Breviarium Nidrosiense

The Nidaros Breviary (1519)

Espen Karlsen & Sigurd Hareide

The Nidaros breviary: the second book printed on Norwegian initiative

The first two books printed on Norwegian initiative were the Nidaros missal and the Nidaros breviary, both appearing in 1519.For an introduction to these two early printed books, see Gjerløw (1986); for the breviary alone, Kolsrud (1919), Buvarp & Børsum (1964). Skovgaard-Petersen (forthcoming 2019) discusses the two volumes in connection with Walkendorf’s other literary activities (in Danish). A breviary gave instructions and texts necessary to celebrate the divine office, or canonical hours, throughout the year, while a missal offered the same to celebrate mass throughout the year. Both books were in Latin. However the second printed book on Norwegian initiative, the Nidaros breviary, contains the first printed text in Norwegian language: a two-page list of fasts and holidays, printed before the Latin liturgical calendar.

Together, mass and divine office with their two books constituted the official public prayer of the Catholic church in a certain area. The Nidaros breviary and missal take up a special position in the history of the book in Norway, not only because they were the first two books to be printed on Norwegian initiative, but also because they were intended to be used in the entire province of Nidaros, which in the early sixteenth century comprised Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Archbishop Erik Walkendorf (1510–1522) initiated the publication of both the breviary and the missal.For Walkendorf’s life and career, see Hamre (1943, in particular pp. 54–67).

The text of the breviary was compiled and edited by the dean Peter Stut and the archdeacon Eirik Jonsson in Trondheim before printing. The breviary was printed in Paris by Jean Bienayse and Jean Kerbriand. The work appears to have begun in 1515 (Gjerløw 1986, 70), and the printing was completed on 4 July 1519, a few weeks after Poul Reff completed the printing of the missal in Copenhagen (25 May 1519). The Archbishop’s secretary Hans Reff supervised the printing of the Nidaros breviary (Gjerløw 1986, 55–56). The Nidaros breviary has been held to be one of the finest specimens of its kind (Gjerløw 1986, 57).

As Lilli Gjerløw put it, ‘the Nidaros Missal and Breviary are the unique summa of centuries of religious culture’ (1986, 77). They represent a further development of the Nidaros liturgy from the Nidaros ordo of the early thirteenth century, the sources of which are studied by Gjerløw (1968, 85–128). The text material is typical of a medieval breviary.

The Nidaros breviary and its content

The Nidaros breviary has 451 leaves (= 901 pages) and is an octavo measuring 15.3 x 10.7 cm a page in the copy preserved in the National Library of Norway (the pages might have been cut during rebinding). The copies were probably originally bound in Paris (Schjoldager 1927, 52–53).The Nidaros missal was in the larger quarto format and is likely to have been bound in Trondheim (Schjoldager 1927, 54–55), as it because of its size would be more demanding to transport bound in a large print run.

The title on the title page of the octavo volume is Breuiaria ad vsum ritumque sacrosancte Nidrosiensis ecclesie (‘Breviaries according to the use and rite of the most holy Nidaros church’). The use of the plural breuiaria instead of the singular breuiarium is exceptional for the Nidaros breviary (Gjerløw 1986, 55). It may, however, perhaps refer to the original use of the term breuiarium (derived from the adjective breuis, meaning ‘short’ and referring to ‘summary’, ‘abridgment’, ‘epitome’ in ancient Latin, cf. the entry breviarium in Lewis & Short 1879) before breuiarium became a technical term for the book summarizing all the books for the divine office with its different parts (antiphonale, collectarium, hymnarium, lectionarium, homiliarium, legendarium and psalterium) (Schumacher 2015, 4142).

A breviary gave instructions and all texts necessary to celebrate the divine office throughout the liturgical day, week and year, for the officiating priest praying in the choir or for his private reading.For an introduction to the content and organisation of the late medieval breviary, see Hughes (1982, 197–224)); Harper (1991, 61–62 and 74–108). For an introduction to the Nidaros liturgy, see Fæhn (1955). Gjerløw (1986) discusses the two Nidaros books in a book historical perspective, in addition to commenting on the content. The five principal parts of the Nidaros breviary are, as was common, (1) the temporale, (2) the calendar, (3) the liturgical psalter with the order of the divine office for a week, (4) the commune sanctorum and (5) the proprium de sanctis/sanctorale (all of which are further described below). The eight canonical hours of the divine office were matins (matutinae), lauds (laudes), prime (prima), terce (tertia), sext (sexta), none (nona), vespers (vesperae), compline (completorium).See Harper on the organisation of the liturgical day (1991, 45–46). For terminology in Latin and Norwegian, see Schumacher (2015, 106–107), and for an overwiev of the content and structure of the eight canonical hours in Norwegian, see Hareide and Kleivane (2014, 171–172).

