The eighth-century Codex Eyckensis is a Gospel Book based on two constituent manuscripts that were bound as a single codex from (presumably) the twelfth century until 1988. The Codex Eyckensis is the oldest book in Belgium. Since the eighth century it has been kept and preserved on the territory of the present-day municipality of Maaseik, in Belgium (hence the name "Eyckensis"). The book was probably produced in the scriptorium in the Abbey of Echternach.
Descriptions of manuscript A and manuscript B
The Codex Eyckensis consists of two evangelistaries on 133 parchment folios measuring 244 by 183 mm each.
The first manuscript (Codex A) is incomplete. It consists of five folios, opening with a full-page Evangelist portrait (presumably depicting Saint Matthew), followed by an incomplete set of eight Canon Tables. The Evangelist portrait is rendered in Italian-Byzantine style, which is clearly related to that of the Barberini Gospels currently kept in the Vatican Library (Barberini Lat. 570). The portrait is framed in a border of Anglo-Saxon knotwork, comparable to the decoration elements in the Lindisfarne Gospels.
The Canon Tables provide an overview of corresponding passages in the four Gospels. In this way, the Canon Tables serve as table of contents and index to ease access to the texts. The Canon Tables in manuscript A are decorated with columns and arcades, the symbols of the four Evangelists and portraits of saints.
The second manuscript (Codex B) contains a full set of twelve Canon Tables and all four Gospel texts in Latin. The Canon Tables are embellished with columns and arcades, depictions of Apostles and the Evangelists’ symbols. The Gospel texts are written in a rounded form of the insular minuscule, which was characteristic of British and Irish manuscripts from the seventh and eighth centuries, but was also used in mainland Europe. The initial capital of each paragraph is outlined with red and yellow dots. The text was copied by a single scribe.
The Gospel text is a version of the Vulgate, mostly as translated by Saint Jerome (Hieronymus of Stridon, 347–420 CE), with a number of additions and transpositions. Comparable versions of the Gospel texts can be found in the Book of Kells (Dublin, Trinity College, ms 58), the Book of Armagh (Dublin, Trinity College, ms 52) and the Echternach Gospels (Paris, Bnf, ms Lat.9389).
History (origin to 20th century)
The Codex dates from the eighth century and was first kept at the former Benedictine abbey of Aldeneik, which was consecrated in 728 CE. The Merovingian nobles Adelard, Lord of Denain, and his wife Grinuara founded this abbey for their daughters Harlindis and Relindis in “a small and useless wood" near the river Meuse. The convent was named Eyke (“oak”), for the oak trees that grew there. Later, as the neighbouring village of Nieuw-Eyke (“new oak”—present-day Maaseik) grew and became more important, the name of the original village became Aldeneik (“old oak”). Saint Willibrord consecrated Harlindis as the first abbess of this religious community. After her demise, Saint-Boniface consecrated her sister Relindis as her successor.
The Codex Eyckensis was used at the convent to study and also to promulgate the teachings of Christ. Both evangelistaries that now constitute the Codex Eyckensis were presumably brought from the Abbey of Echternach to Aldeneik by Saint Willibrord.
The two manuscripts were merged into one binding, most likely in the course of the twelfth century.
In 1571 the abbey of Aldeneik was abandoned. From the middle of the tenth century, the Benedictine nuns had been replaced by a collegiate chapter of male canons. With the increasing threat of religious war, the canons took refuge in the walled town of Maaseik. They brought the church treasures from Aldeneik—including the Codex Eyckensis—to Saint Catherine’s church.
For centuries, people were convinced the Codex Eyckensis had been written by Harlindis and Relindis, the first abbesses of the abbey of Aldeneik, who were later canonized. Their hagiography was written down in the course of the ninth century by a local priest. This text mentions that Harlindis and Relindis had also written an evangelistary. In the course of the ninth century the cult of the relics of the saintly sisters became increasingly important and included the veneration of the Codex Eyckensis, which inspired deep reverence as a work produced by Harlindis and Relindis themselves.
However, the final lines of the second manuscript refute this explicitly: Finito volumine deposco ut quicumque ista legerint pro laboratore huius operis depraecentur (At the completion of this volume, I ask all who read this to pray for the worker who made this manuscript). The male form laborator (“worker”) clearly indicates that the person who wrote the manuscript was a man.
A comparative analysis performed in 1994 by Albert Derolez (University of Ghent) and Nancy Netzer (Boston College) has revealed that manuscript A and manuscript B both date from the same period, that it is highly probable that both were created at the scriptorium of the abbey of Echternach and that they may even have been produced by the same scribe.
