The present manuscript opens with a so-called Arbor consanguinitatis, a graphic diagram illustrating family relationships. Two more pen drawings present the first two authors, John Chrysostom and Pope Gregory. Both charming drawings reflect unsophisticated warmth, suggesting an experienced hand. There are numerous modest initials painted in red (and some in red and brown) with flower- or checkerboard in-fills. The initials and the pen-drawings are executed in the same ink and are drawn by one hand, presumably by the scribe himself.
Following the Arbor Consanguinitatis, the book consists of homilies or sermons on the Gospels. In all, the codex is a practical handbook for a priest, supporting him in his pastoral functions.
The scribe completed the first section on 29 June 1407, while the second section is dated in 1408, supposedly directly followed by the text of Origen that is also part of the same gathering. The scribe reveals his name at the end of the dated texts: Nicolaus plebanus quondam in pisetink: Nicolas, once vicar in Piestink.
The codex is quite an interesting document not only for the history of the book in Austria, as it is signed and dated and still bears its original, fine binding, but also for the view it offers on its historical, rather tragic, context. Piesting is a small town northwest of Wiener Neustadt. Its medieval church did not survive the upheavals of the 16th century, when much in that region was destroyed during military actions countering the Ottoman westward expansion. The scribe, the former Piesting vicar Nicolaus, may well be the Nicolaus Nicolai mentioned in the charter of the legal procedure, added in the book at hand as flyleaves. Nicolaus also added some personal notes in German on the extremely cold wintertime, prices of food, and the local troubles in Austria and left us therefore an extraordinarily interesting personal document.
Only very few manuscripts from Wiener Neustadt or Piesting have survived. The book at hand is a genuine witness of medieval practices in early 15th-century Austria. As a chained book on the choir or in the library, it was available for study most likely in the medieval cathedral of Our Lady at Wiener Neustadt. The ciseled decoration of the binding is seen as the highest manifestation of the medieval bookbinder’s art, practiced only during the 15th century in southeastern Germany/Austria and in Spain.
Further information on Austrian chained binding in 'cuir-ciselé' technique is available in one of our blog posts.