A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Echternach Sacramentary

Darmstadt, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt, Hs. 1946

The musical compositions preserved in this rich liturgical manuscript were primarily passed on orally in the early Middle Ages; though the Echternach Sacramentary is not the first Christian manuscript known to include musical notations, it offers a significant and relatively early example that can be closely studied through its vibrant facsimile. The vivid depiction of the Crucifixion reminds the reader of the book’s sacred contents and invites close engagement with the text; on another page a golden, fire-breathing dragon helps draw attention to the presence of sacred music.

The notations in these pages would only have been fully intelligible to a reader already familiar with the songs; they do not contain enough information to initiate a new singer, but were rather useful reminders to guide an experienced performer through the rituals of the Mass. In this way they reflect the transition from a largely oral to a written tradition, presenting not only a record of early medieval sounds but also an early development towards the universal reading systems used by musicians today. The manuscript’s nickname is derived from the monastic scriptorium at Echternach, which produced several notable manuscripts for the Ottonian emperors in the 11th century. These books are very well represented in Pitt’s facsimile collection; another outstanding example is the Codex Caesareus in the "Golden Books" section of this exhibition.

A black-and-white microfilm of this manuscript has been digitized and is available at the website of the Universitäts-und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt.

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