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‘A small sensation’ at TCD: the Erfurt Enchiridion (1524)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 19 June 2013
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 19 June 2013.

Rare book collections don’t often make the headlines of foreign newspapers, and when they do it is usually for the ‘wrong’ reasons – a spectacular theft, or catastrophic destruction due to fire, flood or earthquake. So it was all the more surprising to find a story in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 19 June describing a pamphlet shelved in the Long Room of Trinity College Library as “a small sensation”.

The pamphlet in question is Enchiridion oder eyn Handbuchlein eynem yetzlichen Christen fast nutzlich bey sich zuhaben  zur stetter vbung vnnd trachtung geystlicher gesenge vnd Psalmen [Enchiridion or little handbook, quite useful for a contemporary Christian to have with him for continuous practice and contemplation of spiritual songs and psalms] (TCD shelfmark C.pp.37 no.6).

Enchiridion oder eyn Handbuchlein eynem yetzlichen Christen fast nutzlich bey sich zuhaben  zur stetter vbung vnnd trachtung geystlicher gesenge vnd Psalmen
Title page of the rediscovered work.

Not exactly a catchy title, but this is nevertheless a very significant item, being the first published collection of Lutheran hymns, issued in Erfurt in 1524. Martin Luther saw hymn-singing as an important means of communicating the message of the Reformation, as well as a way of fostering a sense of community amongst those who espoused his reforms. The hymns he and others composed were instantly popular and spread quickly and widely, first by ‘word of mouth’, but soon in printed form.

Two editions of the Enchiridion were published almost simultaneously in 1524 by two competing Erfurt printers, Johannes Loersfeld and Matthes Maler. Scholars surmise that Maler copied his version from Loersfeld’s incomplete galley proofs (which he may even have stolen!). Both editions show signs of haste in their production so it is likely that they were issued under pressure in order to cash in on strong current demand. The Maler edition contains 26 hymn texts and 15 tunes, the majority written by Martin Luther.

And why is this “a small sensation”? These paper-bound hymnals were intended to be carried around and used regularly, so few survived for long. Only two remaining copies of the Loersfeld edition are known – held in libraries in Goslar (in central Germany) and Strasbourg. It was assumed that the last surviving copy of the Maler edition was destroyed by fire when the City Library in Strasbourg was bombarded during the Franco-Prussian War in August 1870. Luckily this copy had been reprinted in facsimile in 1848, so its contents were still available even if the quality of the reproduction was poor.

Page from the Enchiridion
Page from the Enchiridion.

However, since 1841 TCD has also owned a copy of the Maler edition of 1524, purchased as part of a large collection of publications from the Reformation period. For unknown reasons, this copy is not recorded in the standard bibliography of German hymnals and was therefore unnoticed by international scholars. This came to light in early June during research for the next Long Room exhibition (‘In Tune: a millennium of music in Trinity College Library’, due to open in October). When reported to a leading expert, Dr. Helmut Lauterwasser at the Bavarian State Library, he at first assumed that we must have the 1848 facsimile, but photographs of the title page and colophon quickly convinced him that ours was an original print, and thus a thrilling rediscovery. The book has now been digitised, and has already caused excitement amongst researchers in Germany and the United States.

Roy Stanley, Music Librarian, Trinity College Library Dublin

Have You Registered Yet?

Building Collections: 300 years of the Old Library. Programme. Monday 25th June, 2012. The Thomas Davis Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, followed by a celebratory reception in the Long Room.The full programme is now available for TCD Library’s Tercentenary Conference, ‘Building Collections: 300 years of the Old Library’, which takes place on 25th June.

Featuring internationally renowned speakers, the conference is part of a series of events commemorating the laying of the foundation stone of the Old Library in 1712.

Toby Barnard, Bernadette Cunningham, Jane Ohlmeyer, Marianne Elliott, David McKitterick, Elizabethanne Boran, Charles Benson, and Peter Fox will all be giving papers. And if that’s not enough to entice you to register, delegates are invited to attend a celebratory reception in the Long Room that evening, during which Dr Edward McParland will give an address.

For further details of the conference, or to register online, go to

Quote of the day

“I am lately enterd into my Citadell in a disconsolate Mood, after having passd the better part of a sharp & bitter day in the Damps & mustly [sic] solitudes of the Library without either fire or any thing else to protect Me from the Injuries of the Snow that was constantly driving at the Windows & forceing it’s Entrance into that wretched Mansion, to the keeping of which I was this day sennight elect’d under an inauspiciary Planet.”

– George Berkeley, shortly after having been appointed to the office of Librarian in Trinity, as quoted by Peter Fox in his essay “They glory much in their library”, in Peter Fox (ed.), Treasures of the Library, Trinity College Dublin, (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1986).