Cronica ecclesiæ Ripensis

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by Michael H. Gelting

This anonymous chronicle of the episcopal see of Ribe, in the southwest of Jutland, covers the time from the first foundation of a church building in Ribe during St. Ansgar’s missions in the ninth century to 1230. The chronicle was written probably ca. 1225–1230 by an anonymous author who would seem to have been a canon of the cathedral chapter of Ribe. Its plain and unadorned text adheres strictly to matters of direct concern to the history of the see. The inclusion at the end of the chronicle of a certain amount of general information on the history of the kingdom of Denmark in the 1220s is likely to be a later addition. The account of the early history of the see is confused, although it contains some interesting bits of information not found elsewhere. From the foundation of the cathedral chapter in 1145 the chronicle becomes highly informative. This part of the chronicle seems to build mainly or even exclusively on documents in the capitular archives, most of them now lost. Ca. 1570 the text was expanded and brought up to 1569, possibly by the royal Danish historiographer Anders Sørensen Vedel.


The full Latin title of the chronicle is Cronica ecclesiæ Ripensis incipit sic ut cognoscat generatio altera. This title is almost certainly either of late medieval origin or invented by Anders Sørensen Vedel in the sixteenth century. In Danish historiography the chronicle is usually cited under the Danish title given it by its editor E. JØRGENSEN: Ribe Bispekrønike (Chronicle of the Bishops of Ribe).


Diluculo crescentis fidei in Dacia talis fuerat status ecclesiæ Ripensis.


Sepultus est in choro Ripensi sub paruo lapide, in quo nomen eius inscriptum est (Lacking in Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 2455 4° (see Medieval reception and transmission), which ends with the preceding sentence: Tunc captus est episcopus Tuuo et redemtus pro septingentis marcis argenti puri).


7 pages.


Original text:

  • • JØRGENSEN, E. 1933–1935: “Ribe Bispekrønike,” in Kirkehistoriske Samlinger, ser. 6, vol. 1, 23–33 (Actually a composite text, based on all manuscripts that reproduce the text from the lost medieval manuscript Veriloquium vetus (see Medieval reception and transmission), but not on the Ribe manuscript of the sixteenth-century version; JØRGENSEN has not attempted to distinguish between the original text of the chronicle and later accretions).
  • SKOVGAARD-PETERSEN, I. 1981: “The Written Sources,” 21–62 in Ribe Excavations 1970–76, vol. 1, ed. M. Bencard, Esbjerg, 58–60 (Excerpts from JØRGENSEN 1933–1935, without critical apparatus).

Sixteenth-century version:

  • TERPAGER, P. 1708: Chronicon Ecclesiæ Ripensis seu Annales Episcoporum Ripensium quos ex veteri codice manuscripto eruit et edidit Petrus Terpager, Hauniæ (Based on the Ribe manuscript, see Medieval reception and transmission).
  • SUHM, P.F. 1792: “Chronicon ecclesiæ Ripensis, seu Annales episcoporum Ripensium, commentario Cornelii Hamsfortii illustratum,” in SRD 7, ed. J. Langebek & P.F. Suhm, 182–209 (Based on TERPAGER 1708, with variant readings from the original text (apparently mainly from GKS 1091 fol., see Medieval reception and transmission) and from an annotated copy by Cornelius Hamsfort (1546–1627)).


  • (Danish) SØGAARD, H. 1972–1974: “Ribebispekrønike,” Fra Ribe Amt 18, 260–73 (with commentary and brief notes).
  • (Danish) SKOVGAARD-PETERSEN, I. 1981, 58–60 (Excerpts from SØGAARD 1972–1974).


  • (Danish) KAAE, B. 1977: ”Ribe Bispekrønike i kildekritisk belysning sat i relation til den kirkelige og politiske udvikling i Danmark og i Europa,” Fra Ribe Amt 20, 489–523.

Date and place

The intensely local character of the chronicle and its extensive use of the capitular archives indicate beyond any reasonable doubt that the text was composed at the cathedral of Ribe, almost certainly by one of the cathedral canons. The last event mentioned in the chronicle, the burial of Bishop Tuvo, does not carry any date in the text, but is known from other evidence to have taken place in 1230. The last part of the chronicle, covering the 1220s, has a more “national” scope which contrasts with the main body of the text, and the appearance of the word etc. in its account of King Valdemar II’s wars in Holstein might indicate that this part of the text was taken from another narrative source (see Sources). The addition may have been made in the late medieval exemplar of the extant manuscripts. In its original state the chronicle was probably written towards the end of the episcopacy of Tuvo (1214–1230) or immediately after his death.

