Cambridge Catalogue  
  • Help
Home > Catalogue > The Bobbio Missal
The Bobbio Missal
Google Book Search

Search this book


  • Page extent: 246 pages
  • Size: 247 x 174 mm
  • Weight: 0.6 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 264/.01403
  • Dewey version: 21
  • LC Classification: BX2037.A3 G333 2004
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Bobbio missal--Congresses
    • Missals--Gaul--Congresses
    • Catholic Church--Liturgy--Texts--History and criticism--Congresses
    • Bibliotháeque nationale de France.--Dâepartement des manuscrits--Congresses

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521823937 | ISBN-10: 0521823935)


Introduction: the Bobbio Missal – from Mabillon onwards


In June 1686, on the way back from his manuscript-collecting campaign in Italy, the Benedictine monk Jean Mabillon visited the monastery of Bobbio.1 This short visit (from 4 till 9 June 1686) was extremely fruitful. In the library of Bobbio, Mabillon found a unique treasure of old manuscripts, among them a small liturgical codex – commonly known nowadays as the Bobbio Missal. Mabillon immediately understood the importance of this codex, and he could hardly conceal his excitement in the initial report of his discovery.2 A year later, an edition of the liturgical section of this manuscript was published by Mabillon under the title Liber Sacramentorum Ecclesiae Gallicanae.3

   In his short introduction to the text,4 Mabillon explained in eleven detailed points why he thought this liturgical codex was a Sacramentarium Gallicanum found in Bobbio, and not a sacramentary produced in Bobbio or used there. Mabillon constructed his argument with great care. First, he argued, the sacramentary found in this Bobbio manuscript represents the Gallican liturgy, known from other liturgical manuscripts of the early Middle Ages, such as the Missale Gothicum, the Missale Gallicanum Vetus and the Lectionary of Luxeuil.5 He then proceeded to eliminate other possibilities, arguing that this sacramentary is emphatically not Roman, Mozarabic, Ambrosian or African.6 The diversity of liturgical practice in Merovingian Gaul, not only on the national, but also on the diocesan level, explains, according to Mabillon, the fact that his manuscript is not identical with the Missale Gothicum and the Missale Gallicanum Vetus.7 Mabillon, then, reached the climax of his introduction, suggesting that this manuscript was produced in what he called provincia Maxima Sequanorum, that is, the diocese of Besançon, where the monastery of Luxeuil was located.8 He even cautiously suggested that this codex might well have been brought to Bobbio by Columbanus and his disciples, but he also clearly pointed out that there is no indication of such a Columbanian connection in the manuscript itself.9

   Mabillon’s views were accepted by many of his immediate followers and later liturgists.10 George Hay Forbes even named this sacramentary Missale Vesontionense, that is, ‘The Missal of Besançon’,11 and Friedrich Wiegand called it Burgundische Messbuch aus dem Kloster Bobbio.12 Yet, not all scholars agreed with Mabillon, and shortly after its first publication, the so-called Bobbio Missal was the subject of much heated debate.13

   The Nouveau traité de diplomatique, published in 1757, although accepting Mabillon’s argument, stressed the role of Columbanus in transferring the codex from Burgundy to Bobbio.14 This was enough for Charles O’Conor to describe the script of the Bobbio Missal as Insular, and to argue that it represents the authentic rite of St Patrick and St Comgall of Bangor. He even called it Missale Hibernicum Bobiense,15 and shortly afterwards John Lanigan referred to it as Cursus Scotorum.16 The ‘Irish’ hypothesis fell on fertile ground and was adopted by scholars such as Ferdinand Probst,17 Suitbert Bäumer18 and Henry Marriot Bannister,19 all of whom attributed it to an Irish monk or an Irish missionary on the Continent. Even after it was clearly demonstrated by Ludwig Traube, Andrew Ewbank Burn and Frederick Edward Warren, the doyen of Irish liturgical studies, that Mabillon’s Sacramentarium Gallicanum is independent of any Irish tradition,20 the ‘Irish’ hypothesis did not die out. In 1918 the liturgist Edmund Bishop still argued that ‘there can be no doubt that the missal is of Irish compilation, not improbably at Bobbio itself’.21 In fact, it was Edmund Bishop who coined the name the Bobbio Missal, alluding to its supposedly Irish counterpart – the Stowe Missal – and thus canonising the Irish hypothesis.22

