(active early 9th century in Aachen)

Gospels of Saint-Médard de Soissons

around 810
Manuscript (Ms. lat. 8850), 362 x 267 mm
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

Charlemagne had assembled a staff of scribes and miniaturists at his palace in Aachen, and they were responsible for a number of manuscripts, of which the Godescalc Gospels is thought to be the earliest. Eight of the magnificent works produced by this court school have survived entire, along with a fragment of another. The latest of these, the Soissons Gospels and the Lorsch Gospels date from the early ninth century. This group of manuscripts is referred to as the Group of the Vienna Coronation Gospels.

Gospels of Saint Médard was gifted by Emperor Louis I the Pious, son of Charlemagne (reigned 813-840) and his queen Judith to the church of Saint-Médard in Soissons in 827. The manuscript with 239 folios, especially rich in its decorations, was originally in the possession of Charlemagne. It contains the four gospels in Latin, 6 full-page miniatures and 12 canon tables.

The Soissons Gospels, produced in the closing years of Charlemagne's life, is the most stupendous of the Group of the Vienna Coronation Gospels. It shows the "style Charlemagne" at its peak.

The picture shows the famous miniature on folio 6v. It represents the spring of life from which the four streams of paradise flowed. Against an architectural backdrop we see a circular temple enclosing an octagonal spring. All around are animals and fowl. The cross is positioned atop an arch that surmounts the pillars of the temple. In it is a gem bearing the image of Apollo, who was related to Christ in the early centuries of Christianity. The stag and doe, the stork, the white swan and the two goats are related to the spring of life, and to the baptismal symbolism associated with it.