Content, scope and history of the collection

Johann Rist: Frommer und Gottseliger Christen Alltägliche Haußmusik. Lüneburg 1654

The majority of the approximately 2,100 hymnals in the Gotha Research Library are listed under the shelf mark Cant. spir (Cantica spiritualia). The titles, mainly in German, date from the 16th to the 20th century. The core of the collection is formed by the hymnal collection of the Arnstadt superintendent Johann Christoph Olearius (1668–1747), which Duke Ernest II of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (1745–1804) had purchased for the Gotha Ducal Library in 1793. Olearius is one of the important hymnologists who founded the discipline at the beginning of the 18th century and on whose findings the hymn index and manuals for the hymnal are still based today.

The collection contains the oldest Protestant hymnal printed in Nuremberg in 1524, the so-called Achtliederbuch. It reflects to a great extent the rich Thuringian hymnal tradition. Even if individual pastors or printers published hymnals, owning one's own hymnal was an exception in the Thuringian territories until the end of the 17th century. It was only from this time that territorial hymnals sponsored and approved by the authorities came into being. There were as many hymnals as there were territories in Thuringia. This is reflected in Gotha's collection. There are also hymnals from Alsace-Lorraine, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary and the USA.

The majority of early modern hymnals were simple on the inside, the texts were scarcely decorated and there was usually no sheet music because knowledge of the melodies was assumed and music printing was expensive. Elaborately designed title pages and splendidly designed book covers were the exception. The fact that the hymnals were generally heavily used is evidenced by the present condition of the book bindings and the handwritten entries.


The hymnals are fully indexed in the online catalogue of the Gotha Research Library.



Research and digitisation orders:

Anke Seifert
Library Associate for User and Digitalization Services
(Gotha Research Library)
Forschungsbibliothek Gotha (Gotha, Schlossplatz 1)


Head of Collection Development and Cataloging
(Gotha Research Library)
Forschungsbibliothek Gotha (Gotha, Schlossplatz 1)