   Other scholars, however, went astray in other directions. Based on the fact that Ambrose is mentioned in the memento of the canon, Louis Duchesne suggested, with some reservations, northern Italy as the place of production.23 He noted that ‘the Roman rite . . . is here combined with the Gallican in a peculiar fashion, quite different from that which obtains in the systems of combination which we find in the Frankish manuscripts of late Merovingian times. It is not exactly the Ambrosian liturgy, but it is somewhat analogous to it.’24 Duchesne’s suggestion was accepted by several scholars, among them Klaus Gamber,25 but it was taken ad absurdum by the liturgist Paul Cagin. Cagin was in no doubt that the manuscript was produced in Bobbio itself. He dated its composition to 603–15, and he even argued that the compiler was Columbanus himself. Moreover, on account of the Missa in honore sancti Michaeli which mentions the dedication of a church to St Michael,26 Cagin argued that this small codex was designed for use in a church dedicated to St Michael, which he identified with the small church of San Michelle della Spelunca del Curiasca in the vicinity of Bobbio.27 Yet, Cagin, it seems, ignored the fact that this particular mass, part of which appears in the so-called Sacramentarium Veronense, was originally composed for the dedication of the church of St Michael in the Via Salaria on the outskirts of Rome.28 Cagin’s argument was neatly refuted by Wilmart.29

   In 1914 Germain Morin suggested the province of Septimania as the place of origin. Morin identified in the prayers of the Bobbio Missal several ‘Spanish symptoms’, which he could also trace in the Mozarabic liturgy. These ‘symptoms’, according to him, suggest that the compiler of the Bobbio Missal used Visigothic material, and thus Septimania was the most likely place for such an interaction.30 Yet again, André Wilmart managed to demonstrate quite convincingly that Morin’s argument was based on extremely shaky grounds, and, if accepted, both the Missale Gothicum and the masses of Mone should also be classified as Visigothic.31

   Wilmart himself came up with a new suggestion – the province of Rhaetia. Given the fact that the Bobbio Missal is a complex codex, whose script cannot be located precisely, whose liturgy is Gallican, whose palimpsest leaves point to the region of Milan, and whose Irish connection is suggested by the fact that it was found in Bobbio in the seventeenth century, Wilmart looked for an intermediate location, and thus suggested Rhaetia.32 Geographically, Rhaetia is situated in between Burgundy and northern Italy, and many Irish peregrini passed through it in the course of the seventh and the eighth centuries. But Wilmart was well aware of the fact that his suggestion was nothing but intellectual guesswork. It was, as he himself stated, an attempt to explain the unknown by the unknown. After all, ‘nous ignorons tout de ce pays à l’aurore du moyen âge; nous ne savons même pas quand y débuta la civilisation chrétienne, ni sous quelle influence, cisalpine, franque ou alémanique’.33

   The amount of interest in the Bobbio Missal shown by scholars in the past is not at all surprising.34 After all, the Bobbio Missal is one of the most intriguing liturgical manuscripts from early medieval Francia. As it shall be argued in this present volume, Paris, BNF lat. 13246 was copied in south-eastern France (most conceivably in or around the city of Vienne), and it contains a unique combination of a lectionary and a sacramentary, to which some canonical material (such as a penitential) was added. At a later stage several other quires were also added to the original codex. These quires contain a plethora of miscellaneous material, such as a mass pro principe, an abridgement of Pseudo-Theophilus’ commentary on selected passages from the four Gospels, a sermon entitled De dies malus, a copy of the so-called Joca monachorum, several incantation formulae, instructions on how to celebrate a mass, an Ordinal of Christ and some computistical material.35 Thus the Bobbio Missal, which contains a unique combination of liturgical, canonical and pedagogical material, can teach us not only about the liturgical practices and traditions prevailing in late seventh- and early eighth-century Francia, but it can also shed some light on the status, education and duties of the Frankish priests, of whom we know next to nothing.36 Moreover, the plethora of material appended to the Bobbio Missal can illuminate the cultural and ideological context within which this unique liturgical volume was produced.

