The Annals of Quedlinburg: Rare Example of Female Scholarship in Medieval Europe
Mention medieval scholarship , and the first image that most people will have would probably be that of a monk with a quill in his hand and an open book before him. The most well-known scholars of Medieval Europe were males likely to have been in one of the various monastic orders. Female scholars during Medieval Europe were rare, and even if they existed, they are seldom are heard of today. However, there is a piece of writing which was once thought to have been written by a male, but is now recognized as authored by a female scholar. This work is known in Latin as the Saxonicae Annales Quedlinburgenses , which translates into English as the ‘Annals of Quedlinburg.’
Who really wrote The Annals of Quedlinburg?
It has been said that the Annals of Quedlinburg were written between 1008 and 1030 in the German city of Quedlinburg. Whilst we do not know the name of the author of the annals, modern scholars have reached a consensus that the Annals of Quedlinburg were written by a woman. More specifically, this writer belonged to the Quedlinburg Abbey, which was a religious community of women founded by Saint Mathilde in the 10th century AD. In the past, the annals were believed to have been written by one of the abbey’s male associates. This abbey is also said to have been a leading center of education for the female nobles of Saxony. Thus, it was within this atmosphere of scholarship that the Annals of Quedlinburg were written.
Mathilde and her brother Otto on the donor portrait of the Cross of Otto and Mathilde ( Public Domain )
Content of the Annals of Quedlinburg
The Annals of Quedlinburg begins with a world chronicle from the time of Adam until the 3rd Council of Constantinople in 680-681 AD. This part of the annals is said to be based on the chronicles of other Christian writers , including St. Jerome, St. Isidore of Seville, and St. Bede.
Although the Annals of Quedlinburg contain scattered original reports from as early as 852, as well as apparent eyewitness testimony of events happening in and around Quedlinburg, it has been argued that the writing of the annals did not begin until 1008. This is based on the dramatic increase of the quality and detail of the information after that date. Moreover, prior to that year, the narrative took on a retrospective viewpoint.
For the next eight years, the writer of the Annals of Quedlinburg kept detailed records of contemporary events and used them to produce entries for each year until 1016. Between 1016 and 1021, it seems that the project was halted, as there was a decline in the quality and accuracy of the entries for those years when compared to the period between 1008 and 1016. Between 1022 and 1025, the writer continued her project, and the high quality of her work was restored.
The writer continued her project until 1030, when she recorded a military victory over Mieszko II, the king of Poland, by the Holy Roman Empire. The annals stop after 1030, and it has been suggested that the writer was not interested in the events of the 1030s.
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The Importance of the Annals of Quedlinburg for Lithuania
Whilst the Annals of Quedlinburg are an important source for the history of the Ottonian Dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire, it is one piece of ‘trivia’ within the text that perhaps commands the most attention. In the annals, there is an entry which goes like this:
“Sanctus Bruno, qui cognominatur Bonifacius, archiepiscopus et monachus, XI suae conversionis anno in confinio Rusciae et Lituae a paganis capite plexus, cum suis XVIII, VII. Id. Martii petiit coelos.”
“Saint Bruno, alias Bonifacius, archbishop and monk, on the eleventh year of his conversion killed by the pagans together with eighteen companions on 9 March in the Lithuanian and Rus’ borderlands, passed into heaven.”
This is the first known mentioning of the word ‘Lithuania’ in written sources. On the surface, it seems that this name was only connected with St. Bruno’s missionary work in 1009 and does not tell us anything more about Lithuania, hence the classification of this piece of information as ‘trivia’. Yet the Annals of Quedlinburg are not the only written source on the mission of St. Bruno. Using other sources, more light can be shed on the event and increase the significance of this entry in the annals.
The first written instance of the name of Lithuania is in the Annals of Quedlinburg. ( Public Domain )
Thanks to written sources other than the Annals of Quedlinburg, the veracity of St. Bruno’s mission has been confirmed. Thus, it may be taken as a fact that St. Bruno did travel to Lithuania and spread Christianity there. From this event it has been said that “Columbus discovered America and St Bruno discovered Lithuania.”
One other piece of information obtained from other sources is that St. Bruno succeeded in converting a certain ‘King Netimer,’ whose baptism is regarded as the first in Lithuania. This has been viewed by some as the “first real event of Lithuanian history.”
Top image: Quedlinburg Castle and Monastery, Quedlinburg, Germany where the Annals of Quedlinburg were written. ( Public Domain ) Background: The first written instance of the name of Lithuania is in the Annals of Quedlinburg. ( Public Domain )
Baranauskas, T., 2009. On the Origin of the Name of Lithuania. [Online]
Available at: http://www.lituanus.org/2009/09_3_02%20Baranauskas.html
Bumblauskas, A., 2007. 100 Litas Coin from the Series Dedicated to the Millennium of the Mention of the Name of Lithuania. [Online]
Available at: http://www.lb.lt/brochure_millennium1
Lifshitz, F., 2013. The Medieval Review, Giese, Martina, ed. Die Annales Quedlinburgenses.. [Online]
Available at: http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/tmr/article/view/16073/22191
Office of the Seimas, 2006. Lithuania's Name. [Online]
Available at: http://www3.lrs.lt/home/w5_viewer/statiniai/seimu_istorija/w5_show-p_r=4056&p_d=49322&p_k=2.html
Suziedelis, S. A., 2011. Historical Dictionary of Lithuania. 2nd ed. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc..