Pangur Ban MSS Still in Existence?

Seeing as there’s all these manuscripts online, it occurs to me to wonder what the heck happened to Pangur Ban’s manuscript, and what the actual name and page number of the bloody thing is, or was. Now, if life was easy, I would just ask some Celtic literature professor and she’d show me her slides on her webpage. Failing that, I’d have a book of nifty cool facsimiles. But life is not easy. So I am about to go on a long and involved search engine quest. Skip to the bottom if you don’t care about my pain and just want to know answers.

And yes, I could go and look up “Pangur Ban” on Wikipedia, but where’s the fun in that? (I usually would. It would be saner. But today I won’t.)

The info I start with is that the manuscript was written in the margins of a copy of the epistles of St. Paul found at the Monastery of St Paul, apparently on Reichenau, a lake island in Germany. Or maybe in Carinthia. Ehhhh? (This is the info being given out in the pdf packets for Irish schoolchildren associated with The Secret of Kells movie. Apparently they didn’t look it up on Wikipedia, either.)

A bit of searching on Reichenau mss tells me that all their manuscripts were apparently moved to the Landsbibliothek in Karlsruhe, which is actually named the Bayerische Landsbibliothek. I also found an article full of academic online bitching about the wanton destruction of Carolingian bindings in the rebinding process, and that tons of Reichenau manuscripts were destroyed in whole or part by some kind of fire.

Cue ominous music. I think I see where this is going. Especially since the Bayerische library has all the Reichenau stuff catalogued as “fragments”. (If that doesn’t make your gut twist, nothing will.) I’m not sure I have the heart to go through all the fragments online, especially since I have no idea what the Pangur page would look like. (And I’m not kidding about how bad I am at reading medieval handwriting. Even the Carolingian kind.)

After a lot of futzing around, I found a copy on of Windisch’s Irische Texte, which is apparently what brought “Pangur Ban” to scholarly attention. (I’ve never even seen a copy of Irische Texte before. Heck, it never occurred to me to look for the thing in a catalog! Man, this Interwebs thing really is amazing….)

And cue the joyful trumpets! Irische Texte says that the Codex St. Pauli, containing “Pangur Ban”, was at Klosters St. Paul at Unterdrauberg in Kaernthen (Carinthia). Aha! It wasn’t at Reichenau at all! It lives! (Maybe!)

At this point, if I could read German or if Google Translate could translate pdfs, I would probably be well on the road. But it might be faster to find a modern source than to type in pages and pages of German.

So I futz around some more, and find a page with a bunch of articles cited by a guy/gal named O Croinin. (Daibhi, another page says, so a guy. He is obviously Rightminded and Decent, as he is also editor of a songbook containing the entire repertoire of a traditional singer named Bess Cronin, as well as a 2-CD set of field recordings. Dang. None of my professors were ever that rightminded.) It is all part of The History of the Irish Book Project. That sounds promising; but first, some magic manuscript citation numbers connected with the Codex S. Pauli: “25.2.31 olim 25.d.86”.

Back to the search engine. Where is Unterdrauberg, anyway? A mineralogical page informs me of the existence of dravite, some kind of rock found in Dravograd, Slovenia. Which is the new name of Unterdrauberg in Slovenia, not in Carinthia in Austria. (Phew! We didn’t need any extra placenames.)

At this point, I begin to see some daylight. A page about the Irish-language literature of America (fascinating!) discloses not only some amazing unknown facts about “I am Raftery the poet”, but also about the Codex St. Pauli.

“There is a fragmentary ninth century manuscript belonging to the monastery of St. Paul, Unterdrauberg (in southern Austria). Preserved in that manuscript, along with a Virgil commentary and some Greek paradigms, are Irish language poems – including the little poem about the scholar and his cat, Pangur Ban – perhaps noted down by a bored monkish copyist. That poem had no readership, and no influence, for one thousand years – until it was published by Stokes and Strachan in 1902.

“It is now the most famous poem in the Irish language, and one of the best known and the best loved poems in the world – the various translations have been much anthologised, and practically every Irish poet has made her or his version.”

Next, on an art blog, we find a description of the actual physical appearance of the Codex.

“Strangely though, my imagination has been completely captivated by a comparatively small, unadorned assemblage of odd sheets of vellum called The St. Paul Irish Codex (or more formally: MS: Unterdrauberg, Carinthia, Kloster St. Paul 25.2.31). This manuscript was the personal notebook of an Irish scribe working in the early ninth century, most likely in the scriptorium at Reichenau, an island monastery on Lake Constance located between Germany and Switzerland. It contains no color other than the deep brown of the ink, and no illumination of any kind, yet it seems to me to reveal more about at least this one personality behind the long labor of creating illuminated manuscripts.

