IMAGES FROM RABAN MAUR (HRABANUS MAURUS)
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Hrabanus Maurus or Rabanus Maurus, ninth century monk of Fulda was regarded for his generosity toward the poor, feeding over 300 people a day during the famines of 850 AD. As a testament to Maurus' lasting influence, Gustav Mahler interpreted one of Maurus' poems in his moving 8th Symphony. However, Maurus, most notable achievement was De laudibus sanctae crucis, a collection of twenty-eight encrypted religious poems, rendered before 814 AD. He was said to be the inventor of a cyphering system of 36 lines containing 36 letters evenly spaced on a grid. In this grid, Maurus included figurative images, putting the poems in visual terms. The poem filling the cypher grid was enriched by these smaller images, as most of the letters contained within them created tiny individual poems.
(left image : Raban Maur presents to the Pope Gregory IV his treaty Liber de laudibus Sanctae Crucis )
Given that a large part of the population at the time was not only poor, but illiterate, Maurus' visual poems bridged the gap between a priviledged reading community and the common person. Maurus used simple symbols : rings to signify cycles, squares to represent books, and letters for days. By doing so he made religious concepts easily accessible to the masses. They were not overly simple, but were made richer by the mix of the complex cyphering, or coding, used to both create and read the poems, as well as the viewer's simple delight of instantly understanding sacred symbols. Odilo fo Cluny said in the eleventh century of Maurus' poems that "no work more precious to see, more pleasing to read, sweeter to remember, or more laborious to write can or could ever be found." (source : Vatican's Library).