   The debate concerning the origins of the manuscript and its texts, as well as the preoccupation with the various aspects of ‘Romanisation’ which characterised the interest of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scholars, and particularly liturgists, have, however, prevented the discussion from moving forward. Although providing crucial evidence on many cultural and religious matters, the Bobbio Missal has been largely ignored by scholars since the 1920s. In 1917 the Henry Bradshaw Society published a facsimile edition of the Bobbio Missal,37 and three years later the first complete critical edition of Paris, BNF lat. 13246 was published.38 Subsequently, in 1924, the last major study dedicated to the Bobbio Missal was published, again by the Henry Bradshaw Society, as a compendium to the facsimile and the critical edition.39 Nevertheless, both E.A. Lowe and André Wilmart, who joined forces in this enterprise, admitted that the riddle concerning the origin of the Bobbio Missal was by no means solved. However, both seemed to accept the initial observations made by Mabillon. Wilmart stressed the fact that it is a Gallican sacramentary, produced, most probably, in Burgundy, in a centre influenced by Irish tradition, such as Luxeuil.40 Similarly, E.A. Lowe concluded that ‘a little over twelve hundred years ago, in an obscure village somewhere on this side of the Alps, in a district where French was the spoken language, near a convent of nuns, an old cleric once copied a service-book’.41

   Lowe and Wilmart’s verdict on the Bobbio Missal, it appears, discouraged scholars from looking at the Bobbio Missal as an important piece of evidence for the history and culture of early medieval Gaul. No major study of the Bobbio Missal has been published since Lowe and Wilmart’s Notes and Studies. Scholars who used the Bobbio Missal throughout the twentieth century simply picked up from previous discussions whatever suited their own argument. Thus, for example, J. Janini opted for Duchesne’s Septimania hypothesis;42 Geoffrey Willis classified the Bobbio Missal as an Hiberno-Gallican sacramentary;43 northern Italy was chosen by Cyrille Vogel,44 Frederick Paxton45 and Rolf Busch;46 whereas other scholars seem to prefer Mabillon’s suggestion.47 Moreover, although being an indispensable source for the study of many aspects of Merovingian culture, only a handful of scholars in recent years, such as Arnold Angenendt, had discussed the Bobbio Missal with a more general and cultural interest.48

   Since our views on the early Middle Ages have changed dramatically in the last few decades, it seemed appropriate to re-examine the Bobbio Missal in light of modern research. Thus, on 28 April 2001 a group of scholars from various disciplines and universities gathered together in Utrecht (under the auspices of Utrecht University and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)) for a one-day workshop on the Bobbio Missal. The Bobbio Missal was then re-examined from various angles (palaeographical, linguistic, liturgical, theological, cultural and historical), and this re-examination offered a fresh look at this most remarkable manuscript and the context within which it was produced. For example, a careful re-examination of the palaeography and codicology of the Bobbio Missal (by Rosamond McKitterick, David Ganz and Marco Mostert) concludes that, contrary to Lowe’s judgement, this manuscript was copied in an established scriptorium, by a competent scribe, who also had some access to patristic writings. The Latin of the manuscript as examined by Els Rose, Charles Wright and Roger Wright, reveals how creative the compiler of the Bobbio Missal was, and it further adds a new dimension to the ongoing debate concerning the passage from Latin to Romance. The compiler’s creativity is also revealed when the liturgical content and theological themes hidden in the prayers of the Bobbio Missal are examined (by Yitzhak Hen and Louise Batstone respectively). Other papers connect the initial composition and the subsequent dissemination of various texts which the Bobbio Missal contains, with specific historical-cultural contexts. Hence the liturgical milieu of St Maurice of Agaune, the Merovingian reform movement initiated by Columbanus and his followers, as well as the rise of the Carolingians and their association with monasteries and church institutions in south-eastern Gaul are all evoked (by Ian Wood, Rob Meens and Mary Garrison, respectively) in order to provide a context for different parts of the Bobbio Missal. Although no attempt has been made by the editors to harmonise the various viewpoints these papers espouse, the end result is a remarkably harmonious and coherent picture which, in many respects, goes back to Mabillon and confirms many of his initial observations. This, of course, must not be taken to imply that the riddle of the Bobbio Missal is solved. However, we are closer now than ever to understanding some of its complexities and uniqueness.




