Codex Eyckensis

dinsdag 13 december 2016

Unique glimpse behind the scenes

Unique glimpse behind the scenes in the research laboratory at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels)

by Marina van Bos, Maaike Vandorpe and Line Raiff.

The Flemish museum consultant Anne Milkers had the opportunity to have look behind the scenes at the pigment investigation of the Codex Eyckensis.  She was guided by Maaike Vandorpe, technical expert at the laboratory of papers, leathers and parchments of the KIK-IRPA. 

Although the Codex Eyckensis is currently being investigated at the Book Heritage Lab of the KU Leuven, Dr. Marina van Bos and Maaike Vandorpe have already started with the first analyses in their KIK-IRPA lab in Brussels. 

Twenty five years ago, prof. Lieve Watteeuw removed the various layers of plastic foil from the parchment.  The foil has been carefully kept at the KIK-IRPA ever since.  The plastic sheets were used in a comparative study to the parchment folios (as shown in the picture). The plastics clearly show pigment residue left from the original parchment folios. This is a blessing in disguise! The pigments and inks on the plastic foil can now be analyzed with the µRaman spectroscopy (see photograph).

This analysis is non-destructive, because it does not require to take a sample of the pigments. The plastic foil will be placed directly under the laser. It is possible to detect red and yellow earth pigments, minium  lead (red) and orpiment (yellow).  At a later stage, complementary but destructive analyses of the pigment residues left on the plastic sheets can give more information on the possible use of organic colors.

In 2017 the old manuscript will be transported to the lab of the KIK-IRPA in Brussels. Here, further investigation with the µRaman spectroscopy and the newest non-destructive analysis by macro XRF mapping, will characterize the pigments and the inks.


maandag 17 oktober 2016

Saint Harlindis and Relindis
By Anja Neskens and Katrien Houbey

In 721, the Frankish nobleman Adelhard founded a convent for his daughters Harlindis and Relindis in Aldeneik. These holey sisters played an important role in spreading Christianity in the 8th century. During the second wave of Christianisation, Benedictine missionaries from England and Ireland spread the word of God on the European Mainland. In Aldeneik Saint Willibrord himself and Saint Boniface consecrated Harlindis and Relindis and probably gave them the Codex Eyckensis to educate the other sisters.
During the building process of the second church in 870 by abbess Ava, first indications of a worship cult appeared. The Carolingian church was built in stone and consecrated by the bishop of Liège, Franco. On this occasion the bones of Saint Harlindis and Relindis were unearthed and exposed in the church. From thad moment on, other objects, like the Codex Eyckensis and the Anglo-Saxon textiles were shown to the greater public as well.
An interesting question: Did they unearth the right bones in the 9th century? Are the remains really from the holey sisters? The archaeological research of 2008 in the Saint Anna Church gives possibilities to investigate this scientific question. During the archaeological investigation no remains were found of the Merovingian church, built in 721. Nevertheless two bureals in full ground were found. This kind of burial is very different from the more recent burials. Next to this grave is a second potential grave with a choir robe pin from the 8th century. Radiocarbon dating will prove if these graves date from the 8th century.
In the 9th century the cult started to spread relics from Saint Harlindis and Relindis. In the church treasures from Saint Catherine in Maaseik, after the translation of the church treasures in 1571 from Aldeneik to Maaseik up until now, there are still a few relics left. The remains out of the main graves, unearthed in the 9th century, were kept in a big iron chest until the 17th century. After the inventory of 1647 the bones were moved into two new wooden chests, commissioned by De Borman-Puytlinck and the brothers Croll from Wurfeld. The chests were opened in 1661, 1794, 1902 en 1930 to take parts of the remains and create relics for the church of Ordingen, the church of Ellikom, the cathedral of Liège and the house of Bethany.
On the 24th of August 2016 the chests and several other relics were reopened and investigated: antropological research, textile research, radiocarbon research, etc. under supervision of Marc Vanstrydonck from the Royal institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels.
The results of the research of the human burials in the Saint Anna Church in Aldeneik and the results of the scientific research of the relics chests of Harlindis and Relindis will be presented on the congress 'Relics @ the Lab" on the 27th and 28th of October in Brussels. Find the program on:


