The Lost Liturgical Books of Iceland

Understanding the Aspiciensboekr

  • Ryder Patzuk-Russell


The surviving charters of late medieval Iceland record the books owned by many parish churches. These small collections contained mostly liturgical books, described by a variety of Latin and Old Norse terms, among which the term aspiciensbók is common. The argument is here put forth that aspiciensbók refers to an Antiphonal, a category of Office book for use by church choirs. The name comes from the fact that the Latin word aspiciens is the first word of the responsory following the first lesson of the first Sunday of Advent. Antiphonals appear to be identified by several other words, including the ambiguous term söngbók, but are clearly distinct from Breviaries, another important type of Office book. This conclusion stands in contrast to a long history of scholarship, going back to Guðbrandur Jónsson, that has identified aspiciensbók as a type of Breviary. This study corrects this misidentification and points the way forward for new research into the liturgical book collections of medieval Icelandic churches.