One would not expect to find medieval manuscripts in a library that has only been established in the middle of the 18th century. The University Library houses a large collection of medieval and early modern manuscripts. It holds 2,400 manuscripts in total, 700 of which are from the Middle Ages. These manuscripts originate from the Cistercian Monastery of Heilsbronn, the Franciscan Monastery St. Jobst (near Bayreuth), the Court Library Ansbach, and the University Library Altdorf. They were transferred to Erlangen in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Although the bulk of them is religious writing serving practical needs, there are quite a few valuable, unique books among them. The most outstanding pieces are the following: the so-called Fulda Evangeliar (H62/MS 9), which was written in a scriptorium in Fulda (850/70). It came to Erlangen with the court library Ansbach; a second Carolingian bible manuscript (H62/MS 10[1 bzw. H62/MS 10[2); and the famous Gumbertus bible (H62/MS 1), one of the rare Romanesque giant bibles from the late 11th century.
Most medieval manuscripts were in Latin, but the library owns manuscripts in German and Greek as well, like the “Hieratikon mikron”, a collection of liturgical texts of the Eastern church dating from the beginning of the 11th century (H62/MS.A 2), or several German manuscripts such as the famous didactic poem “Der Renner” (Hugo von Trimberg, H62/MS.B 4) and “Die Jagd” (Hadamar von Laber, H62/MS.B 9). Amongst other notable manuscripts from the 15th century are the Book of Hours (H62/MS 144), of Northern French provenance and the splendid “Epître d′Othéa” by Christine de Pizan (H62/MS 2361), a book illuminated in grisaille.
The Gumbertus bible was one of the most precious treasures of the monastery library of Ansbach. In the middle of the 8th century, the Franconian nobleman Gumprecht (lat. Gumbertus), later canonized, founded a Benedictine monastery in Ansbach. Shortly after the millennium in 1000, it was turned into a canon monastery. In 1195, Gotebold, dean of St. Gumbertus, purchased the famous Gumbertus bible at the then enormous price of 12 talents. Citizens of Ansbach contributed considerable sums of money.
After the dissolution of the Monastery of St. Gumbertus, its library was transferred to the newly founded consistorial library in Ansbach. In 1733, it was included into the palace library of the Margraves of Ansbach. Shortly before Prussia, as a consequence of Napoleonic politics, was forced to cede the margraviate to Bavaria, King Frederick III. had his palace library transferred to Erlangen, which still belonged to Prussia. Together with many more treasures, the Gumbertus bible came into Erlangen University Library. Here, it has been preserved ever since as one of its most valuable treasures.
Up to now, the Gumbertus bible has been open to public viewing only very seldom, for example on the very special occasions of the 250th anniversary of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in 1993 or the 1250th anniversary of the city of Ansbach in 1998. Internationally renowned scholars did intense research on this manuscript, with an exhibition in the Germanische Nationalmuseum (Nuremberg) as a final highlight.
The manuscript is regularly and neatly written in Ashkenazic square script and may be dated to the 13th century AD (K. Irmischer, 1, and E. Lutze, 273, date it to the 15th century). The text is vocalised as well as accentuated (except for a few unvocalised verses especially within the Haftarot) and contains Masoretic notes (Masora magna and Masora parva). In most cases, the text is written in 3 columns. Exceptions are to be found on the last page of a book or in the text-representation of a song (for example f. 55v; 115r; 192r).
Unfortunately, the manuscript is not completely preserved: Not only the beginning (the text starts with Ex 27,29) but also a quire (Lev 4,34-10,4) and a few pages (Num 10,17-11,21) within the manuscript are missing. The marking of a further quire as well as the incomplete last verse (1 Kings 9,1) indicate that the manuscript once may have contained the Haftarot for further special Shabbatot (see Roth, 43).
Although the selection of Bible texts is based on Jewish liturgical traditions, it′s unlikely that the manuscript, being a codex, has been put to liturgical use. However, the marginalia of different origin and age scattered throughout the book might indicate the manuscript′s use for preparing services or for study.
The manuscript also stands out because of its monochrome illuminations. In most cases, they can be found on the Torah folios and occasionally in the ornamented first word at the beginning of one of the Five Scrolls (folios 56r; 115v; 166v; 168v; 175v). The Leviticus folios display further illuminations and drafts − mostly of floral ornaments and animals − which have not been described by Eberhard Lutze and Ernst Roth, folios 38r; 44v; 45r and 165r.
The folios of the manuscript have been paginated twice. One pagination follows the Hebrew text; the other one follows the ″Latin″ way from the left to the right. As the latter pagination begins at the manuscript′s end, it is only given in square brackets because a few secondary texts refer to it.
The manuscript came from the former Altdorf University Library, as is indicated by a note on the back or – following the Hebrew text – front cover page; there are no other notes of origin. The inscription ″Altd. Theol. p. 112. N. 144. // Am. I.″ refers to the entry in the second volume of the four-volume catalogue of the Altdorf Libraries, which lists the theological books and has been written by the librarian Christoph Bonaventura Herzer in 1748/49 (Catalogus librorum Theologicorum Bibliothecae Publicae Academiae Altdorfinae). The University of Altdorf, founded in 1623, was closed in 1809 and its books came to the Erlangen-Nuremberg University Library in 1818/19.
- Irmischer, Johann Konrad: Handschriften-Katalog der Königlichen Universitäts-Bibliothek zu Erlangen, Frankfurt a.M. und Erlangen 1852.
- Lutze, Eberhard: Die Bilderhandschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen, Erlangen 1936.
- Roth, Ernst / Striedl, Hans: Hebräische Handschriften, Bd. 2 (Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland 6,2), Wiesbaden 1965.