“This un-named monk assembled what discarded pieces of vellum he could gather together and used his notebook to jot down interesting text he came across in his daily work (incidentally, the size of this notebook is very close to a large size Moleskine). Written in a very tight script you will find bits of grammar, animal lore, an incantation, and an endearing poem in Old Irish about a monk and his cat named Pangur Bán, all on the same page. Throughout the other pages of the notebook are excerpts written in Greek, an astrological table, and notes on logic, metaphysics and etymology, among other topics.”

Yay! We have an explanation for the Reichenau thing. We have magic call numbers. We even know what the thing is and what it looks like.

It is at this point, when you’re pages deep into a search engine and already know most of your answers, that you find the Really Useful Sources. So now I find a book of an inaugural Celtic studies lecture of a lecture series. Its entertaining title is Three Men in a Boat, which I wouldn’t have understood as a reference back when the lecture was given in 1996. Anyway, he says that the Codex S. Pauli is more popularly known as the “Reichenau Schoolbook”, that it left Reichenau in 1800, that it is now in the monastic library of Sankt Paul im Lavanttal (in Unterdrauberg, in Carinthia), and that it’s doubtful that any living Celticist has even looked at the thing in the parchment-flesh. (Which is more than a bit sad. Take a vacation, unfairly lucky European academic people.)

Now I want some pictures. Here is Oberdrauberg, Spittal an der Drau, Carinthia, Austria, on the map. Unterdrauberg is presumably nearby. I notice that “tal” thing showing up again, and wonder what it means.

Over to Google Translate, which tells me that it means “dale” or “valley”. Ha! So Oberdrauberg is in Spitdale, so to speak, and our monastery of interest is in Lavantdale! And what’s this on the Google map but a little picture labeled Lavant? Oh, well, no useful info, but some pretty mountain village church pictures. Back to the search engine.

Here’s a page for <a href=”“>Sankt Paul im Lavanttal, with some interesting pictures and the info that the place is an Apple Paradise. It’s a town as well as a monastery, you see. But here’s the monastery’s Wikipedia page (the English version, anyway). It’s the oldest monastery in Carinthia still in operation. More good news! It also houses a vast collection of great art as well as huge numbers of books and manuscripts. Pangur Ban is not only in good hands; he’s not even lonely. The monks also make fine wines, brandy, and schnapps, and offer winery tours as well as having a restaurant, a museum, and other amenities for visitors.

Crimony! Why aren’t the academics visiting?? I want to visit now! For several weeks!

And now we close in. The abbey has a website. What does it hold? Here’s a picture of the library on its little webpage. But alas! “Pangur Ban” isn’t important enough to get his picture on the website! But then, neither are the minnesang mss, so I guess I can’t complain of prejudiced treatment.

There’s a special exhibition in their museum this year, though, and it’s on the power of the word and monasticism. So I bet if you go, you’ll see Pangur for sure.

If you can’t go, and you speak German, they have an online shop with tons of books and monastery products, as well as a few history/art videos. (The English side of the online shop doesn’t seem to be working.) All this restaurant and shop stuff is apparently managed by a tourism promotion and preservation group called Via Imperialis. So I guess the monks outsource this stuff, or it’s some kind of co-op.

Okay, now I’m going to search for mss pictures. Surely somebody has some slides.

Sadly, that art blog did in fact link to a picture of the Codex at one time, but the German university’s picture is no longer there. Poking around does yield me a different German name for the manuscript: “Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Paul 25.2.31 (St. Paul Irish Codex)”. This yields some results, including yet another style of citation: “St. Paul im Lavanttal (Kaernten), Stiftsbibliothek”. Honestly, it’s enough to make your eyes cross, and I still don’t get any joy from any of it.

So I go back and look at the broken university link, and find the name “Reichenauer Schulheft”. Plug it into the search engine. Hit Return.

Suddenly, a world of images and info opens before me. This is the search term I was missing — the original German version of “Reichenau Schoolbook”.

Here are beautiful pictures of the pages of the Reichenauer Schulheft, aka the Codex S. Pauli. They were taken in 1998, so the lecturer from 1996 wasn’t lying. (Apparently academics can take a hint.) This is the page the previous blog linked to, before it moved. There’s no text file, though, so be prepared to read this Irish guy’s handwriting without any study aids. (There’s probably a transcription of the whole thing in some book somewhere.)

Here’s the cover, as presently bound. Here’s yet another name and citation for the book, if you can believe it.

And here, at last, are the two pages containing “Messe ocus Pangur Ban”. You will find the poem at the bottom of the page on the left.

The Codex is also known Reichenau Primer. Wikimedia has a slightly different photo of the Pangur Ban page.

So it’s been a long quest, mostly because I didn’t follow up the right hints quickly enough. (Also, because I didn’t cheat and look up “Pangur Ban” on Wikipedia.) But I learned some interesting stuff and had some fun, and I did reach my goal. And now you know what kind of stuff I spend my Sunday afternoons doing.


