Saint Jerome’s “Instruments of Hieronymus” and other Music Manuscripts


A particular set of colored drawings—the so-called “instruments of Hieronymus”—is often found in portrayals of medieval musical instruments. These drawings go back to this miscellany from the Benedictine abbey of Saint Emmeram in Ratisbon (present-day Regensburg), Bavaria, which comprises several writings on music from the ninth century to the 13th. Executed in Freising in the third quarter of the ninth century, the drawings illustrate a letter, said to have been written by the Church Father and translator of the Bible Saint Jerome (died 420) to the Gallic Christian Dardanus. The letter explains pagan and Christian musical instruments that are mentioned in the Bible and their allegorical meanings. The tuba, for instance, is described as a biblical bugle horn used to summon the people. Whether these strange drawings depict real but long-forgotten musical instruments or should be read merely symbolically is still a matter of scholarly dispute. Some of the instruments might be modelled on examples from the Arab, Greek Byzantine, or ancient Near Eastern worlds; there is, however, no actual proof of their existence. The other manuscripts bound in this miscellany are the following: Walahfrid von der Reichenau (also known as Strabo, the squint-eyed) Carmina dubia (Uncertain poems); Rabanus Maurus Magnentius, De computo (On calculation); Pseudo-Hieronymus (possibly Rabanus Maurus Magnentius), Ad Dardanum de diversis generibus musicorum ([Epistle] To Dardanus on the different musical genres); Isidore of Seville, Etymologiarum liber III (The third book of the etymologies; chapter 19 and extracts from chapters 20−22); Boethius, De institutione musica (The principles of music); Guido of Arezzo, Micrologus (Short speech); Guido of Arezzo, Regulae rhythmicae (The rules of rhythm); Guido of Arezzo, Prologus in antiphonarium (Introduction to the antiphonary); Guido of Arezzo, Epistula ad Michahelem (Epistle to Michael); and De musica mensurata (On measuring music) by an anonymous writer from Saint Emmeram

Last updated: May 11, 2015