Chronicon episcoporum Pharensium
by Lars Boje Mortensen
This small episcopal chronicle is the only known piece of Faroese medieval Latin literature. The text as we have it was edited in the 1450s as a report from the Faroese bishop Johannes to the archbishop of Trondheim, Henrik Kalteisen (1452-58), but it consists of a number of layers and appears to have been initiated by bishop Serquirus (Sværkvir, 1216-37).
No medieval title has survived. ‘Chronicon’ does not have support in the text, but ‘episcoporum Pharensium’ is lifted from the first paragraph.
Ego Serquirus dei gracia Pharensium insularum episcopus...
.... hora et loco quibus supra.
BUGGE, A. 1899,
(Danish, partial) JACOBSEN 1898-1901, XII-XIV.
Date and place
The initial paragraph and the first series of names was put together by bishop Serquirus (1216-37) ("Ego Serquirus"; BUGGE 1899, xxix regards this attribution as a mistake, without good reason it seems, see Medieval reception). The next section mentions Johannes Theutonicus (bishop ca. 1407-20) as author and is dated 1420. He, in turn, is quoting a document found in the grave of bishop Erlend (1269-1308) composed just after his death. A final addition of names to the list must have been done under bishop Johannes (Jøns) during the reign of archbishop Kalteisen (BUGGE 1899, xxix).
Summary of contents
The first section authored by Serquirus relates how he took care to gather the names of the previous bishops who had almost been forgotten on the islands. His list begins with Bernhardus (perhaps a missionary bishop around from the decades around 1100) and ends with his own predecessor Svein (d. 1212). These names he took care to recite publicly and pray for every year.
After additions to the list and a link in which Johannes Theutonicus is pronounced as the author of "this book" there follows what amounts to a letter by Johannes, dated 1420. A general introduction professing his good intentions for the Faroese church is followed by Johannes’s narrative on the exhumation of the famous bishop Erlend’s bones (d. 1308). It is the explicit intention of this to add to the documentation of his sanctity and to persuade the archbishop of Trondheim to promote Erlend as a saint. From his grave an inscribed leaden tablet was also unearthed. The writing was runic and the language Latin which presented a problem, because the locals with knowledge of runes had no Latin. From a combined effort the tablet was transcribed, and Johannes quotes it in full. The tablet’s text – whose authenticity has not been doubted by modern scholarship – thus makes up the final part of the chronicle. It must have been written just after Erlend’s death in 1308 as a token and proof for posterity (and eternity) of the bishop’s saintly life. One sign of his miraculous powers was his emotional outburst in Bergen exactly at the same time – it was confirmed later – as his Faroese church was consumed by fire.
Medieval reception and transmission
The text is only transmitted in the papers of Henrik Kalteisen edited by Bugge. It has not been possible to ascertain yet whether this part of the manuscripts originating with Kalteisen survived the war. The signature Bugge referred to is Bonn, Universitätsbibliothek 326, 64r-67v.
- BUGGE, A. 1899: Erkebiskop Henrik Kalteisens Kopibog, Christiania.
- JAKOBSEN, J. 1898-1901: Færøske folkesagn og eventyr I-III, København, vol. I pp. IX-XXIII.
- OTTO, P., REICHE, P. et al. 1941: Rheinische Handschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Bonn.