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16 responses to “Pangur Ban MSS Still in Existence?

  1. Joy

    If I ever decide to be a real Medieval lit major again and write something in that field, I’m going to cheat and pay you to do my research.

  2. Alison

    Here’s a link to Jim Marchand’s page, which includes the MS info:

  3. My Dear Whoever you are,

    Who are you? Pangur Ban, come back? Pangur’s agent?

    What a beautiful job you did with your PBan research. (…”pursuing learning.”) As I read your piece, my information (& some confirmation) grew, as did my sense of warm gratitude to you. An open and disciplined mind at work, and curious. I like the phrase “I think I see where this is going…” I & we should use that more often: it’s new, but –it seems to me– it’s an important sense for us to invoke, adrift as we all seem to be in these times. Or seas.

    I am quite familiar with Pangur Ban; ran it off as a lad at school in Cobh, and later did my own translation, seeking to stick to the original meanings, or at least more so than the many translations I encountered, many of them by wellknown Irish poets, who did those familiar double-translations –the first, into English; the second, into their own trademark schtick (which, of course, we love them for. Some of us.) My little version I put out years ago –a handmade calligraphed dual-language, facing-page translation miniature, w. a lino-cut Pangur on the cover. It’s a lovely little book –even if ISSM– and if you send me an address I’ll send you one –in gratitude for your research and your…way with words. (Anyone interested to see my own work may visit my site at the URL given above.)
    My PBan research was all pre-digital. I found all those Strachens and Windisches at the Holy of Holies ( The NYPL Research & Rare Book rooms). But not your discovery of the original notebook –a giddy, dizzy even, moment for me when I first beheld it.
    The meaning of “Pangur”? My best inf. is that it is a Welsh word meaning “fuller” –that being a medieval occupation, involved in the of treating wool. You may be familiar with “fuller’s earth”, which is still around today. One of its original medieval functions was to bleach the wool.
    You know where this is going: it was the “bleaching” that I took as my explanation of…why “Pangur” Ban.

    By the way, you may be amused to learn –though your research will probably have informed you of this already– that one of the modern, commercial uses of “fuller’s earth” is in….Kitty Litter! There’s a true sense of Poetic Justice for you.
    Allowing Pangur (with, no doubt, that wily old consultant Puss-in-Boots now in charge of his affairs) to move into a substantial lakefront property on Lake Reichenau.

    Again, my thanks.
    Malachi McCormick ( The Stone Street Press: Handmade Books.)

  4. Bernice Pasquier

    So Pangur Ban was probably a white cat?.
    if you visit Reichenau you will see fields and fields of cabbages? vegies? around the monastery; and in the well tilled fields, many cats still patiently waiting for a fieldmouse to move a whisker…. perhaps descendants of our feline friend

  5. The cats of Reichenau…. sounds like a story, doesn’t it?

  6. kenfletcher

    The mouse is captured. 83

  7. ciarán ó meachair

    thanks so much. beautiful. go rabih maith agat.

  8. Pingback: Pangur Bán, el gat i el clergue | Vademècum

  9. No Angry Teen

    Tal does mean valley, but it’s just coincidence that Spittal ends in the letters “tal”. “Spittal” actually means “hospital”.

  10. Thank you SO MUCH for all this fun info. on your Quest re. Pangur Bán. I am thrilled. I am an Irish woman from Kilkenny. In Ireland, Kilkenny people, especially we who follow our county hurling team -which is in effect the whole county, are called ´the Cats´. In addition, I am now fortunate enough to live in Allensbach, southern Germany… a mear swim away from Reichenau Island. So your digging has confirmed for me that Pangur Bán is indeed connected with Reichenau..

  11. P.S. Up the Cats, We made six in a row winning the All Ireland Hurling Final this year!

    P.S. UP THE CATS again!

  12. You can see it here!


  13. Pingback: From the world pool: March 20, 2015 |

  14. Pingback: Tracking down the “real” Pangur Ban on the World Wide Web – The Neverwert Press Blog

  15. Franc Bell

    You might like to look at the website of the Monastic Library of Saint Gall. David Gantz provides an explanation of the role of the librarian and how the studies of the monks were organised at that time.
    Tour of the Libraries of Reichenau and Saint Gall
    The Libraries, Librarians and Library Catalogues of Reichenau and Saint Gall
    Towards the end of the fourth paragraph, after the mention of Hildemar, he gives you an idea of what was expected of a young monk in the course of his studies and I think it also gives you a valuable insight into what must have been the mindset of the writer of this poem.

  16. Franc Bell

    I forgot to mention that there is the CODECS/Van website where you can find useful reference pages on both Messe ocus Pangur ban and the Reichenau Primer.

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