Most of the extant early modern copies of the chronicle have integrated into the text some passages that seem to have been glosses in the lost medieval manuscript (see Medieval reception and transmission).

Summary of contents

The chronicle begins with a brief mention of the missionary activities of St. Ansgar (d. 865) in the early ninth century, the baptism of the exiled Danish King Harald Klak (826), and the building of a church in Ribe under King “Erik” (Horik the Child; after 854). The consecration (948) and later martyrdom of the first bishop of Ribe, Leofdag (Leofdanus in the chronicle), are described as an immediate consequence of the latter event. The next bishop to be mentioned is Odinkar (1029/32–?; GELTING 2004, 174–75, revising GELTING 1992b, esp. 68 n. 53), who is said to have been a nephew of King Knut the Great (1018–1035). Odinkar is described as the effective founder of the see, delimitating its boundaries and donating his entire wealth to the bishopric on condition that the episcopal title should always remain with his posterity. He was succeeded by his son, the otherwise unknown Bishop Christian (?–ca.1059; probably translated to the see of Århus upon its creation ca. 1059, see GELTING 2004, 183–87, 189). Odinkar’s successor according to Adam of Bremen (>Adamus Bremensis), Bishop Wal (non-resident “bishop of the Danes”, 1043–ca.1059; GELTING 2004, 182–83), is given as Christian’s son who lost out to Jareld in a contested election. The latter must be identified with Bishop Gerald (mentioned in 1113) who had formerly been chaplain to the Danish king St. Knud (1080–1086); the intervening Bishop Oddo (consecrated ca. 1059) is unknown to the chronicle. Bishop Jareld is said to have deserted his see after despoiling it of its wealth. Although confused and on some points clearly erroneous, this earlier part of the chronicle is likely to contain some authentic information (GELTING 2004, loc. cit.; GELTING 2008, 74).

From the beginning of the twelfth century onwards, the succession of the bishops can be corroborated from other evidence: Thore (before 1131–1134), who is said to have begun the construction of the Romanesque cathedral, and whose death in the battle of Fotevik is attested in other sources; Nothulf (1134–1139/42; Nothel in the chronicle) and Ascer (ca. 1139/42), about whom the chronicle confesses it has nothing to say.

The nature of the chronicle changes totally with the next bishop, Helias (1142–1162), a fugitive from Flanders who is said to have become bishop by adhering to powerful men (adhærens principibus). His main action according to the chronicle was the creation of a cathedral chapter in Ribe; the extant text of the founding charter permits the dating of this event to 1145. The chronicle goes on to give a detailed account of the early history of the chapter, which from then on shares centre stage in the chronicle with the bishops. Special emphasis is given to the continuous strife between bishop and chapter over the issue of the regular canonical life (the disparaging judgment of the chronicle’s account of these matters by HELVEG 1855, 10, is hardly warranted). Beginning with Helias, the circumstances of each bishop’s nomination are given, explicitly or by implication. Similarly, episcopal gifts of lands, books and liturgical objects to the cathedral are detailed, and the location of the bishop’s tomb is indicated for every bishop from Helias onwards.

Bishop Ralph (1162–1171; Radulphus), an Englishman by birth and former chancellor to King Valdemar I (sole king 1157–1182), is given a very detailed treatment, centred upon the history of the cathedral and chapter and including a verbatim transcription of a letter of Pope Alexander III. Of special interest is the description of Bishop Ralph’s failed attempt to canonize the first bishop, Leofdag. This attempt was thwarted by a fire in the cathedral which destroyed the putative saint’s relics, an event which the chronicle ascribes to Ralph’s failure to obtain archiepiscopal and papal authorization for the elevation of the relics.

After Bishop Stephen (1171–1182/83), who had a reputation for saintliness, the chronicle’s account of the accession of Bishop Omer (1183–1204) poses a difficult problem: while the chronicle explicitly states that he was translated from the see of Børglum by Pope Lucius III, the Gesta Danorum of Saxo indicates that he was consecrated by Archbishop Absalon in 1178, and charter subscriptions by Bishop Omer of Børglum on 27 August 1183 and by Bishop Omer of Ribe on 21 March 1183 would seem to exclude the identification of the two Omers and thus invalidate the account of the local chronicle. However, since the chronicle obviously depends on direct use of the capitular archives from the inception of the chapter, it is difficult to discard its mention of the translation, which seems to build upon the papal bull authorizing it (full discussion of this problem in GELTING 1992b, 74–75, and 1992a, 52).