Initials,For the different initials used in the breviary, see Gjerløw (1986, 57–60). all rubrics (ruber, ‘red’) with instructions, and all running titles on top of the page are printed in red. The entire text is set in two columns, with the exception of the title page, the preface by Walkendorf, the calendar, a list of fast days (the only vernacular text in the volume and the first one printed in Norwegian language), and two pages De laude, virtute et efficacia psalmorum (‘On the praise, virtue and efficacy of the psalms’), which are set in one column. In the content list below, we use brackets for common terminology not found in the Nidaros breviary:

Title page (p. 1)
The coat-of-arms of Erik Walkendorf, a rose surrounded by three wings of swans. Under the title and the coat-of-arms, there are four hexameter lines praising Walkendorf.

Preface by Walkendorf (pp. 2–6)
Before the preface of the archbishop, a full-page (p. 2) is dedicated to a woodcut of St. Olav with his foot on a dragon above Walkendorf’s coat-of-arms with the inscription E.W.A.N.A.S.L. (= Ericus Walkendorf Archiepiscopus Nidrosiensis apostolic(a)e sedis legatus, ‘Erik Valkendorf, archbishop of Nidaros and envoy of the apostolic see’). The four page preface follows, dated the 1 April 1516.

De officio diuino et horis canonicis (pp. 7–14)
The section ‘On the divine office and canonical hours’ provides general norms for the divine office and the start of the liturgical year with a table of Sunday letters (litter(a)e dominicales, singular, littera dominicalis), determined by the day of the week on which St. Andrew’s feast (30 November) falls each year. The Sunday letters is followed by a note on the gradual psalms and prayers for the little hours (i.e., prime, terce, sext and none) of St. Mary’s feasts and the Saturday Marian office, ending with three mnemotechnical hexameters of catchwords for the inception of texts in the liturgy from Trinity to Advent.According to Gjerløw (1986, 52), ‘for the inception of Old Testament Offices’. The main text of this chapter of general rubrics is printed in red, with initials and liturgical texts (short forms) in black.

Temporale [Proprium de tempore] (pp. 15–338)
The temporale consists of the proper liturgical texts for the annual recollection of the Life of Christ with dated feasts like Christmas and moveable feasts like Easter (Harper 1991, 49–51), starting with the first Sunday in Advent and ending with the 25th Sunday after Trinity, with changing texts for the eight canonical hours a day and the seven days of the week throughout the year.

Swo skulo helgor och fastor haldas i Nidros biskopsdøme (pp. 339–340)
As an introduction (‘In this manner should holidays and fastdays be held in the diocese of Nidaros’) before the liturgical calendar in Latin, a two-page-list of holidays and fasts ‘according to Christian law’ is provided in the vernacular as the first Norwegian text to appear in print.For the language of the vernacular and a discussion of its source text, see Berg (2013, 98–99).

[Kalendarium, pp. 341–356]
The liturgical calendar, printed in red and black, offers a month by month list of all solemnities, feasts and memorial days throughout the year that fall on specific days, i.e., both the days from the temporale with the feasts of the Lord and the days from the sanctorale with the celebrations of specific saints. Notae giving rules for the celebration of certain feasts, are added at the end of the page of most months, corresponding to the Notata omnia mensium (‘Notes on all months’) on p. 15 in the Nidaros missal (Gjerløw 1986, 69). A pascal table is also included and a list of the number of days between different holidays.

De laude, virtute et efficacia psalmorum (pp. 357–358)
As a preface before the liturgical psalter, Alcuin’s (c. 735–804) ‘On the praise, virtue and efficacy of the psalms’ from his De psalmorum usu ‘On the use of the psalms’ is printed in one column.The last part of this text (starting with Si vis confessionem peccatorum at the end of p. 357) is also found in Old Norse translation as part of Kolsrud (1952, 79), see Gjerløw (1968, 52), and in translation from Old Norse to Modern Norwegian in Norseth, Kleivane & Hareide (2014, 132–133).