Conservation and restoration attempt of 1957
In 1957 an attempt to conserve and restore the Codex Eyckensis was made by Karl Sievers, a restorer from Düsseldorf. He removed and destroyed the 18th-century red velvet binding and then proceeded to laminate all folios of the manuscript with Mipofolie. Mipofolie is a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) foil, externally plasticized with dioctyl phthalate. With the passing of time, this foil produced hydrochloric acid which attacked the parchment and had a yellowing effect on the foil itself. The transparency and colour of the parchment were affected, and polymers present in the foil could migrate to the parchment and render it brittle. After the lamination, Sievers rebound the codex. To be able to do so, he cut the edges of the folios, which resulted in fragments of the illumination being lost. In a new extensive restoration effort between 1987 and 1993 the Mipofolie lamination was meticulously removed by a team of the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, led by the chemist Dr Jan Wouters. For the restoration of the folios after the removal of the laminate, an innovative parchment leafcasting technique was developed. To complete the restoration, the two constituent manuscripts of the Codex were bound separately.
Documentation and digitisation
The oldest photographic documentation of the Codex Eyckensis dates from approximately 1916 (Bildarchiv Marburg). On the occasion of the restoration, the manuscript was photographed at the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK–IRPA). A facsimile was published in 1994.
In 2015, the Codex Eyckensis was digitised on site in Saint Catherine’s church by the Imaging Lab and Illuminare – Centre for the Study of Medieval Art | KU Leuven. This project was led by Prof. Lieve Watteeuw. The high-resolution images were made available on line in cooperation with LIBIS (KU Leuven).
The Codex Eyckensis was recognised and protected as immovable heritage in 1986. In 2003 the Codex Eyckensis was recognised as a Flemish Masterpiece.
In the course of 2016–2017 a team of researchers from Illuminare – Centre for the Study of Medieval Art | KU Leuven (Prof. Lieve Watteeuw) and the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (Dr. Marina Van Bos) will again study the Codex Eyckensis.
Further information, regularly updated, is available on the websites of the Maaseik Museums www.codexeyckensis.be, the Book Heritage Lab-KU Leuven https://theo.kuleuven.be/apps/press/bookheritagelab/, and the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK–IRPA) http://www.kikirpa.be/EN/1/61/Home.htm.
- The Codex Eyckensis on www.codexeyckensis.be
- The Codex Eyckensis, online high-resolution images on LIBIS
- The Codex Eyckensis on BALaT – Belgian Art Links and Tools (KIK-IRPA, Brussels)
- The Codex Eyckensis on Erfgoedplus
- The Codex Eyckensis on www.museamaaseik.be
- The Codex Eyckensis on Europeana
- The Codex Eyckensis in the early 20th century in the Marburg Bildarchiv, Deutsches Dokumentationszentrum für Kunstgeschichte
- The Codex Eyckensis before and after the restoration in the late 20th century, on the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage website
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maaseik Gospel Book.|
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In 1957, the parchment of the Codex Eyckensis (8th century) was systematically laminated with the commercial plastic film, Mipofolie.
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High-level destructiveness analysis of synthetic membranes without touching the 8th century parchment of the Codex Eyckensis revealed a polyvinylchloride polymer with 30 % (w/w) monomeric plasticizer;
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In the '60s, people believed in the eternal existence of plastics
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After just a few decades, the laminate had itself decayed, accelerating the destruction of the manuscripts. In 1990, a team led by Jan Wouters of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels had to painstakingly peel away the PVC film (The Paper Conservator, vol 19, p 5).
- Wouters, J., Gancedo, G., Peckstadt, A., Watteeuw, L. (1992). The conservation of the Codex Eyckensis: the evolution of the project and the assessment of materials and adhesives for the repair of parchment. The Paper Conservator 16, 67-77.
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- nl:Codex Eyckensis
- (in French) J. Gielen, "Evangélaire d'Eyck du VIIIe siècle", Bulletin Koninklijke Commissie voor Kunst en Oudheden, 30, 1891, pp. 19–28.
- (in French) D. De Bruyne, "L'évangéliaire du 8e s., conservé à Maeseyck", Bulletin de la Société d'Art et d'Histoire du Diocèse de Liège, 17, 1908, pp. 385–392.
- Christian Coppens, Albert Derolez, Hubert Heymans, Codex Eyckensis: An Insular Gospel Book from the Abbey of Aldeneik (Maaseik Town Council, c1994). ISBN 9002197764