The Liesborn Gospel Book and its Mysterious Prayer Wheel
The Liesborn Prayer Wheel was discovered recently on the blank first page of a copy of the Liesborn Gospel Book. This was an unusual find in an already rare piece of work. This medieval tome is one of only five known copies with rare first pages in existence. It is due to this, amongst other reasons, that it is considered as one of the most valuable Gospels in the world. The seller’s asking price for the Gospels, for instance, is said to be $ 6.5 million. What is the Liesborn Prayer Wheel, and how did it come to be?
Liesborn Abbey: Controversy on its Founder and its Worldly Nuns
Liesborn is a place located in present day Wadersloh in the district of Warendorf in North Rhine-Wesphalia, Germany. This place is perhaps best known for its former Benedictine abbey, Liesborn Abbey. According to an old tradition, the monastery was founded in 785 AD by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. In the register of deaths of Liesborn, however, two laymen, Bozo and Bardo, are named as the monastery’s founders. It has also been suggested that the monastery was founded in 815 AD.
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Initially, Liesborn Abbey functioned as a convent for women. It is said that over the years, the nuns grew increasingly worldly. As a result, they were expelled in 1131 AD by Egbert, the Bishop of Münster. They were replaced by a community of Benedictine monks who were installed in their convent. Nevertheless, It was during the time when the nuns were in charge of Liesborn Abbey that the Liesborn Gospels were produced.
The Creation of the Unique Liesborn Gospel Book
Based on stylistic details of the text, experts have ascertained that the Liesborn Gospel Book was written towards the end of the 10th century AD. It has also been speculated that the Liesborn Gospel Book was ordered by an abbess by the name of Berthildis for the highborn ladies who entered her convent. During the Middle Ages, Gospel Books were considered to be the physical embodiment of the Word of God, and no expense was spared to provide them with elaborate bindings. The Liesborn Gospel Book was no exception.
The binding of this book shows an image of the Crucifixion carved into a thick piece of oak. Although it has been noted that the present relief is a late 15th century replacement of the original one. Nonetheless, it has been claimed that such a piece of work is extremely rare, and may even be unique. In each corner of the binding is a symbol representing the writers of the Gospels – an angel for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke, and an eagle for John. Originally, the binding was decorated in gold, red, blue and ‘flesh’ colors. Today, only the red and blue remain.
The Liesborn Gospel Book (Les Enluminures)
Written by the Deacon Gerwardus
The name of the craftsman who made this impressive binding has been lost to history. So have the names of many of the scribes who copied the Gospel. Interestingly though, one of the writers decided to leave his signature in the Gospel Book for posterity, an act which is said to be very unusual. At the bottom of page 337, there is a simple code in which the vowels are replaced with consonants. It has been suggested that this was done either to demonstrate some humility or cleverness. The translation of the signature is as such: “The deacon Gerwardus wrote this book in the first year of his ordination.”
The Addition of the Puzzling Prayer Wheel
Whilst the Liesborn Gospel Book was written around the end of the 10th century AD, it has been suggested that the prayer wheel was only added later, sometime during the 12th century. This prayer wheel was written in Latin, and arranged in concentric circles. The outermost circle contains the following instruction, “The order of the diagram written here teaches the return home”. The next circle contains the words “Seven Petitions”, and quotations from the Lord’s Prayer can be found on its spokes. The third circle has the words “Gifts of the Holy Spirit”. These gifts are written in red on the spokes and seven events from the life of Jesus are also written in this circle in black. Seven groups blessed in the Beatitudes occupy the next circle. On the opposite of each group is their reward. At the centre of the wheel is the word ‘Deus’ or ‘God’.
Translated version of the prayer wheel in the Liesborn Gospel Book. (Religion news Service)
The prayer when in the Liesborn Gospel Book is not a completely unique item, as there are four other similar diagrams that are known to have survived to the present. However, no one really knows how they were used. It has been suggested that one way of using this prayer wheel is to focus on the words of each concentric circle, working either from or towards the middle. Another possible way was to follow each spoke of the wheel to focus one’s prayer. Without the instructions from the person who created this prayer wheel, we might never know for certain the way it was intended to be used.
For one of the popular interpretations of the Liesborn Wheel, watch this video:
Featured image: Close-up of the Liesborn Prayer Wheel (Proxy Ponder)
Griffiths, S., 2015. Medieval prayer wheel found inside rare Liesborn Gospel - but how the diagram was used remains a mystery.[Online]
Les Enluminures, 2015. The Liesborn Gospels: Gospel Book.[Online]
Löffler, K., 1910. Liesborn.[Online]
Van Biema, D., 2015. This Medieval Prayer Wheel Is More Than 1,000 Years Old And No One Knows How To Use It.[Online]