  1. Ordo Missae, quem mox subjiciemus, haud dubie pertinet ad Liturgiam Gallicanam. Primum hujus rei argumentum desumi potest ex collectionibus post nomina, ad pacem, et ex vocabulo Contestationis, quales notae in vera Liturgia Gallicana deprehenduntur, ut in opere de Liturgia Gallicana ostendimus.

  2. Alterum argumentum petitur ex convenientia, quam habet hic Ordo cum Missali Gothico seu Gallicano, et cum Lectionario Luxoviensi a nobis editis, ut facta comparatione suis locis observabimus. Cur vero in omnibus non conveniat, inferius dicturi sumus.

  3. Tertium argumentum suppeditant Sanctorum festa, quae paucissima in hoc ordine referuntur. Haec festa sunt sanctorum Stephani protomartiris, Jacobi et Johannis apostolorum, Cathedrae sancti Petri, Depositionis seu Assumtionis sanctissimae Virginis, Inventionis sanctae Crucis, Nativitatis sancti Johannis Baptistae, ejusdemque passionis; apostolorum Petri et Pauli, Missa Sigismundi regis, festum sancti Martini episcopi Turonensis, et Michaëlis archangeli, quibus adde triduum Rogationum ante Asscensionem. Ex his peculiaria Gallis erant Missa sancti Sigismundi Burgundiae regis; et festum sancti Martini, quod tamen extra Galliam antiquitus celebrari potuit. Ad haec Rogationes triduanae ante Asscensionem ritui Gallicano conveniunt, et Depositio seu Assumtio Deiparae in Ianuario, itidemque Cathedra sancti Petri in hoc ordine eodem mense, uti et in Gothico et Lectionario Luxoviensi assignantur. Praeterea in Canone fit commemoratio sancti Hilarii.

  4. Denique his Ordo non est Romanus ut primo intuitu evinci potest; neque ferme ullam habet, excepto Canone, cum Gelasiano aut Gregoriano Ordine convenientiam. In veteri nostro exemplari praemittitur quidem MISSA ROMENSIS COTTIDIANA, cum Canone item Romano. Verum in fine Missalis Gothici eadem Missa adscripta erat, sed mutila in codice Christinae reginae, quo usus est eruditus Thomasius in edendo primum illo Missali. An Canon etiam Romanus in eo codice relatus fuerit, affirmare non licet propter mutili codicis defectum. Attamen cum ad singulas Missas in illo Gothico habeantur singuli


  1. The order of the Mass which we now publish, belongs without any doubt to the Gallican liturgy. The first argument for such a case is to be taken from the collections post nomina, ad pacem and from the formula of the Contestatio, the characteristics of which derive from the true Gallican Liturgy, as we showed in our book on the Gallican Liturgy.

  2. The second argument derives from the correspondence between this ordo of the Mass and the Missale Gothicum or Gallicanum as well as the Lectionary of Luxeuil, which we edited and which we will indicate comparing them where they correspond. The reason why they do not conform in every way, we will discuss below.

  3. The few feasts of the saints, appearing in the following order, supply the third argument. These are the feasts of the saints: Stephen the protomartyr, the apostles Jacob and John, the Cathedra sancti Petri, the Deposition and the Assumption of the holy Virgin, the invention of the holy Cross, the Birth of saint John the Baptist, his passion, the apostles Peter and Paul, the Mass of king Sigismund, the feast of saint Martin bishop of Tours and the archangel Michael, to which one should add a three-day Rogation before the Ascension. Of these the Mass for the Burgundian King Sigismund and the feast of St Martin are typically Gaulish, although the feast of St Martin from very early on was also celebrated outside Gaul. The three-day Rogations, moreover, before Ascension Day conform to the Gallican rite and the Deposition or Assumption of the Mother of God in January, and also the Cathedra sancti Petri in the same month in that order, as they are placed in both the Missale Gothicum and in the Lectionary of Luxeuil. Furthermore, in the Canon of the Mass St Hilary (of Poitiers) is commemorated.

