Sanctus Theodgarus

From medieval

by Brian Møller Jensen

Sanctus Theodgarus (also known and referred to as Theotgarus, Theodogarus, Theodogarius, Theogarus, Theogarius, Thugarus, Thyudgarus and as Thøger and Thyge in the vernacular) was a confessor saint living in the XI cent., at first venerated only locally in Vesterwig in North-western Jutland but at the end of the Middle Ages also in major parts of Denmark.

In his office the legend provides the etymology of his name in the hagiographical style used by e.g. Jacob de Voragine in Legenda Aurea: Theodgarus namque quasi ’deo carus’ dicitur, i.e. ”Theodgar means so to speak ’dear to God’”. This meaning of the name is confirmed in the first antiphon of the first nocturn: Servus dei Theodgarus semper manens deo carus.


All the transmitted Latin texts regarding Theodgar are in some way liturgical texts, published by M. CL. GERTZ in his critical edition Vitae Sanctorum Danorum (1908-12). But as his comments on and division of the various texts into five separate parts somehow disregarded their original liturgical settings, the following description is based on and refer to GERTZ’ edition but will also consider the basic structure of the office as the liturgical setting of the single texts.


According to his medieval legends and office Theodgar was born, raised and educated as a Christian in Thüringen in Germany, probably around 1000. As a young man he travelled to England on God’s order and shortly after continued to Norway, where he was ordained a priest and then because of his fame was called by King Olav to become his chaplain (capellanus). When King Olav had died, the mourning Theodgar left the royal Norwegian court for Denmark and converted many pagan Danes, before he finally settled in Vesterwig in Jutland and built the town’s first church out of twigs and bushes, in which he celebrated mass. Having served as a humble priest and manifested the divine mercy in Vesterwig, Theodgar died peacefully on June 24, probably 1067, during the reign of King Sven Estridssøn (1047-1074) and was buried in his church.

One night shortly after his successor Ulfricus, while celebrating vigils, saw a divine light over the tomb of Theodgar. Having obtained the pope’s permission he transferred the saint’s bones to the altar on October 30. The next night Ulfricus had another vision when he was about to go to sleep: the saint showed himself to him limping and told him that a big bone of the limping leg still was lying in the old grave. Ulfricus obeyed the saint by moving the last bone to the altar the next morning. (According to Annales Bartholiniani the elevation of the relics took place in 1067, ”1067 S. Theotgari reliquiae elevantur”, and the translation in 1117, ”MCXVII translatus est sanctus Thugarus Westervick Iutie” (both quoted by GERTZ 1908-12, 4).

The translation was opposed by King Sven and Bishop Alberic of Børglum (installed ca 1065) who considered it to be a fraud. Sven ordered Alberic to go to Vesterwig to suspend the priest and burn the translated bones in the middle of the church, ”nisi deus pro eis aliquod evidens miraculum ostendere dignaretur”. God did show them a miracle, as both the first and the second bone, which Alberic took from the altar to put on the fire, jumped back to its place on the altar. Refraining from further actions, Alberic instead honoured Ulfricus and instigated the reverence for St Theodgar.

Due to this miracle October 30 was officially recognized as the day of Theodgar’s Translatio, on which day he was venerated, at first only in the diocese of Vesterwig, but later in other Danish dioceses as well, according to five breviaries from the late XV and early XVI cent. There seems to be no signs of any celebration of his Natale on June 24, probably because it coincided with the Natale of John the Baptist.


The legend of Theodgar’s vita & translatio

GERTZ’ first text ”I. De sancto Theodgaro” constitutes the most complete legend of the confessor saint, containing his vita in the first part and the above miracle story of his translation in the last. The division in six readings indicates that the text originally formed part of an office to celebrate the translation of Theodgar, but the other parts of this office seemed to have been of no interest to the copyist. According to GERTZ, the elaborated form and the contents of the legend appears to originate from a breviary belonging to a church in which the celebration of the saint demanded a more solemn ritual than in other Danish dioceses, i.e. a breviary belonging to the Abbey Church of Vesterwig.

The legend is transmitted in two versions included in codex Arnamagnaeanus 149 of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, one entered in quaternion F by Arne Magnussen himself and the other in quaternion D by one of his copyists. Dated to the beginning of the XVII century, codex 149 consists of eight quaternions containing a number of medieval Danish saints-legends, that Arne Magnussen or his collaborators have copied from medieval sources, as GERTZ describes it in his introduction (GERTZ 1908-12, 5-8).

This legend is listed in BHL as no. 8068:


Cum in diversis locis sanctorum patrum religione polleret ecclesia beatus Theodgarus ex honestiis parentibus trahens originem in Thyringia natus est ...


...rex audiens semper sanctum honoravit et ab aliis monuit honorandum.


GERTZ, M. CL. 1908-12: Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 14-16.


OLRIK, H. 1893-94: Danske Helgeners Levned, Copenhagen, 334-338.


