Review of Nordic Conference on Medieval Book Fragments

On 21 May, twenty-six delegates and researchers convened for three days in Stockholm for the Nordic Conference on Medieval Book Fragments, hosted by the Swedish National Archives.  The event aligned with several commemorative events:  first, the transformation of the Medeltida Pergamentomslag (MPO) database—a repository of nearly 23,000 medieval fragments in Sweden, about half of which contain music—into an online searchable format, a project several years in the making after the catalogue was initially completed in 2004;  second, the retirement of Jan Brunius, archivist and manager of the MPO project; and third, the publication of Brunius' book From Manuscripts to Wrappers (Växjö, 2013), an archival guide that will serve as the preliminary source for working with the MPO material.  The goal of the conference was to promote new directions for collaborative research among scholars of medieval Nordic manuscript culture as the sources rapidly become more available.  New findings made in the past three years—codicological, textual, and musicological—were brought forward and discussed, with an eye toward next steps in the field.
 
Tuesday was reserved for opening ceremonies, with a greeting and keynote demonstration of the online MPO by archivists Jan Brunius and Marie Lennersand.  The database—which is hosted by the Swedish National Archives (nad.riksarkivet.se)—is currently text-only, but during the demonstration the project team showed how the ca. 40,000 images will be included once they have been appropriately formatted.  Later, on Thursday morning, Lauri Hirvonen (Helsinki) gave a presentation on his revisions to the database’s structure for his own research on the cults of the saints in Swedish dioceses, and suggested that making the the MPO files available for download would allow researchers to modify the database to suit their individual needs.  The demonstration was followed by a tour of the archival vaults along with an open viewing of fragments, including some containing polyphonic song, a rarity in Scandinavian sources.
 
On Wednesday morning, to begin the conference proper, the representatives of each Nordic country present gave a status report on fragment research since 2010.  Tuomas Heikkilä (Helsinki) reported that the Finnish Fragmenta membranea online database now has downloadable low- and high-resolution images for all of the sources at the National Library of Finland (fragmenta.kansalliskirjasto.fi).  He also demonstrated Kirjava keskiaika, an interactive webpage aimed at educating non-experts and the general public about medieval manuscript culture in Finland (jeskiaika.kansalliskirjasto.fi, in Finnish).  Åslaug Ommundsen (Bergen) announced a four-year project begun in 2012 to create an online inventory of Norwegian fragments, as well as the recent publication of Latin Manuscripts of Medieval Norway, edited by Espen Karlsen and including several studies relevant to the interests of the Medieval Song Network by Susan Rankin, K.D. Hartzell, Owain Tudor Edwards, and others.  Erik Petersen (Royal Library, Copenhagen) reported on the status of the Fragmenta Latina Hauniensia (hosted at www.kb.dk), which currently represents a small percentage of the library's holdings.  The FLH database leans heavily toward authored texts, but there are also some musical and liturgical fragments of interest.  Jan Brunius then spoke briefly on recent work using the sources in Sweden, particularly Gunilla Björkvall's research on Swedish sequences and Karin Strinnholm Lagergren's recent work on words and music in sources from the diocese of Skåra.
 
The Wednesday papers (six of them) began in earnest just before lunch.  Michael Gullick linked scribal hands and decorations across a number of fragments to demonstrate a possible group of manuscripts coming from or being influenced by the Cistercian monastery at Alvastra, which will prove useful in the immediate future for anyone hoping to study the Order’s history in Scandinavia.  Next Gunilla Björkvall spoke on research for her upcoming book on sequentiary book fragments.  She argued that Sweden appears unique in Scandinavia for maintaining a strong tradition of using sequences throughout the Middle Ages, and that more than 50 sequences found in the fragments can be argued to be authentically Swedish.  Since her study is primarily textual, she also noted that a musical comparison of the sources would allow for an even greater understanding of the situation.  Anna Wolodarski used palaeographic evidence to suggest linking two music fragments in Stockholm—one from a sequentiary book, Fr 28169, and one from a Bridgettine Cantus Sororum, Fr 25039—to Vadstena Abbey, the Bridgettine motherhouse.  Åslaug Ommundsen, after making observations on Icelandic textual and musical palaeography, attributed several fragments previously thought Norwegian to Icelandic scribes—including a breviary missal in the Norwegian National Archives, Lat. Fragm. 668—and, as the final paper of the day, Jesse Keskiaho (Helsinki) compared fragments from several fifteenth-century graduals and antiphonaries, suggesting the Bridgettine monastery at Nådendal in Finland as their collective provenance.  The day ended with a remarkably well-concealed surprise reception for Jan Brunius, who was congratulated on his upcoming retirement and presented with hardcopies of a festschrift in his honour, Fragment ur Arkiven (Västerås, 2013), with inclusions by many of the conference participants.
 
With the bulk of the papers over, the conference was afforded a more relaxed pacing on Thursday, and after Lauri Hirvonen showcased his revisions to the MPO database, Erik Niblaeus (Cambridge) spoke on German breviary fragments in Sweden.  Observing that secular breviaries represent one of the most common genres of liturgical books in Sweden up to the thirteenth century—a phenomenon likely due to the strong need for church-building and liturgical expansion—and that several of these sources contain German characteristics, Niblaeus nevertheless called into question the notion that there occurred anything resembling a unified exportation of German liturgy, since much of the evidence shows little or no cohesion across sources.  In the final paper of the conference, which took place after a demonstration by Eva Sandgren (Uppsala) of some uncatalogued illuminated fragments at Uppsala University, Alexander Pereswetoff-Morath (Stockholm) assessed the presence of several fragments in Sweden written in Church Slavonic.
 
 Throughout the conference there was much talk about the need to move beyond the isolated study of sources within a given archive, and to begin promoting medieval Nordic fragment studies as a field, both relevant in itself and as a connected part of medieval manuscript studies as a whole.  For those studying medieval song, whether as lyric or music, there is a wealth of unstudied sources just recently made available by the fine cataloguing of these project teams.  The work produced by the participants here on sources of medieval Nordic song has amply demonstrated the potential this material has for yielding some very rewarding studies, as well as the need for further research before even a most basic understanding of the topic can be reached.  In all, this is a field worth watching in the upcoming years. 

Norwegian fragment website (link)

 Fantasic sounding conference!
I thought I'd add a link to the Norwegian fragment database:
https://fragments.app.uib.no/search/f?p=657:1:
(Apparently started in 2010 - is that correct?)