Bishop Olaf (1204–1214) is treated fairly briefly, whereupon the chronicle ends with the episcopacy of Tuvo (1214–1230), whose deeds are described in greater detail, although this is probably due in part to a later addition to the chronicle (see Date and place). Among the notable things mentioned in the undoubtedly original part of Tuvo’s biography is the fact that he was the first bishop to have been canonically elected by the chapter against the king’s will; this may be an indication of one reason for writing the chronicle precisely during (or immediately after) the episcopacy of this particular bishop.

Composition and style

The chronicle is cast in a plain and matter-of-fact style, with many short sentences and abrupt changes of subject, e.g. the end of the biography of Bishop Omer:

Ecclesiam quoque de Hellæwath usui canonicorum alligauit et dedit marcham auri ad summum altare deaurandum. Et de theloneo salis unam præbendam instituit. Jura regalia prius amissa ad ecclesiam reuocauit. Tunc mortuo Waltero pro archidyacono substitutus est Tuuo. Episcopus mortuus sepultus est Løghum

(He also tied the church of Hellevad to the use of canons and gave a mark of gold for the embellishment of the high altar. And from the toll of salt he founded a prebend. He reinstated to the church the royal privileges which had previously been lost. Then, when Walter was dead, Tuvo replaced him as archdeacon. When the bishop died he was buried in Løgum).

No literary ambition is discernible. Dating by year of the Christian era occurs fairly often in the section beginning with Bishop Helias, but not in any systematic way; many of these dates are affected by errors of transcription in the extant manuscripts.


The later part of the chronicle, from Bishop Helias to Tuvo, obviously builds directly upon the archives of the cathedral chapter, one document even being cited verbatim (see Summary of contents). At least for the later decades additional first-hand knowledge and verbal communications by older canons may be surmised. In those instances where the account can be checked against other sources, it shows itself to be reliable (cf. GELTING 1985a, 1; GELTING 1985b, 160; for the problem concerning the accession of Bishop Omer, see Summary of contents). For the later, and probably added or interpolated, part of Bishop Tuvo’s biography (see Date and place), the chronicle has been assumed to be dependent upon the Annales Ripenses (Annales Danici) (KAAE 1977, 490, 494). However, even though it is obviously closely cognate to these annals, this part of the chronicle also contains material which cannot be found in the Ribe annals, nor in their immediate source, the >Annales Ryenses.

The sources for the first part of the chronicle are obscure. It contains some material that must be derived ultimately from Adam of Bremen, but with so many omissions and misunderstandings that direct knowledge of Adam’s text must be excluded. Neither does this part of the text show any indication of having used charters or necrologies, except for the description of the privileges allegedly obtained from King Knud by Bishop Odinkar; in this case the text is dependent upon royal privileges of the twelfth and early thirteenth century and peculiarly close to the text of a letter from the townsmen of Ribe to Archbishop Uffe (1230/46, DD 1, 6, no. 118; SØGAARD 1972–1974, 262). A local, oral tradition conflated with indirect reminiscences of Adam of Bremen would appear to be the most likely source for most of the first part of the chronicle (cf. SØGAARD 1972–1974, 261–62). However, a written source may be assumed for the account of the martyrdom of the first bishop, Leofdag. On this point the chronicle’s text is similar to the account of the same event found in the so-called Annales Sorani ad 1268 (or Annales Slesuicenses, Annales Danici); since the latter account contains details not found in the Ribe chronicle, the most likely common source would seem to be the liturgical texts that must have been composed for the elevation of Leofdag’s relics under Bishop Ralph (see Summary of contents; KAAE 1977, 490–91, considers the annals to be dependent upon the Ribe chronicle; SKOVGAARD-PETERSEN 1981, 59, does not consider the possibility of a liturgical source, but notes that Leofdag is not mentioned in the late thirteenth-century martyrology of Ribe; NIELSEN 1985, 48–49, refutes KAAE’s supposition and suggests a common written source for the Ribe chronicle and the annals).

Purpose and audience

The whole concept of the chronicle, with its emphasis upon the relationship between bishop and chapter, makes it clear that the intended audience was the cathedral chapter of Ribe. It is likely that its practical purpose was to furnish an historical context for using the chapter’s archives in legal arguments with the local bishops and the Danish archbishops and kings. While generally conforming to the genre of the gesta episcoporum (SOT 1981), it differs from the typical writings in this genre by its very limited hagiographical contents (see Summary of contents).

Medieval reception and transmission

The chronicle hardly seems to have been known outside the chapter of Ribe in the Middle Ages; the only possible instance of it having influenced other medieval historical texts that has been alleged (KAAE 1977, 490–91) is not convincing (see Sources). The only medieval manuscript of it that we know of, the so-called Veriloquium vetus (destroyed in the fire of the university library of Copenhagen in 1728), was of late medieval date, but most likely had its origin at the cathedral of Ribe (JØRGENSEN 1933–1935, 23–24).