donderdag 29 september 2016

8th-century manuscript  in Leuven for detailed analysis
The 8th-century Codex Eyckensis, the oldest book of the Low Countries, is now in Leuven for further research by the Catholic University of Leuven. The manuscript is part of the religious treasure of Saint-Catherine in Maaseik, and has exceptionally left its home in the crypt for a thorough inspection at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies in Leuven.
The Codex Eyckensis, an illustrated gospel book in Latin, was produced in the 8th century at the Abbey of Echternach. Archbishop Willibrord himself took it to the newly founded Abbey of Aldeneik, near Maaseik, where it later found its final home. Professor Lieve Watteeuw (Book Heritage Lab, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, and Illuminare – Study Centre of Medieval Art, Faculty of Arts): “This means that since the 8th century, the Codex Eyckensis was cared for in the region for which it was originally intended. Whereas similar manuscripts have been scattered over the centuries, ending up in royal collections or musea, the Codex Eyckensis has always remained in its intended place of residence.

Professor Watteeuw’s first encounter with the Codex Eyckensis took place in 1991, when she assisted in the restauration of the manuscript. “Today we have a number of brand-new research techniques at our disposition. These were often developed for other sciences, such as space technology or medicine, but can be applied to heritage studies as well.” The application of those new techniques will enable Professor Watteeuw and her colleagues to study the characteristics of the colour pigments, the dyes and the parchment in detail. “We also hope to find out more about the position of the manuscript at the time of its creation. We know that the Codex Eyckensis fits in with the tradition of Irish monks travelling to the continent as missionaries, but we would like to investigate how exactly the manuscript relates to other books from this era.”
The Codex Eyckensis was digitalized in 2015, in cooperation with the Digital Lab of the KU Leuven University Library. The digital version can be consulted at

zondag 18 september 2016

The historical interpretation

The historical interpretation of the Codex Eyckensis (story of Harlindis and Relindis)
by Annelore Vriens
At the end of the 7th century, several monasteries were founded in the Meuse region as a result of the spread of Christianity.  Young Anglo-Saxon missionaries travelling from current England and Ireland preached the Christian faith and introduced it in the Meuse region from the 6th century. The most famous of them was Saint Willibrord, who travelled with 11 missionaries to our region. In 695, Willibrord became the first bishop of Utrecht. He also played an important role in the story (or should we say history) of the Codex Eyckensis and the monastery of Aldeneik.
The exact foundation date of the monastery of Aldeneik is not known, but can probably be situated between 720 and 730. Unfortunately, no remains have been preserved from that early Merovingian monastery, but the history lives on in the legend of the two founders, the sisters Harlindis and Relindis. They were the daughters of a Frankish nobleman, Adelhard and his wife Grinuara.  The story of their lives is written in the ‘Vita Harlindis and Relindis’. After the religious studies of the sisters in Valenciennes (north of current France), Adelhard founded a monastery for his two pious daughters. In that period it was common that rich families founded monasteries to express their devotion to Christianity.
Politically and historically, we are talking about the end of the Merovingian period and just before the Carolingian period, so before the coronation of Charlemagne in 768 as king of the Francs. In the early 8th century, a male monastery was founded in a town called Susteren (Meuse region), with the support of the rulers, the pippinids. Susteren is sitatuated just east of Maaseik at the Dutch border and a stone’s throw north of St. Odiliënberg, where a monastery was founded in the first half of the 8th century.
In this story we focus on the monastery of Aldeneik near Maaseik. The designation of ‘Aldeneik’ or ‘Oude Eycke’ only came after the foundation of ‘Nieuwe Eycke’ or current ‘Maaseik’ centuries later in 1245.
All we know about the monastery and the sisters Harlindis and Relindis comes to us from the ‘Vita Harlindis et Relindis’. Their biography was written at the end of the 9th century, a century after the estimated death of the sisters.  At that time the wooden church of the monastery was demolished and a new one was built in stone. By this occasion, the bones of the sisters were elevated to relics which contributed to the canonization of Harlindis and Relindis. The original Vita writings were not kept, but were included in the ‘Acta Sanctorum’ written in Latin by the Bollandists in the 16th century. According to these writings two Anglo-Saxon missionaries, Willibrord and Boniface, visited the monastery. Harlindis was consecrated by Willibrord and, after Harlindis’s death, Relindis was consecrated by Boniface. Saint Willibrord was also the head of the nearby Benedictine monastery of Susteren.
Information about the Church treasures of het monastery of Aldeneik can also be found in the Vita: …bright fabrics adorned with gold and pearls, the Gospel books of which the colours were so shining that it seemed they just had been completed, the precious relics of the holy sisters…. And indeed, the Vita signs out that Harlindis and Relindis produced the Casula, the Velamen and the Codex Eyckensis. They learned to weave and write during their stay and training in Valenciennes. The reality is probably different. Willibrord founded a scriptorium in Echternach, Luxembourg in 706. Manuscripts model books, who served as an example for other books, travelled along with the missionaries. Manuscripts are effectively easy transportable artifacts …
So, it is quite possible that, on his journey, Willibrord travelled with manuscripts produced in the scriptorium, such as the Codex Eyckensis for example, to Utrecht and donated them to different monasteries along the road. This explains both the composition of the Codex into two parts: Part A, consisting of only few canon tables and a miniature and part B, consisting of canon tables and four Gospels. On the other hand it also explains the insular influence on the decoration, which is most visible in Part A. ‘Insular’ refers to a descent of the English and Irish Islands because Willibrord had Anglo-Saxon scribes in his scriptorium in Echternach. Part B testifies again the continental tradition. Therefore we could say that the Codex Eyckensis reflects the duality of the identity of the scriptorium of Echternach. The gospel books, written in Latin in a half-uncial script, were probably copied between 730 (estimated foundation date of the monastery of Aldeneik) and 750-760.
The church treasures gave the monastery of Aldeneik a certain prestige and respect in the Meuse region in the 8th century. But still now the Codex Eyckensis, the textiles and the relics are tangible artifacts of the rich history of Aldeneik and Maaseik.

