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  • A Female Legendary from Iceland. “Kirkjubœjarbók” (AM 429 12mo) in the Arnamagnœan Collection, Copenhagen by Ed. Kirsten Wolf
  • Marianne E. Kalinke
A Female Legendary from Iceland. “Kirkjubœjarbók” (AM 429 12mo) in the Arnamagnœan Collection, Copenhagen. Ed. Kirsten Wolf. Manuscripta Nordica. Early Icelandic Manuscripts in Digital Facsimile, 3. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2011. Pp. 147. 1 CD-ROM.

Kirkjubœjarbók (Book of Kirkjubœr) is the name given to the codex AM 429 12mo, which was produced around 1500 and belonged to the Benedictine nuns of Kirkjubœr at Síða in southern Iceland. The legendary is unique in Old Norse-Icelandic literature in that it is the only extant hagiographic anthology devoted exclusively to legends of female saints. The legendary includes eight prose legends of virgin martyrs (Margaret, Catherine of Alexandria, Cecilia, Dorothy, Agnes, Agatha, Barbara, and that of Fides, Spes, and Caritas); two poetic versions of legends (Cecilia, Dorothy); and short Latin verses in praise of Cecilia and Dorothy and [End Page 113] prayers to them. The codex is copiously illuminated (discussed on pp. 18–21), graced with five full-page miniatures of St. Margaret, St. Catherine, St. Cecilia, St. Dorothy, and St. Agnes, and two smaller ones spanning twelve to thirteen lines of text at the beginning of the legends of St. Agatha and St. Barbara. Moreover, in the legend of St. Margaret, four smaller miniatures are interpolated in the text that depict scenes from her passion.

Kirkjubœjarbók most likely was written for the nuns at Kirkjubœr, but was probably not produced by them. The manuscript may have been written by the Augustinian friars at Þykkvibœr, a community not far from Kirkjubœr, and the codex may either have been donated to or purchased by the nuns (p. 15). It is plausible that they could read and write, but there is no evidence that any medieval Icelandic manuscript was ever produced by women. It is possible, however, that the nuns illuminated the mansucript (p. 16).

The printed diplomatic edition of the legendary (pp. 65–145) is preceded by a discussion of the contents of the codex; its history and provenance; its physical appearance; and the four scribal hands, including paleography, abbreviations, and orthography (pp. 13–31). The legends are copies of older translations from the Latin, presumably of individual lives circulating in Iceland rather than included in a legendary. In the section devoted to the texts (pp. 32–56), Kirsten Wolf discusses the individual legends, prayers, and poems, and their Latin sources, as well as other extant Icelandic versions of each. What distinguishes the Kirkjubœjarbók anthology is that it contains only legends of female saints. Whereas some of the legends have also been transmitted in other manuscripts, notably in Stockholm Perg. 2 fol., which antedates AM 429 fol. by fifty to seventy-five years, the Icelandic legend of St. Dorothy has been preserved solely in Kirkjubœjarbók.

A Female Legendary from Iceland is a splendid achievement, combining the best aspects of print and digital editing. The printed diplomatic edition, set so as to correspond to the lines (averaging fifteen to seventeen) on each folio, is accompanied by an apparatus containing editorial corrections and commentary. The print edition is complemented by a CD-ROM, the contents of which should satisfy a scholar’s every need. It contains an electronic edition in three HTML versions, with links to the photographs and the Latin source texts. Here, scholars can access the image in the manuscript; a diplomatic version without editorial emendations; a diplomatic version with emendations; a normalized version; a normalized version with appropriate paragraphing; and an edition of the corresponding Latin text. [End Page 114]

The following example from the legend of St. Margaret illustrates the information provided at the click of a page. For example, on fol. 3v, ll. 6–7, Margaret calls on the Lord Jesus Christ “er varðveitir meydóm minn óspiltan allt til þessa dags” [who preserves my virginity inviolate to this very day]. This is the normalized version of the text. By clicking on “image,” the reader is given the image of fol. 6v of the manuscript. A...


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