354J Hrabanus Maurus.   784-856?

Magnencij Rabani Mauri De Laudib[us] sancte Crucis opus. erudicione versu prosaq[ue] mirificum. Cum antiqviate avctoris <annis abhinc prope octingentis abbatis primum fuldensis, archiepiscopi postea moguntini. tum noitate scriptionis memorabile. Qvo figvris sive imaginibvs XXVIII. multi fedei christianae mysteria, multi mystici numeri; angelorum, virtutum, VII. donorum Spiritus Sancti, VIII. Beatitudinum,  IV. elementorum, IV. temorum anni, VI euangelistarum & agni, mensium, ventorum, V librorum Moysis, nominis Adam, alleluia, & amen, aliarumq[ue] rerum vis & dignitas in formam crvis reedacta, subtiliter et ingeniose explicantur.


Augustæ Vindelicorvm e typographeo Praetoriano. , 1605.                           $9,000

DSCN0211Folio  Aa6, Bb4, a-k6, a6, B4, c4.  This is the second Printed edition which is a page for page copy of the first with all woodcuts redone and time re-set excepting for the title.  This copy is bound in full contemporary blind stamped sheep.

There is a Printers mark  on title page, woodcut initials printed in red, two woodcuts of Alcuin interceding on behalf of Rabanus before Pope Gregory iv, DSCN0217and of Rabanus presenting his poems to the Pope; a figured dedicatory poem to Louis the Pious and a figured prefatory poem, 28 carmina figurata, the first entirely xylographic, the remaining poems combining printed and xylographic letters with the versus intexti printed in red (except fig. xvi), enclosed by either woodcut figures (of the emperor, Christ, the Evangelists, Cherubim, etc.) printed in black or  by Christian symbols and characters, most defined by metal rules in red.


This is a spectacular collection of poems all centered on veneration and meditation upon the cross.


“Hrabanus created  the various shapes and figures by highlighting individual letters in underlying poens in colour (in the printed editions red), and theses individual letters together make up meaningful text , ranging from simple declarations to very elaborate ones.  For example, Carmina 2 contains a simple cross inside a square (Hrabanus calls it a “tetragonum”)whose sides form a border for the poem as a whole. The text from the DSCN0219underlying poem that makes up the figure consists of six hexameters, each one an address to the cross beginning with the words ‘O crux…’ When we follow Hrabanus’s instruction in the accompanying prose text for reading these hexameters, we find the following: even though the verse that forms the top of the square is also the opening of the underlying poem, he insists that we begin reading with the stem of the cross, from top to bottom.” (Schipper)

Sunt quoque uersus duo in ipsa ccruceconscripti, quorum prior est:


a summo in ima descendens. Alter uero:


a dextra in sinistram crucis tendens ‡

IMG_2828 3

‡“there are also two verses inscribed in the cross, The first of which is :

“ O cross , thou who art at the height of fame, a dedicated moment”

running from the top down.  And a second;

“O Cross thou who through the body of Christ art the blessed triumph”

running from the right to the left.”

Further more Hrabanus flips left and right the texts point of view alternates , Hrabanus tells us the cross is looking out at the reader, not the other way around. “ Only after we have read the hexameters in the cross are we free to read the verses in the four sides of the tetragon, and even then Hrabanus constrains the order in which they are to be read: first the top, then the bottom, then the right side then finally the left side.”

More complex figures present further challenges in reading. The figure in Carmen 25, for example, consists of eight letters of the word ‘ALLEVIA’ arranged around a small cross. It does not take much effort to notice that we need to start with the A, read down to the E, continue on the left, and end on the right of the figure; and that each time we trace out those letters we make the sign of the cross. It becomes more difficult when we also try and read the text that is enclosed in the figures. The letters of ALLEVIA are made of the following letters from the underlying poem.


A  crux[aIMG_2832 2

L  eter

L  na[de

E  i]es[lave[v

L  ivis

V  in]arc

I   e]po

A  lorvm






‡ Eternal cross, thou art the praise of God, thou livest in the arc of the skies.


Peter Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 249.

G. Rigg and G. R. Wieland, ‘A Canterbury Classbook of the Mid-eleventh CenturyAnglo-Saxon England 4 (1974), 113-30.

William Schipper, ‘Hrabanus Maurus in Anglo-Saxon England: In Honorem Sanctae Crucis’, in Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, ed. Stephen Baxter, Catherine Karkov, Janet L. Nelson, David Pelteret (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2009), 283-98.




In my next blog, I will discuss  Memory-Meditation and Mysticism.