The Wessobrunn Prayer | Das Wessobrunner Gebet
Introduction to the Text
The Wessobrunn Prayer is one of the only extant example of Old High German alliterative verse, in which alliteration is the primary poetic feature. Notably it was intentionally preserved in a codex (book) of collected texts, including several Latin texts and German glosses. This is unusual: most Old High German text was written in the margins and endpapers of manuscripts because Latin was preferred for church writing as the more prestigious and official language. It is similar thematically and formally to the Old High German poem “Muspilli”. The codex has been dated to around 810 CE, and the prayer is written in Carolingian Miniscule (the standard script of the time). The prayer was named for the abbey at Wessobrunn in Bavaria where the codex resided for centuries before it was discovered and studied by philologists and eventually moved to the state library in Munich. The location where it was written and the identity of the author are unknown, though it was certainly someone with a knowledge of theology, perhaps a cleric or a monk.
The prayer itself speculates about God and the universe before Creation, and emphasizes the power of the Holy Trinity and the nothingness before creation. There is a possible Anglo-Saxon influence: a star shaped rune is used for the common prefix “ga-“ and the format is similar to prayers used by Anglo-Saxon missionaries as they spread Christianity in Germany during the 8th century. Some of the language at the end is parallel to the Nicene Creed, a declaration of faith standardized by the church in the 4th century.
Scholars are interested in the Wessobrunn Prayer because of its unique poetic form. It is possible that there were many similar texts that did not survive.