The Heidelberg Saxon Mirror (Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel)

The Heidelberg Saxon Mirror, Cod. Pal. germ. 164, was created in eastern Central Germany in the early 14th century and is the oldest of four surviving illuminated manuscripts of this legal text. A wide column of pictures illustrates the legal practices referred to in the text, which address both land and feudal law. This parchment Codex, which has been preserved fragmentarily, now consists of only 30, of what were originally around 90, leaves.

In the first segment on feudal law, the sections 1-10§1 and 14 §3-24 §4 remain, in addition to the sections II 19 §2 - 22 §5, II 48 §12 - III 51 §1 and III 57 §2-91 §3 in the second segment on land law. The text “Von der Herren Geburt”, on fol. 30v, indicated the addition of a younger editor of preface 4 of the Heidelberg Saxon Mirror (Nu vor nemet umme der herren gebuort von deme lande czu sachsen... czu lantrechte noch czu lenrecht). This was originally followed by the present arrangement of the text, beginning with the section on feudal law.

The coloured illustrations are especially vulnerable to flaking and wearing away at the page margins.

The manuscript was in the possession of the Augsburg patrician, Ulrich Fugger. He was obliged to leave his hometown after having converted to Protestantism, generated large debts and consequently, become estranged from his family. Fugger found refuge in Heidelberg with Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate. In 1567, his more than extensive library followed him to the Neckar region. After his death in 1584, clauses in Fugger’s will ensured that his collection of books finally became part of the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg.

For the first time, the Saxon Mirror was stored in the book collections in Heidelberg: in an inventory established in Heidelberg in 1571, the manuscript was described as, „an old on parchment written book of both feudal and general law, inscribed with ‘old Frankish figures.’“.

How the codex came into Fugger’s possession and its history before its acquisition by the Augsburg patrician remain unknown to this day.

However, we do know much of the manuscript’s later history: as part of the Bibliotheca Palatina, the manuscript was taken to Rome in 1623, as a spoil of war. In order to reduce the weight of transporting the collection across the Alps, the wooden-cover binding, in which this codex was presumably bound, was removed, as was done with almost all volumes of the Bibliotheca Palatina. As soon as the Saxon Mirror reached Rome, it, like countless other manuscripts and prints, was rebound with a plain parchment cover. It was not until 1816 that the codex, alongside the 846 other German-language Palatine manuscripts, returned to Heidelberg, where it has since been in the safekeeping of the Heidelberg University Library.

A selection of the extensive research literature on Cod. Pal. Germ 164 can be found in the Heidelberg online catalogue, HEIDI.

Das Faksimile des Heidelberger Sachsenspiegels

In 2009, the Heidelberg codex was produced as a facsimile by the Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz (ADEVA) (The Academic Printing and Publishing Institute, Graz) using modern digital technology. The facsimile edition provides a reproduction of the complete manuscript, in its original format with true-to-original margin trims and, down to the smallest detail, true-to-original colours. The extensive research commentaries shed light on the origin and history of the manuscript in addition to its historical setting. This volume includes a transcription, which follows exactly the original text word for word; a New High German translation supplements the explanations. The comments on the illustration strips printed in parallel to the text explain in detail the content and iconography of each scene.

Eike [von Repgow], Heidelberger Sachsenspiegel. Cod. Pal. germ. 164, Heidelberg University library. Complete facsimile edition in the original format of the Heidelberg Mirror of Saxony, facsimile with text and commentary volume, Graz 2009-2010 (Codices Selecti 115)

Translated by Emily Giles