Ordo psalterii [Liturgical psalter] (pp. 359–490)
The ‘order of the psalms according to the customs and practice of the metropolitan church of Nidaros’ (Ordo psalterij secundum morem et consuetudinem metropolitane Nidrosiensis ecclesie) in the middle of the book contains the core section of the divine office with the 150 biblical psalms and other parts of the office distributed throughout the eight canonical hours during the seven days a week. The texts in the Ordo psalterii are either combined with the proper texts in the temporale or the sanctorale of the breviary.

After the compline for Saturday, at the end of the liturgical week of the Ordo, follows Memorie beate uirginis Marie post completorium, prayers ‘in memory of the blessed Virgin Mary after compline’ for different days and seasons of the liturgical year (pp. 476–478), but also containing a short supplication to St. Olav (p. 477). It is followed by Absolutiones seu Benedictiones lectionum per annum, ‘absolutions or benedictions for the readings (of the matins) during the year’ (pp. 478–479), and by the Litany of Saints (pp. 479–482). The final section of the Ordo is the Vigilie mortuorum (‘Vigil of the dead’, pp. 482–487) with Orationes communes pro defunctis (‘Common prayers for the dead’, p. 487) for different categories of the dead, and finally Commendatio animarum/Commendationes defunctorum (‘Recommendation of souls/Recommendations of the dead’, pp. 488–490) with prayers of recommendation of the soul.

Commune suffragium sanctorum (pp. 491–552)
A full-page woodcut (p. 490) with four scenes introduces the ‘Common (prayers) of (the) saints’. The scenes on the woodcut depict Christ with his disciples (flanked by St. Peter and St. John), the Holy Martyrs, Confessors (pope, cardinal, bishops), and St. Mary with the Holy Virgins. The Common of saints consists of texts for an entire category of saints, such as apostles or martyrs, starting with the apostels. A full-page woodcut depicting the Crucifixion (p. 530) is introducing the Commemoratio crucis per annum (‘Commemoration of the Cross through the year’, pp. 531–535), followed by a full-page woodcut of the Virgin with child (p. 536) introducing the Saturday Commemoratio beate Marie uirginis per annum (‘Commemoration of the blessed Virgin during the year’, pp. 537–544) The inscription Succurre virgo gloriosa (‘Come to my aid, glorified Virgin’) in red accompanies the picture with Hans Reff’s name added below.Gjerløw (1986, 63–64) takes Reff’s name as an indicator that he was particularly fond of this woodcut. The commemorations of the Virgin are followed by Alie lectiones de nostra Domina per annum (‘Other readings for Our Lady during the year’, pp. 542–550), ending with Suffragia ad matutinas (‘Prayers for matins’, pp. 550–551) and Suffragia ad vesperas (‘Prayers for vespers’, pp. 551–552).

Proprium de sanctis/Sanctorale (pp. 553–898)
The proper texts for the office of the Saints, i.e. the changing texts for the fixed feasts of the saints celebrated on the same date every year, start with the Vigil of St. Andrew (Vigilia beati Andree) on 29 November and ends with St. Catherine (Sancte Katherine virginis et martyris) on 25 November almost a year later, and corresponds thus to the cycle of the temporale. Among the Norwegian and Scandinavian saints found in the breviary, we find the following: St. Halvard (pp. 658–659), St. Erik (of Sweden, pp. 659–662), Sanctorum in Selio (St. Sunniva and her followers, pp. 707–713), St. Olav (pp. 731–754, introduced on p. 732 by the same woodcut as on p. 2, but with different pictures below), St. Bridget (Birgitta of Sweden, pp. 821–825), Spinea corona (‘the crown of thorns’, pp. 852–856). The legend of the office of the crown of thorns concerns a relic that arrived in Norway under King Magnus Lagabøter in 1274 and is only known from the Nidaros breviary (Storm 1880, xxxv–xxxvii with edition pp. 161–162).

