From manuscript fragments to book history

French manuscript fragments in Norway 1100-1300

Synnøve Midtbø Myking, Ph.D. student with the project "from manuscript fragments to book history", investigates the contact between Norway and France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.


NRA Lat. Fragm. 47
Fragment 47 is taken from a french manuscript. It was used as a wrapper for Norwegian tax lists.
Åslaug Ommundsen

In my Ph.D. project I examine the fragments from medieval manuscripts in Norwegian collections believed to be of French origin, with a particular emphasis on the period 1100-1300, a period that saw important societal and cultural changes both in Norway and in the rest of Europe. My project will situate these fragments in their historical context, with the aim of shedding light upon the French-Norwegian cultural contact in the Middle Ages and its influence on the development of Norwegian book culture.

The Norwegian fragments and Europe

Since the fragments in the Norwegian collections are mainly from liturgical books, they have traditionally been of little interest to historians and philologists. In recent years, however, several scholars have turned to the fragments in order to investigate the development of Norwegian book culture and book production. Influences from various European cultural centres can be found in many fragments from books believed to be of Norwegian origin. Other books were, or may have been, produced abroad and brought to Norway, by missionaries, by clerical orders, or by Norwegians studying abroad.

The context in which the manuscripts were brought to Norway is of interest. To what extent did Norwegians look to France for their education and cultural impulses? In which ways did the intellectual and cultural development in Paris and other towns during the High Middle Ages influence the developing book and scribal culture in Norway? How does the French-Norwegian exchange compare to what we know of the contact between England and Norway during the period?


In order to determine the origin of a fragment, several aspects must be considered. Palaeography, the shape of the script, is important, as are the general layout of the page and other material considerations, such as the parchment used. Sometimes the content may prove helpful, for instance in the case of a fragment containing liturgy for the feast day of a saint popular in a particular country or region (and perhaps only there). By comparing the “French-looking” fragments to codices we know for certain to be French-made, it is possible to strengthen or weaken any claims about their origin.