Copenhagen, Royal Library, codex Arnaemagneanus 1049

Officium sancti Theodgari

GERTZ’ next three texts, no.II: De sancto Theodgaro confessore, no.III: Carmina ecclesiastica de sancto Theodgaro confessore and no.IV: Hymnus de sancto Theodgaro, form the various elements of the unnotated rhymed office Iocundare plebs Danorum for Theodgar included in late medieval breviaries from five Danish dioceses: Odense, Sleswig, Århus, Roskilde and Lund. A Diurnale from Roskilde includes the antiphons, responsories and prayers. While GERTZ divides the office in three separate texts, R. DE BUCK maintains the correct order of the liturgical elements of the second version of Theodgar’s office in Brev. Othiniense in his edition in Acta Sanctorum (DE BUCK 1883, 457-463).

Although the Danes as nation are invoked in the very beginning of Iocundare plebs Danorum, it seems evident that the provenance of the original office was the church of Vesterwig, dedicated to St Theodgar who was given by God as its patron. This fact indicates that we might read the geographical expressions, ”in hac terra nostra” (Vespers 1), ”ad has partes”, ”in isto castro” and ”hic” (Mattins), to signify Vesterwig.

The antiphons of Vespers 1 admonish the Danes to jubilate in honour of Theodgar, praised as ”Dei confessor and almus patronus”. Miracles are mentioned, e.g. having cured the sick and the blind, putting demons to flight, which indicate aspects of his life and mission not described in the legends. The hymn is the traditional confessor hymn Iste confessor domini colentes (cf. AH 51.135), indicated by incipit only, in all breviaries except Brev. Othiniense II, which presents a unique hymn Stella recurrens circuli solaris (AH 11.245). Including the term ”confessor” but not his name this hymn repeats some of the miracles and asks the saint to listen to the hymn that he ”nobis tergat Eve planctum”. The antiphon to the Magnificat presents a bold comparison of Abraham and Theodgar, since God ”eduxit Abraham de Ur Chaldeorum et ... vocavit sanctum Theodgarum, ut in hac terra nostra peregrinus esset”. Like Abraham became the father of a great nation, Theodgar was given as God’s patron saint to the Danes. The significance of this biblical father-function is further underlined in the collect prayer which completes Vespers 1. Mattins open with the invitatory psalm and antiphon followed by the traditional confessor hymn (in Brev. Othiniense II the unique proper hymn is indicated as alternative). The three nocturns each include three antiphons followed by three readings, each with responsory and verse. In the first nocturn the antiphons praise Theodgar as a faithful servant of God raised by honest parents and as a missionary in the wild West-Jutland (”rudes turbas hominum/ verbum vite predicando convertit ad dominum”). The readings tell the story of his birth, his upbringing, his vocation to leave his fatherland as another Abraham and his stay in Norway at the court of King Olav. The three responsories focus only on his birth and his mission in Denmark. In the second nocturn the antiphons mentions Theodgar’s true wisdom and faith as basis for the establisment of the church and his bringing hope to all the faithful around the world. The readings continues the story by describing the last part of his life in Denmark, especielly his building of the church in Vesterwig. In addition to his vita the responsories and verses tell the story of his translation and Alberic’s vain attempt to burn his bones (”plebs super altare/ stupet hec illesa volare”). In the third nocturn the antiphons mention his attitude to men and beasts, as he rescued sailors from pirates and pitied an old woman who was afraid to enter the church. Indicated only by incipit follows the Gospel Vigilate (et orate, nescitis enim). (R. DE BUCK indicates that the Gospel and the sermon, forming the readings of this nocturn, were that of the Commune sanctorum). The responsories and verses mention some of Theodgar’s miracles, the rescue of the sailors, his giving eyesight to a blind woman and the healing of a leper. The five antiphons for Lauds continues the line of Thedodgar’s miracles which are summarized in the final antiphon for the Benedictus Infirmorum est medela,/ Sanctus cecis est medela,/ Pes claudorum est tutela.

For Vespers 2 we only have the antiphon for the Magnificat, formed as a prayer to the confessor saint who is asked to give his support Famulis tuis in hac die/ Tuum fer auxilium.

As indicated in GERTZ’s edition, the six readings of the legend are divided differtly in the various breviaries. These readings form a second version of the legend, listed in BHL as no. 8069:


Cum diversis in locis sanctorum patrum origine ac religione polleret ecclesia beatus Theodgarus ex honestiis originem ducens parentibus in terra Thyringia novum sydus apparuit.


... corpusque cum honore sepultum multis temporibus in tellure quievit.