The sanctorale is followed by the office In dedicatione ecclesie (‘For the dedication of the church’, pp. 877–882), and then the proper offices of St. Joseph (pp. 882–890), King Canute (Knut) of Denmark, pp. 890–894, with a reference to the usus Lundensis, the ‘use of Lund’), and finally Historia de Sancto Suithuno (‘History of St. Swithun’, patron saint of Stavanger, pp. 894–898).The collect prayer Deus qui iubar is the pre-conquest Winchester one, which was extremely rare after 1066 (Hohler 1967, 25). The three proper offices at the end of the sanctorale are probably an addition to the breviary since the two first saints (St. Joseph and St. Canute) are not part of the calendar and the office of St. Swithun here is found in a more extensive version than in the office for his translation at the proper place of the breviary (pp. 719–720).

Aue nobilissima virgo Maria (p. 899)
The last prayer of the breviary is ‘St. Bernard’s prayer to the Virgin’. It is introduced with a representation of the Virgin with the Child sitting between two angels, one playing the flute and the other a string instrument.

Letter on the printing from Hans Reff to Walkendorf (p. 900)
The initial of the letter dated 1 July is a woodcut with the Norwegian national coat of arms with the inscription Arma regni Norue(gie) (‘The kingdom of Norway’s coat of arms’).

Colophon (p. 901) on the final page indicates the names of the Parisian printers of the breviary and the day the printing was completed (4 July 1519). After the colophon there is information on the quires with indication of their letters (A–U), necessary to collate the volume correctly.

On the edition

The frequent abbreviations of the original print, common also in medieval manuscripts, are expanded without further notice (one exception is mentioned below). The orthography in this edition follows closely the print of 1519.

Notable deviations from standard classical Latin orthography are the following: Majuscle U is used for U and V, which is the tendency in the original. Minuscle v is used for u and v initially (e.g., vnde), whereas minuscule u is used for both letters in other positions (e.g., vniuersis). The classical diphthongs ae and oe are spelled e in the original and in the transcription, as could be exspected. For classical i, j is sometimes used, (e.g., eijcient, breuiarij).

In order to facilitate reading, we have used what may be referred to as a syntactic punctuation.The principle basically follows the model of Sten Eklund in his editions of the Opera minora of St. Bridget (Eklund 1972, 1975, and 1991). Subordinate clauses (noun clauses and adverbial clauses) are separated by commas. Moreover, commas are inserted between asyndeta and before appositions. Commas are used in connection with addresses in the vocative case. For the punctuation of the printed book of 1519, we refer to the digitised versions available on the websites of libraries holding copies of it and to the facsimile edition (Børsum 1964).

One passage requires special comment (p. 14 in the original):


This is a mnemonic poem for remembering the texts in the liturgy from Trinity to Advent. If read out in its abbreviated form, it consists of three hexameter lines:According to Gjerløw, there are four hexameter lines (Gjerløw 1986, 52), but this is mistaken.

Post domini. trini. Deus est historia prima,
In prin. dat Petrus, Egidi. Si bona, Crux Pe.
Rem. dat Adaperiat, Omnes sancti quoque Uidi.

If the abbreviations are expanded, however, as we have chosen to do in the edition, the metre is, naturally, lost. As these lines are intended to be read as hexameter, we have decided to mark the expansions with brackets in this particular case:

Post domini(cam) trinita(tatis) Deus est historia prima,
In prin(cipio) dat Petrus, Egidi(us) Si bona, Crux Pe(to)
Rem(igius) dat Adaperiat, Omnes sancti quoque Uidi.

The pagination in Arabic numerals applied by Lilli Gjerløw, which is also used in this introduction, as well as the signatures of the quires in the original book, are added in the margins of the e-book. The original has no foliation or pagination.

Conventional signs
‹ › surrounds additions made by the editor.
† † surrounds unintelligible words or passages.


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Breviarium Nidrosiense. Facsimile edition 1964. Oslo: Børsums forlag og antikvariat.

Buvarp, Hans & Baltzer M. Børsum. 1964. Appendix to Breviarium Nidrosiense. Oslo: Børsums Forlag og Antikvariat.

Eklund, Sten (ed.). 1972. Sancta Birgitta: Opera minora II: Sermo angelicus. Samlingar utgivna av Svenska fornskriftsällskapet, Ser. 2, Latinska skrifter. Lund: Almqvist & Wiksell.

