St. Peter’s Gospels



Around the year 1000, the abbey of St. Peter’s in Salzburg was reformed with the goal of instituting a more disciplined form of monastic life, which found expression in the reinvigorated production of manuscripts like this Gospel book. Sumptuously illuminated by two artists, it was likely used on special feast days. The miniatures respond to artistic developments at centers of monastic reform like Regensburg, Reichenau, and Fulda. The main inspiration, however, was a Gospel book commissioned by Emperor Henry II (973–1024), himself an active reformer, for his new foundation at Bamberg (where it remains today). Against a gold ground, John the Evangelist looks to an eagle, his symbol, which holds open a book. At right, the opening words of his Gospel appear in gold on purple ground (In principio erat verbum; “In the beginning was the word”). Many of the miniatures retain their original protective silk curtains.

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"St. Peter’s Gospels,” in Latin
Austria, Salzburg, ca. 1020
The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.781, fols. 188v–189r
Purchased on the Lewis Cass Ledyard Fund, 1933


Joshua O'Driscoll, Assistant Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts

Monasteries with imperial patronage enjoyed a relative independence from local oversight. With few exceptions their abbots answered only to the emperor or the pope—a freedom that enabled them to amass considerable wealth and to pursue ambitious programs of artistic production. For most of the tenth century, however, this was not the case in Salzburg—the seat of the Archbishop of Bavaria. Traditionally, the archbishop was simultaneously the abbot of the most important monastery in the region, St. Peter’s. This situation changed dramatically in 987, in response to monastic reform movements that swept throughout the empire, with a goal of instituting a more disciplined adherence to monastic life, free from unnecessary interference.

A monk from Regensburg, named Tito, became the first independent abbot of St Peter’s. He initiated a series of structural changes resulting in the separation of the abbey from the cathedral and its archbishop.

Known as the St. Peter’s Gospels, this manuscript was one of the first major products of the newly reinvigorated scriptorium at St Peter’s and was produced in the final years of Tito’s abbacy. It was likely used on special feast days at the abbey church. Painted by a main artist and an assistant, its miniatures reflect the most recent artistic developments at important reform centers like Regensburg and Reichenau. The artist’s most important model, however, was a book commissioned by Emperor Henry II for his newly founded cathedral at Bamberg--a choice that speaks to the aspirations of the abbey at Salzburg. Shown here is the opening of the Gospel of John, whose portrait, on the left, is set against a solid gold ground. At right are the first words of the Gospel, set against an extravagantly ornamented purple ground.