Dr Bernhard Zeller

Móengal-Marcellus at St. Gallen

Móengal-Marcellus was maybe the most famous (and, therefore, best researched) early medieval Irishman who stayed at the monastery of St Gall (in modern Switzerland). The main narrative sources for his life are a note in the preface to Notker the Stammerer’s “Metrum de Vita sancti Galli” and Ekkehart’s continuation of the “Casus sancti Galli”, both written more than 150 years later.

According to these sources, in the time of Abbot Grimald and Dean Hartmut (ie: 849–872) Móengal came to St Gall together with his uncle, Marcus, a bishop of Irish origin. Soon after their arrival they decided to stay and to spend the rest of their lives in this monastery. Móengal became a monk at St Gall and was soon called Marcellus (“little Marcus”) by his fellow brothers. His pronounced erudition led him to direct the so-called “inner school” of the monastery, that is to say, the school for oblates and novices.

In several manuscripts we find traces of Marcellus’s erudition and activity at St Gall, but he also wrote four St Gall charters. In my paper, these charters, which date from 853/854 to 860, were analyzed according to their external and internal features (i.e. graphic symbols, script, content, formulae). In all of these areas Marcellus’s charters do not differ significantly from those of other St Gall scribes. The charters document property transfers to the monastery and were all written according to common formulae and in a Caroline minuscule. Only a few elements demonstrate the influence of the (older) Alemannic minuscule and even fewer features (some initials, i attached to preceding letters under the line, uncial d) might point to an insular educational context for Marcellus.

Three other St Gall charters give some evidence of Marcellus’s contact with other monks. However, in only one of these, a charter written by Liuthart, the first attested librarian of the monastery, can we prove a formal connection to one of Marcellus’s charters. In general, there is little evidence that Marcellus influenced the development of the St Gall scriptorium and of the so-called “Hartmut-minuscule”, a typical St Gall script-type which emerged in the second half of the 9th century. According to Bernhard Bischoff, this script-type shows Irish influence. However, as his own charters show, Marcellus adapted his work to local usages and practices.

Thus, palaeographically, Marcellus’s “Irishness” was anything but distinct. Generally, Marcellus’s “Irish identity” seems to have been very much equivalent with being a learned intellectual and teacher. Probably, Marcellus’s most important legacy was the formation of a new generation of monastic scholars and musicians (such as Notker the Stammerer, Ratpert and Tuotilo). This sharing of wisdom with scholars on the European Continent is maybe one of the most important qualities of early medieval (and modern) “Irishness”.

Dr Bernhard Zeller, June 2019
Institut für Mittelalterforschung, ÖAW, Vienna


St Gallen Charter, written by Marcellus in 853/4, https://www.e-chartae.ch

St Gallen, Stiftsarchiv, III 210. Private charter dated 1/2 April 853/4 written by Marcellus, monachus.

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