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Two of Iceland's Most Precious Medieval Manuscripts to be Exhibited

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Two of Iceland's Most Precious Medieval Manuscripts to be Exhibited

Old Icelandic manuscript

Photo: Árni Magnússon Institute/Facebook.

Two of Iceland’s most important medieval manuscripts were brought to the country from Denmark earlier this week and will be on display as part of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Iceland celebrating 100 years of Icelandic sovereignty, RÚV reports.

Both the Reykjabók, which contains one of the oldest versions of Njál’s Saga, and Ormsbók (also known as the Codex Wormianus) are kept, per treaty agreement between Iceland and Denmark, at the The Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen. They are among the Icelandic manuscripts that remained in Denmark’s custody following Iceland’s push to have their literary artifacts returned from Denmark in the early 1960s. The two nations signed a treaty regarding the transfer of important medieval manuscripts in 1971, following which the the Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda (Elder Edda), and the Book of Flatey (Flateyjarbók, containing Norwegian kings’ sagas) were returned to Iceland with great ceremony. The transfer of the agreed-upon manuscripts was completed in 1997. Today, the Arnamagnæan Institute still owns and preserves around 1,400 manuscripts and manuscript fragments and the combined collection of Icelandic manuscripts was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2009.

Dating back to 1300, Reykjabók is the oldest and most sacred saga manuscript, containing one of the most well-known manuscripts of Njál’s Saga (scholars say there are as many as 60). Ormsbók contains the Snorra Edda, or Prose Edda, with additions, including marginalia dating back to the 15th century.

Guðrún Nordal, Director of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, says that she hopes these texts’ rare visit to Iceland will help them reach a new audience, particularly young Icelanders. “These are works that were written over seven hundred years ago by people who invested a great deal in creating them. These are precious books—each and every manuscript is distinct, there’s not a single manuscript like another, and so they are all treasures, every single one a whole world. A universe is opened and unlocked in every single manuscript.”

"Blossoming: Iceland's 100 Years as a Soverign State," which will include both manuscripts, will be on display at the National Gallery of Iceland from June 17 - December 16, 2018.

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