The metrical structure of the office Iocundare plebs Danorum

The rhymed office of Theodgar offers a variety of meters according to the conventional structure of late medieval rhymed offices. In Vespers 1 three trochaic tetrameters with rhymes both at the caesura and at the end form the first antiphon, while the second consists of two hexameters with rhymes at the end. The other four antiphons are prosaic in structure but often let the single cola end with rhymes. The hymn appears to be written in the Sapphic meter according to the accents as in many medieval hymns using this meter. In Mattins the invitatory consists of two rhymed hexameters. The nine antiphons are structured according to accent and present various rhythmical meters, most trochaic tetrameters but also glyconics and anapests, with end rhymes in most. All the responsories consists of two rhymed hexameters, whereas the verses are leonine hexameters. In Lauds four of the antiphons consists of katalectic trochaic dimeters, while the second and the antiphon for the Benedictus are in akatalectic trochaic dimeters. Finally, the antiphon for the Magnificat in Vespers 2 seems to be a glyconic verse and a katalectic trochaic dimeter.


Breviarium Othiniense I fols 433-435 (from Odense, printed in Lübeck 1483) Breviarium Othiniense II fols 420v-423 (from Odense, Lübeck 1497, used by R. de Buck) Breviarium Sleswicense fols 425v-426 (from Sleswig, Paris 1512) Breviarium Arosiense fols 334v-335v (from Århus, Århus 1519) Breviarium Roschildense fols 395v-396v (from Roskilde, Paris 1517) Breviarium Lundense fols 402-403v (from Lund, Paris 1517) Diurnale Roschildense fols 176v-177v (from Roskilde, Paris 1511)

  • AH = BLUME, C., DREVES, G.M., BANNISTER, H. 1886-1922: Analecta hymnica medii aevi, Vols. 1-55. (The hymn ”Stella recurrens circuli solaris” in AH 11.245.)
  • CYPRAEUS, J. 1634: Annales episcoporum Slesvicensium, Cologne, 360-362 (edition of the legend contained in Breviarium Sleswicense).
  • DE BUCK, R. 1883: ”Officium S. Thyudgari, ex Breviario Ottoniensi anni 1497”, Acta Sanctorum, Octobris vol. XIII, Paris, 461-463.
  • GERTZ, M. CL. 1908-12: Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 17-24.

(Danish): LAURSEN, H. 1934: ”Sankt Thøgers Dag,” Historiske Aarbøger for Thisted Amt, VI, 437-452.

Fragments of a liber miraculorum

GERTZ’ last text, no.V: Fragmenta libri cuiusdam deperditi de miraculis sancti Theodgari, includes the text of a folio, dated to the XIII cent., which is used as cover for the accounts of Sölvesborg County in Southern Sweden. The text consists of fragmentary descriptions of four miracles, which all except the Eskillus story seems to refer the ones mentioned in the office: In the recto the words in the first column indicates the story of the sailors who being rescued from pirates bring gifts to Theodgar’s tomb; then follows the story of bishop Eskillus who refuses to recognize Theodgar as saint but forced to reconsider he becomes predicator veritatis et sancti Theodgari amator in cunctis. The last part of the second column tells the miracle story of curing a blind ancilla, which after a lacuna continues in the first column of the verso page. The two parts of the last miracle tells the story of a woman who in a heavy storm is rescued from a heavy strom at sea.

  • RØRDAM, H.: Kirkehistoriske Samlinger III R., vol. 4, Copenhagen, 646-648.
  • GERTZ, M. CL. 1908-12 Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 25-26.


  • AH = BLUME, C., DREVES, G.M., BANNISTER, H. 1886-1922: Analecta hymnica medii aevi, Vols. 1-55. (The hymn Stella recurrens circuli solaris in AH 11.245.)
  • BHL = ?
  • CYPRAEUS, J. 1634: Annales episcoporum Slesvicensium, Cologne, 360-362.
  • DE BUCK, R. 1883: ”Officium S. Thyudgari, ex Breviario Ottoniensi anni 1497”, Acta Sanctorum, Octobris vol. XIII, Paris, 461-463.
  • GAD, T. 1961: Legenden i dansk middelalder, Copenhagen, 170-172.
  • GAD, T. 1971: Helgener. Legender fortalt i Norden, Copenhagen, 250-251.
  • GAD, T. 1974: ”Thøger”, Kulturhistorisk Lexikon för Nordisk Medeltid, vol. XVII, Malmø, coll. 253-255.
  • GERTZ, M. CL. 1908-12: Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 3-26.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1909: Helgendyrkelse i Danmark, Copenhagen, 52-54, 155.
  • LAURSEN, H. 1934: ”Sankt Thøgers Dag” in Historiske aarbøger for Thisted Amt, VI, 437-452.
  • LIEBGOTT, N.-K. 1982: Hellige mænd og kvinder, Århus, 21, 196.
  • OLRIK, H. 1893-94: Danske Helgeners Levned, Copenhagen, 351-358.
  • OLSEN, TH. DAMSGAARD 1970: ”Teodgaro”, Biblioteca Sanctorum, XII, Roma, 268-273.
  • TRAP, J.P. 1961: Danmark VI, 5.ed., Copenhagen, 333-335 (Vrendsted), 647-657 (Vesterwig).