The text survives in a number of early modern erudite copies which are all derived from the lost Veriloquium vetus. From the royal historiographer Anders Sørensen Vedel (1542–1616) and his copyists come two manuscripts of the original text of the chronicle (Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 2455 4°, and Add. 114 4°) and one manuscript of the sixteenth-century extended version (very likely the original manuscript of this version; at Ribe Katedralskole). Two early eighteenth-century copies of the original version are found in Copenhagen, AM 1051 4°, and Royal Library, GKS 1091 fol.


  • GELTING, M.H. 1985a: “En bispekarriere: Helias af Ribe, en flamlænding i 1100-tallets Danmark,” in Festskrift til Troels Dahlerup på 60-årsdagen den 3. december 1985, ed. Aa. Andersen, P. Ingesman & E. Ulsig (Arusia – Historiske Skrifter 5), Århus, 1–15.
  • GELTING, M.H. 1985b: ”Un prélat flamand au Danemark au XIIe siècle: Hélie, évêque de Ribe (1142–1162),” Handelingen van het Genootschap voor geschiedenis gesticht onder de benaming Société d’Emulation te Brugge 122, 159–79.
  • GELTING, M.H. 1992a: “Burglanensis eccl. (Børglum),” in Archiepiscopatus Lundensis, ed. H. Kluger et al. (Series episcoporum ecclesiae catholicae occidentalis ab initio usque ad annum MCXCVIII, ser. VI, Britannia, Scotia et Hibernia, Scandinavia, t. II, ed. O. Engels & S. Weinfurter), Stuttgart, 46–53.
  • GELTING, M.H. 1992b: “Ripa (Ribe),” in Archiepiscopatus Lundensis, ed. H. Kluger et al. (Series episcoporum ecclesiae catholicae occidentalis ab initio usque ad annum MCXCVIII, ser. VI, Britannia, Scotia et Hibernia, Scandinavia, t. II, ed. O. Engels & S. Weinfurter), Stuttgart, 64–75.
  • • GELTING, M.H. 2004: “Elusive Bishops: Remembering, Forgetting, and Remaking the History of the Early Danish Church,” in The Bishop: Power and Piety at the First Millennium, ed. S. Gilsdorf (Neue Aspekte der europäischen Mittelalterforschung 4), Münster, 169–200.
  • GELTING, M.H. 2008: “Un évêque danois élève de Fulbert de Chartres?” in Fulbert de Chartres, précurseur de l’Europe médiévale?, ed. M. Rouche, Paris, 63-75.
  • HELVEG, L. 1855: De Danske Domkapitler; deres Oprindelse, Indretning og Virksomhed, før Reformationen, Copenhagen.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1931: Historieforskning og Historieskrivning i Danmark indtil Aar 1800, Copenhagen.
  • • JØRGENSEN, E. 1933–1935: “Ribe Bispekrønike,” Kirkehistoriske Samlinger, ser. 6, vol. 1, 23–33.
  • • KAAE, B. 1977: “Ribe Bispekrønike i kildekritisk belysning sat i relation til den kirkelige og politiske udvikling i Danmark og i Europa,” Fra Ribe Amt 20, 489–523.
  • KINCH, J. 1869: Ribe Bys Historie og Beskrivelse indtil Reformationen (vol. 1), Ribe (repr. with introduction and bibliography by O. Degn, Århus, 1985).
  • KOCH, H. 1950: “Den ældre Middelalder indtil 1241,” in Den danske Kirkes Historie 1, ed. H. Koch & B. Kornerup, Copenhagen.
  • NIELSEN, I. 1985: Middelalderbyen Ribe (Projekt Middelalderbyen 1).
  • Ribe Bispesæde 948–1948: Festskrift i Tusindaaret, Copenhagen, 1948.
  • SKOVGAARD-PETERSEN, I. 1981: “The Written Sources,” in Ribe Excavations 1970–76, vol. 1, ed. M. Bencard, Esbjerg, 21–62.
  • SMITH, S.B. 1882: Om Kjøbenhavns Universitetsbibliothek før 1728, især dets Håndskriftsamlinger, Copenhagen.
  • SOT, M. 1981: Gesta episcoporum, gesta abbatum (Typologie des sources du Moyen Age occidental 37), Turnhout.
  • • SØGAARD, H. 1972–1974: “Ribebispekrønike,” Fra Ribe Amt 18, 260–73.