—. Opera minora I: Regula Salvatoris. Samlingar utgivna av Svenska fornskriftsällskapet, Ser. 2, Latinska skrifter. Lund: Almqvist & Wiksell.

—. 1991. Sancta Birgitta: Opera minora III: Quattuor orationes. Samlingar utgivna av Svenska fornskriftsällskapet, Ser. 2, Latinska skrifter. Lund: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Fæhn, Helge. 1955. ‘Gudstjenestelivet i Nidaros domkirke i middelalderen’. In Arne Fjellbu et al., Nidaros erkebispestol og bispesete 1153–1953, 599–631. Oslo: Forlaget Land og kirke.

Gjerløw, Lilli, ed. 1968. Ordo Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae. Libri liturgici provinciae Nidrosiensis medii aevi II. Oslo: Norsk Historisk Kjeldeskrift-Institutt.

—, ed. 1979. Antiphonarium Nidrosiensis Ecclesiae. Libri liturgici provinciae Nidrosiensis medii aevi III. Oslo: Norsk Historisk Kjeldeskrift-Institutt.

—. 1986. ‘The Breviarium and the Missale Nidrosiense (1519)’. In From Script to Book: A Symposium, eds. Hans Bekker-Nielsen, Marianne Børch & Hans Algot Sørensen, 50–77. Odense: Odense University Press.

Hamre, Lars. 1943. Erik Valkendorf. Trekk av hans liv og virke. Bergen: John Griegs Forlag.

Hareide, Sigurd & Elise Kleivane. 2014. ‘Kommentar til oversettelsen, manuskriptene og innholdet’. In Kristin Norseth, Elise Kleivane & Sigurd Hareide, Messuskýringar. Norrøne messeforklaringer i norsk oversettelse’. Festskrift til førsteamanuensis Jan H. Schumacher, pp. 155–185. Oslo: St. Olav forlag.

Harper, John. 1991. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century. A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hohler, Christopher. 1967. ‘Remarks on the early cathedral of Stavanger and related buildings’. Universitetets Oldsaksamling. Årbok 1963–1964, pp. 7–52. Oslo.

Hughes, Andrew. 1995. Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office. A guide to their organization and terminology. Corrected reprint. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lewis, Charlton T. & Charles Short. 1879. A Latin Dictionary. Reprint 1917. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Nielsen, Lauritz. 1919. Dansk Bibliografi 1482–1550 med særligt Hensyn til Dansk Bogtrykkerkunsts Historie. København & Kristiania: Gyldendalske Boghandel.

Kolsrud, Oluf. 1919 ‘Vår eldste trykte bok. Breviarium Nidrosiense. Paris 1519.’ Norsk boktrykk kalender, anden aargang 129–152. Kristiania: Den typografiske forenings fagkomité.

Schjoldager, Astrid. 1927. Bokbind og bokbindere i Norge inntil 1850. Oslo: Aschehoug.

Schumacher, Jan Henrik. 2015. Kirkehistorisk latinleksikon. Begreper fra middelalderens kirke- og klosterliv. 2. utgave. Oslo: Spartacus.

Skovgaard-Petersen, Karen. (forthcoming) 2019. ‘Bogtryk og opdagelsesrejser i kirkens tjeneste – Ærkebiskop Erik Valkendorf som forfatter og bogudgiver’. In Ruth Hemstad, Anne Birgitte Rønning & Aasta Marie Bjorvand Bjørkøy, Litterære verdensborgere: Norsk bokhistorie i transnasjonalt perspektiv, 1519–1850. Nota bene. Oslo: Nasjonalbiblioteket.

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Om Breviarium Nidrosiense

Breviarium Nidrosiense and Missale Nidrosiense appeared in print in 1519 and were the first books to be printed for Norwegian use. The books were printed on the initiative of Archbishop Erik Valkendorf in Nidaros, and were meant to provide a standardised liturgy for the Catholic province of Nidaros – which at that time comprised Norway, Iceland, and the Faroes – and to replace the old, handwritten books which were difficult to read and whose content had become obsolete. The content of the two books reflects 500 years of liturgical development in Norway.

The missal was meant to be used in all churches of the province, whereas the breviary was intended for the clergy and their daily celebration of the divine office on the eight canonical hours. The two books supplemented each other and covered the central parts of the liturgy.

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