  4. Therefore, this Order is not a Roman one as it may seem at first sight. It has almost no similarities with the Gelasian or Gregorian liturgy except for the Canon of the Mass. In the old manuscript which has been used here the first Mass is entitled Missa Romensis Cottidiana, containing a Roman Canon of the Mass. At the end of the Missale Gothicum the same Mass has been added, although it is damaged in the manuscript of queen Christina, which was used by the erudite Thomasius when he first edited this Missal. Whether this manuscript also contained the Roman Canon of the Mass cannot be ascertained because of the damage to the manuscript. But because in the Gothicum every Mass has its own Canon, different from the Liturgy which we publish here, it can be conjectured that the Roman Canon was not yet adopted in the Gothicum, which already appears in the Liturgy presented here, just like in the Frankish Missale of Thomasius. This thesis we reject. And to such Canones, secus quam in Ordine quem hic vulgamus, conjici potest, in illo Gothico nondum fuisse receptum Canonem Romanum, qui in nostro Ordine jam admissus erat, uti etiam in Missalis Francorum Thomasiano, quod a nobis recusum est. Atque adeo, ut in libro primo de Liturgia Gallicana observatum, majores nostri prius Romanum Canonem, quam integrum Missae ritum Romanus susceperunt. Ex his manifestum est, hunc Ordinem nostrum non esse Romanum.

  5. Sed neque Mozarabicus est, ut conferenti patet. Neque Ambrosianus, siquidem, praeter multas alias orationes, Rogationes in Ordine Ambrosiano celebrantur post Asscensionem; hic ante50 illam ex ritu Gallicano. Praeter ea nullum est in nostro Ordine festum sanctorum Mediolanensium, ac demum non omnino eaedem sunt Missa partes in Ambrosiano, cui desunt Praefationes initio Missae, in hoc Ordine usitatissimae; item Collectiones post nomina et ad pacem aut Contestationem.

  6. At forte hic Ordo fuerit ecclesiae Africanae. Sed neque hoc dici potest. Quippe Liturgiae Africanae indicia duo ex Augustino discimus, quae huic, qua de agimus, nullo modo conveniunt. Primum indicium est, quod cum in ecclesia Gallicana tres lectiones ex libris sacris ad Missam cathecumenorum recitari mos esset; in Africanae duae tantum lectiones cum intermedio Psalmo recitabantur. Id patet ex sermonibus Augustini ad populum, editis in tomo quinto eius operum novae editionis, quae in posterum semper utemur. In sermo CXII: Lectiones sanctae propositae sunt, et quas audiamus, et de quibus aliquid sermonis, adiuvante Domino, proferamus. In lectione apostolica gratiae aguntur Domino de fide gentium. In Psalmo diximus, DEUS VIRTUTUM CONVERTE NOS, etc. In Evangelio ad caenam vocati sumus. Brevis in sermone CLXV: Apostolum audivimus: Psalmum audivimus: Evangelium audivimus. Idem colligitur ex sermonibus CLXX et CLXXVI, loquor de lectionibus sacris. Nam paullo [sic!] ante Missam in festis Martyrum acta eorum legebantur, ut patet ex sermonibus XXXVII et CCLXXVI: Post sermonem sit Missa, seu dimissio, cathecumenis, Augustini verba sunt in sermone XLIX num. 8: manebunt Fideles; venietur ad locum Orationis, scilicet Dominicae. Alterum indicium est, quod in Africana ecclesia, uti et in Romana et in Mediolanensi, post sanctificationem sacrificii, et Orationem Dominicam, dicitur PAX VOBISCUM, et osculantur se Christiani in osculo sancto, ex sermone CCXXVII. Contra in Gallicana et Mozarabica Liturgia Pax dabatur ante actionem, immo ante Praefationem sacrificii, quae Contestatio appellatur. Itaque sequens Ordo non est Africanus, ac proinde superest ut sit Gallicanus.

  7. Cur ergo, inquis, in omnibus non convenit cum Missali Gothico-Gallicano? Id ex eo factum esse existimamus, quod, etsi in ecclesia Gallicana primis saeculis, an extent that in the first book on the Gallican Liturgy it was observed that our forefathers adopted the Roman Canon earlier than the complete Roman liturgy of the Mass. From this the non-Roman character of this Liturgy is clear.

printer iconPrinter friendly version AddThis