learn about the Latinity of Iona from the way that Dorbbene wrote. While this is the most technical of the essays, it is a fine example of how small details of orthography - roughly equivalent to our notion of spelling - in this codex when compared with other information can provide us with valuable historical insights. Taken together, these four essays are a model of the sort of preamble we should have for every Irish manuscript from the early Middle Ages, and, speaking as a teacher, they show students why such disciplines as palaeography and codicology cannot be relegated to some arcane 'auxiliary' domain by historians.

Lastly, why bother with a facsimile on paper when there are digital libraries on-line? Is this not simply a prestige product of a dated technology? Few people ever actually handle a medieval manuscript - and if every student did so the damage to the codices would outweigh the educational benefits. But equally one cannot experience the act of reading an ancient text from a modern edition. Here lies the enduring value of facsimiles: they allow us to read texts as their authors imagined they would be read - and I have not encountered a better object as a vehicle for such an experience than this facsimile. All concerned in the ArCH (Armarium Codicum Hibernensium) Project in UCC are to be congratulated, and encouraged to bring us more facsimiles in the future.

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