Author: Annelore Vriens, Art Historian

donderdag 2 juni 2016

Codex Eyckensis Online!

The Codex Eyckensis, the oldest illuminated manuscript of the Low Countries,
is available on line!


As “cultural jewel of the Maasland region” the town of Maaseik once more invests in its heritage. For many years now, Saint Catherine’s church has held as its most prized possession an absolute highlight of medieval illumination: the Codex Eyckensis, an exquisitely illuminated Gospel Book dating back to the 8th century. This masterpiece deserves recognition! Over the course of the coming years the town of Maaseik will therefore invest in various projects aimed at increasing the scientific presence and tourist appeal of the Codex Eyckensis. One of these projects is the digitisation of the Codex Eyckensis.

Under the leadership of Professor Lieve Watteeuw and in cooperation with the KU Leuven Imaging Lab (Bruno Vandermeulen) and with the KU Leuven Illuminare – Centre for the study of Medieval Art, the Codex Eyckensis was accurately digitised at very high resolution. A mobile digitisation lab was set up at the church treasury to enable the manuscript to be examined and photographed on site and in optimal circumstances.

We decided to make the 8th-century manuscript available to the Maaseik and Maasland public, but also to give access to a wider national and international audience, as well as to the scientific community. With this purpose in mind, we opted for access via the Mirador Viewer. This viewer enables digital images to be displayed within a working environment and at very high resolution, facilitating the comparison between different images, for example.

In addition we gave a great deal of consideration to the need for the long-term preservation of the digital images, which is one of the major objectives of UNESCO. For this aspect, we were fortunate to be able to appeal to the skills and experience of LIBIS (KU Leuven). The data were uploaded to the Rosetta System, which ensures proper and effective archiving, preservation and access to the files.

To extend this improved availability to the international level, access to the digitised Codex Eyckensis will be provided via the portals of Europeana and Erfgoedplus, and through

In addition to the Codex Eyckensis, there is another, lesser-known 10th-century Gospel Book held in the depository of the Maaseik Museums. This manuscript as well has been digitised and made available to the scientific community. Recently professor Vanderputten from the University of Ghent has examined this manuscript on site. He agrees that making documents available in digital form would make it easier to study and examine them more efficiently.
Link to the digitised 10th-century Gospel Book

This project was made possible by the support of the following partners: