Sanctus Ketillus

From Medieval

by Brian Møller Jensen

Sanctus Ketillus (also known as Chetillus and Exuperius as well as Keld or Kjeld in the vernacular), patron saint of Viborg in Jutland, was a confessor saint living in the first half of the twelfth century. Born ca. 1105, Ketil died on 27 September 1150 and was canonized after Pope Clemens III’s response (9 June 1188) to Archbishop Absalon of Lund’s petition, and his translatio was celebrated on 11 July from 1189. His cult originated in Viborg but spread to other dioceses in Denmark, and he was also known in Sweden and Norway.

Beside the preserved long excerpts of the petition document and the response letter of Pope Clemens III, liturgical texts are transmitted belonging to the office of Ketil, included in GERTZ’s edition. As GERTZ’s comments on and division of the various texts into separate parts somehow disregard their original liturgical settings, the description of the office below will also consider the structural liturgical setting of the single texts. Furthermore, two late medieval Danish missals contain a proper mass to Ketil with unique prayers and a sequence (not included in GERTZ’s edition).


There are two main versions of St. Ketil’s Vita; one was submitted along with a Miracula as part of the documentation for Ketil’s sainthood, added to support Archbishop Absalon’s petition. The petition itself appears to be lost. The other, a shorter Vita S. Ketilli, occurs in late medieval Breviaries as liturgical readings.

GERTZ’s edition of the Vita beati Ketilli confessoris is composed of the excerpts of various sources and tells the story of Ketil’s life from his birth in Venning via his studies, his ordination by Bishop Eskil and his practice as a priest in Viborg and in Aalborg to his last days in Viborg.

Vita et miracula S. Ketilli

The documents regarding the canonization of Ketil, composed in Viborg between 1185 and 1187 to accompany Archbishop Absalon’s petition is not preserved in its complete form, but in his first text (I. Vita et miracula sancti Ketilli) GERTZ composed and edited the remaining excerpts of this document in Danish and Swedish manuscripts. The petition documents are listed in BHL as no. 4651 (Vita) and as no. 4652 (Miracula).

Incipit Prologus: Ad laudem et gloriam divine maiestatis, cuius gracie multiformis virtus ... Vita: Beatus vir domini Ketillus ex illustri prosapia ortus ... Miracula: Quidam contractus de Norvegia ad sepulcrum beati viri oracionem faciens ...

Explicit Vita: ...Iesu Christo, cui cum patre et spiritu sancto sit honor, gloria et imperium per infinita secula seculorum. Miracula: ... Sed veniam petenti visus eodem die restitutus est.


  • LANGEBEK, J. 1776: SRD 4, Copenhagen, 425-32.
  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1908-1912: Vitae sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 260-71 (Vita), 271-75 (Miracula), 275-76 (Clemens’s letter).


  • (Danish) OLRIK, H. 1893-1894: Danske Helgeners Levned, Copenhagen, 165-67.
  • (Danish) STJERNFELDT, O.F. 1961: “Den salige Kjeld Bekenders levned og undergerninger,” in Sankt Kjeld. Levned og Undergerninger, ed. H. Høirup, Viborg, 11-36 and 71 (Clemens’s letter).

Date and place

Because of Ketil’s saint-like life and many incoming reports of miracles after his death, Bishop Niels (1153-1191) and the preposite of the cathedral Sven undertook the task to provide the acts to get Ketil canonized, i.e. describing his life and miracles in a document probably entitled Beati viri Exuperii vita et miracula (GERTZ 1908-1912, 251). In the Prologus the author asks for the help of God “in scribenda beati viri Exuperii vita et gloriosa miraculorum serie”. He indicates his personal acquaintance with the confessor and states that he “had spent quite some time with the blessed confessor Exuperius”. He then refers to Matthew, one of the saint’s disciples, as another source of information for the initial praise of Ketil’s “innocentia, simplicitas, castimonia et ceterae virtutes”.

Finished in 1187 this Vita and the record of miracles accompanied the official petition letter from Archbishop Absalon, the other Danish bishops and King Knut VI to Pope Clemens III (elected on 19 December 1187). In his answer addressed to Absalon, dated 9 June 1188 (edited by GERTZ as II. Epistola Clementis Papae III de canonizatione beati Ketilli), Clemens states that he has been informed about the life and miracles of Ketil, but finds that “the truth of the story told is not firmly established”. He therefore orders Absalon to reinvestigate the “acts and wonders of Ketil” before he can be placed “in sanctorum catalogo” and, “if you find it right and worthy (congruum et honestum), you canonize him and decide with apostolic authority the celebration of this saint for the future generations”. By referring to the name of Ketil and not Exuperius, Clemens appears to have indicated that the saint was to be addressed as Sanctus or Beatus Ketillus. A year later Absalon gathered the Danish bishops in Viborg and canonized Ketil as a confessor saint to be venerated on 11 July, his translatio.

Summary of contents

According to the medieval sources Ketil was born during the reign of King Niels (1104-1134) in Venning, a village ca. 10 km west of Randers, by wealthy Christian parents. While studying the liberal arts he was making such progress in humility and the other Christian virtues that “the fame of his holiness, which was already known to the people, finally reached the ears of Bishop Eskil of Viborg”. Eskil ordained Ketil and persuaded him to join the Augustinian canons at the Church of Virgin Mary in Viborg, probably before 1130. Eskil had started the construction of the city’s new cathedral, and as part of his efforts to establish its chapter’s influence he put Ketil in charge as magister puerorum of the cathedral school.

Changing the name according to monastic traditions to Exuperius, that of the fifth-century archbishop of Toulouse who had been known for his generosity, Ketil “instructed the schoolboys in a worthy manner and wrote precious books moreover ... never taking his hand from writing”. As teacher and copyist Ketil’s influence kept on growing even after Eskil’s martyrdom in 1133, and under the succeeding bishop Sven (1133-1153) he was elected kitchen-chief (coccus) and then preposite of the church ca. 1145. Due to his too generous almsgiving he was soon disposed by the parsimonious canons and transferred to serve as a priest in the Church of Our Lady in Aalborg, before he returned to Viborg in 1149 on the order of Pope Eugenius III. During his period of “exile” Ketil went to the archbishop in Lund to make peace between the two throne-competing Danish princes Svend Grathe and Knud Lavard, and later he visited Pope Eugenius in Rome to “obtain from the pope the office of preaching the gospel to the gentiles in Sclavia and thus by the help of God reach the palms of martyrdom”. However, the Pope ordered Ketil to return to his office in Viborg, where he died peacefully in 1150.

Medieval reception and transmission

There are four main manuscript witnesses to the petition documents, one of which (U) also testifies to the liturgical use of the Vita.

  • (C) Copenhagen, Royal Library, NKS 726 c: a paper manuscript from the sixteenth century copied from an older excerpt. Containing the prologue, some excerpts from Vita beati Chetilli confessoris and a small part of the list of Ketil’s miracles with the headline ”Incipiunt miracula ...” the manuscript is by GERTZ (1908-1912, 253) considered to contain the best excerpts. Also used by LANGEBEK in his SRD edition.
  • (B) Copenhagen, Royal Library, Coll. Bartholiniana, Tom. D: a paper manuscript copied from an older excerpt. Containing only a few sentences of the prologue, longer parts of the last part of the Vita, the longest record of Ketil’s miracles and a copy of Clemens’ letter to Absalon, the last part of its contents differ significantly from C. Also used by LANGEBEK.

According to GERTZ, the three versions of the legend “De sancto Ketillo”, contained in the early eighteenth century Codex Arnamagnaeanus 1049 of the University Library in Copenhagen, are merely bad copies of B and therefore not considered in his edition.

  • (G) Copenhagen, Royal Library, GKS 2455: a paper manuscript from the sixteenth century, probably copied from the same original as B but in a better condition, and the section ”De sancto Ketillo” begins with Clemens’s letter. Not used by LANGEBEK.
  • (U) Uppsala, University Library, C 290: a parchment manuscript from Vadstena, dated ca. 1300. Omitting the prologue and Clemens’s letter, this manuscript contains the fullest version of Ketil’s Vita which is moreover divided into five readings (lectiones). According to GERTZ the liturgical division and the mere size of the vita indicate that it was written for a specific event and at a place in which the feast of St. Ketil was celebrated with significant solemnity, i.e. the excerpts are a copy of the old “officium sancti Ketilli” based on the attachment to the petition letter from 1187 and performed at the first translatio in 1189 in the Cathedral of Viborg (GERTZ 1908-1912, 256). In support of this hypothesis may be added that the vita in U differs in length and details from the lectiones contained in the younger Danish breviaries discussed below.

GERTZ’s edition of Miracula beati Ketilli confessoris records 23 miracles reported in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Scotland, seven of which are listed in C, B and G (longer versions in C), eleven only in B and G, and five in B alone. His edition of the Epistola Clementis was based on the two manuscripts B and G.

Vita sancti Ketilli e lectionibus Breviariorum

Along with the office for St. Ketil are transmitted lessons for the nocturnal readings, edited by GERTZ as III: Vita sancti Ketilli e lectionibus Breviariorum. (For the editions and contents of the readings, see (2) Officium). While the breviaries from Århus, Roskilde and Lund contain the complete office, the ones from Odense and Sleswig contain only the readings that present a shorter version of Ketil’s Vita than the one of the petition document mentioned above.

Since GERTZ’s edition appeared, two fourteenth century fragments of the shorter version of Ketil’s vita have been discovered in Sweden on parchments bindings to account-books and edited by T. SCHMID in 1933. As indicated by GERTZ the readings of the legend are divided differently in the various breviaries. These readings form a second version of the legend which is not listed in BHL:

Incipit Beatus vir domini Ketillus, ortus ex illustri prosapia, cum adhuc esset in etate tenera ...

Explicit ...extinctum prius erat accendi in manu eius visum est a fratribus.


The Officium S. Ketilli, generally referred to as “Vir domini prudens”, is included in late medieval breviaries from three Danish dioceses Århus, Roskilde and Lund.

A late medieval diurnale from Roskilde includes the antiphons, the responsories and the prayers of this office, the chants of which are probably the same as or based on the ones in the above-mentioned fuller office celebrated in Viborg according to GERTZ (1908-1912, 259). GERTZ edited the various elements of the unnotated rhymed office as IV: Carmina ecclesiastica ex officio sancti Ketilli. He omitted the capitulum, the prayers and four of the responsories in his edition.


  • Breviarium Othiniense I (Odense), Lübeck 1483, fols. 363v-364v (only readings).
  • Breviarium Othiniense II (Odense), Lübeck 1497, fols. 355v-356v (only readings)
  • Breviarium Sleswicense (Sleswig), Paris 1512, fols. 366v-367 (only readings)
  • Breviarium Arosiense (Århus), Århus 1519, fols. 285-287.
  • Breviarium Roschildense (Roskilde), Paris 1517, fols. 332vv-334v.
  • Breviarium Lundense (Lund), Paris 1517, fols. 395-397.
  • Diurnale Roschildense (Roskilde), Paris 1511, fols. 152-153.
  • CYPRAEUS, J. 1634: Annales episcoporum Slesvicensium, Cologne, 182-83 (edition of the legend contained in Breviarium Sleswicense).
  • SOLLERIO, J.B. 1883: “Officium S. Ketilli,” AS, Iulius tomus III, Paris, 229-32 (six readings of Brev. Sleswicense (p. 230) and antiphons, hymns and responsories of Brev. Lundense (p.230)).
  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1908-1912: Vitae sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 276-83.
  • AH 23, 219-20 (the three hymns).
  • SCHMID, T. 1933: “Medeltida pergamentfragment på Gotland,” Gotländskt Arkiv 5, 12-19.


(Danish) STJERNFELDT, O.F. 1961: “Sankt Kjelds Fest,” in Sankt Kjeld. Levned og gerninger, ed. H. Høirup, Viborg, 39-51 (omits the readings).

Summary of contents

The antiphons of Vespers 1 mention the birth of Ketil “at the time of King Niels” (tempore regis Nicolai) and enumerate the many virtues of this “vir domini prudens ... felix Christi confessor”. Indicating the liturgical set of singing, the unique hymn Alternatim sonent voces continues the praise of Ketil’s virtues as a servant of “the king of kings” (Rex regum) and ends in the conventional trinitarian doxology. The antiphon to the Magnificat admonishes the clergy and congregation to praise the Lord by celebrating “sacra festa Ketilli”, and their hope for Ketil’s intercession on their behalf is underlined in the collect prayer which completes Vespers 1.

Matins open with the invitatory psalm and antiphon followed by the unique hymn Festiva dies colitur which repeats the praise of the Vesper hymn. Then follow three nocturns, each including three antiphons followed by three readings, each with responsory and verse. In the first nocturn the antiphons praise Ketil as a child of noble parents and a man of such virtues to earn him the recognition of God. The readings tell the story of his birth and upbringing in Venning and of his studies of the liberal arts; but his progress in the Christian virtues makes him want to leave the world of sinners and “be transferred to a better life” (transferri ad meliorem vitam). The responsories focus on his contempt of the parents’ riches; desiring to leave “that which shall perish” (peritura) to obtain “that which shall persist with the saints in glory” (permansura cum sanctis in gloria) he is ordained as a priest. In the second nocturn the antiphons describe him as a true Christian saint, “being a model for the congregation through his morals and acts”. The readings continue Ketil’s story by focusing on his first period in Viborg as ordained by Bishop Eskil, joining the Augustinian canons and serving as magister puerorum. In addition the responsories underline the power of his prayers which enabled him to extinguish a fire and save the entire city. In the third nocturn the antiphons are formed as prayers addressed to Ketil, who is asked to “defend your congregation and reconcile us with the Lord”. Indicated only by incipit follows the Gospel Vigilate et orate quia nescitis (Matt. 24.42-47) – rubrics indicate that this text and the sermon, which form the readings of this nocturn, are to be found in the Commune sanctorum. The last responsories mention two of Ketil’s miracles, his healing of a naked leper and his reading of a homily to the other canons per lumen interius, and the final prayer for the intercession of this gemma clara sanctorum.

The five antiphons for Lauds praise the Lord who enabled his confessor Ketil to do miracles. In the unique hymn Refulget die annua Ketil is praised as a good shepherd feeding his herd, and “now exercising the work of Martha, now sitting with Maria he obtained the price of life through the merits of them both”. The joyful celebration of the feast is emphasized in the final antiphon for the Benedictus.

For Vespers 2 there is only an antiphon to the Magnificat formed as an invocation of the magni magnifice regis bone fideque serve to stand before Christ and pray that the congregation may reach gaudia Christi.

Composition and style

The rhymed office of Ketil offers a variety of meters according to the conventional structure of late medieval rhymed offices. In the antiphons of Vespers 1 the leonine hexameter is prominent, four in the first, two plus a pentameter in the second, two in the third, three in the fourth, four in the fifth, three in the sixth and three in the antiphon to Magnificat. The hymn consists of five rhymed stanzas, each with three verses that appear to be written in rhythmic trochaic septenars according to the accents as in many medieval hymns using this meter.

In Matins the invitatory consists of two rhymed leonine hexameters, whereas the hymn consists of four rhymed stanzas with four lines structured in jambic dimeters. All the nine antiphons are leonine hexameters, while the responsories vary in structure presenting e.g. trochaic meters and leonine hexameters.

In Lauds the first five antiphons consist of two and the final one to Benedictus of four leonine hexameters, while the last hymn includes five stanzas with four lines written in jambic dimeters. Finally, the antiphon for the Magnificat in Vespers 2 consists of three leonine hexameters.


In a note GERTZ expressed his disappointment in seeing the texts of the proper mass for Ketil in two late medieval missals for the diocese of Viborg (printed 1500) and the diocese of Sleswig (printed 1486). Expecting to find some valuable information on Ketil he recognized only “a few purely liturgical formulas, completely worthless for the history of the saint” (GERTZ 1908-1912, 257). However, he seems to have overlooked the existence of the unique sequence Ave praeclara matris uteri fecunditas. Referred to in the missals through the rubric “hic sanctus” and included in a separate part of the manuscript, this sequence consists of 16 stanzas written in structured prosaic style to the sequence melody Ave praeclara.

Regarding the historical contents, the texts of the mass offer no additional information to Ketil’s vita, since an analysis of the various texts reveals that the proper chants are the traditional ones of a confessor mass, whereas the prayers and the sequence, although conventional in structure and contents, appear to be unique texts. Furthermore, the selection of liturgical assignments in the two missals differ at various points as marked in the list of mass incipits below, which in addition to the two versions of the vita discussed above indicates two distinct traditions in the celebration of Ketil’s translatio on 11 July, i.e. the more solemn and longer liturgy in Viborg and a shorter version in the other Danish dioceses.

Whereas the various texts of the mass to St. Ketil is translated into Danish by O.F. STJERNFELDT, all the Latin texts are not yet edited as a complete mass, but the chants are included in AMS and the sequence in AH as indicated below. Facsimiles of the relevant pages of the two missals are included in HØIRUP 1961 (47 & 54).


  • LANGEBEK, J. 1776: SRD 4, Copenhagen, 437.
  • KOLSRUD, O. 1914: “Missale Vibergense 1500,” Nordisk Tidskrift för Bok- och Biblioteksväsen, årg. 1, 352-62 (including edition of the sequence).
  • AMS = R.-J. Hesbert, Antiphonarium Missarum Sextuplex, Brusselles 1935.
  • AH 54, 85-86.


STJERNFELDT, O.F. 1961: “Sankt Kjelds Fest,” in Sankt Kjeld. Levned og undergerninger, ed. H. Høirup, Viborg, 46-50.

Summary of contents

The incipits of the texts of the proper mass for Ketil are: Introit: Os iusti meditabitur (Ps. 37(38),30 - AMS 20); Ps.: Noli aemulari in malignantibus (Ps. 37 (38),1 - AMS 20); Collect: Omnipotens sempiterne deus qui es sanctorum; Epistle: Ipsius reduxit dominus per vias rectas; Gradual: Os iusti meditabitur (Ps. 37(38),31 - AMS 131); Verse: Lex dei eius (Ps. 37(38),31 - AMS 131); Alleluia verse: (1) Ad te clamantes famulos (Viborg – apparently unique), (2) Iustus germinabit sicut lilium (Sleswig – cf. Os. 14,6); Sequence: Ave praeclara matris uteri fecunditas (AH 54, 85-86); Gospel: Vigilate et orate (Matt. 24,42-47); Offertory: (1) Veritas mea (Viborg – Ps. 89(90),25 - AMS 22), (2) Desiderium animae eius tribuisti (Sleswig – Ps.20(21),3 - AMS 139); Secreta: (1) Propiciate quaesumus domine supplicationibus nostris (Viborg), (2) Sancti confessoris tui Ketilli (Sleswig); Communio: Beatus servus quem cum venerit dominus (Matt. 24,46-47 - AMS 16); Complenda: (1) Dignus vere omnipotens (Viborg), (2) Da nobis domine tua sacrificia (Sleswig)


  • CYPRAEUS, J. 1634: Annales episcoporum Slesvicensium, Cologne, 182-83.
  • GAD, T. 1961: Legenden i dansk middelalder, Copenhagen, 172-73.
  • GAD, T. 1971: Helgener. Legender fortalt i Norden, Copenhagen, 149-51.
  • GAD, T. 1963: “Kjeld,” in KLNM 8, Malmø, coll. 435-37.
  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1908-1912: Vitae Sanctorum Danorum, Copenhagen, 251-283.
  • HØIRUP, H. (ed.) 1961: Sankt Kjeld. Levned og Undergerninger samt teksterne til Kjelds Fest med en historisk redegørelse, transl. by O.F. Stjernfeldt, Viborg.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1909: Helgendyrkelse i Danmark, Copenhagen, 52-54, 155.
  • JØRGENSEN, E. 1937: “Keld,” in Dansk Biografisk Lexikon, Copenhagen, vol. 24, 379-80, third ed. (1981), vol. 7, 620-21.
  • KOLSRUD, O. 1914: “Missale Vibergense 1500,” Nordisk Tidskrift för Bok- och Biblioteksväsen, årg. 1, 352-62.
  • LANGEBEK, J. 1776: SRD 4, Copenhagen, 426-38.
  • LIEBGOTT, N.-K. 1982: Hellige mænd og kvinder, Århus, 171-73.
  • OLRIK, H. 1893-1894: Danske Helgeners Levned, Copenhagen, 351-58.
  • SCHMID, T. 1933: “Medeltida pergamentfragment på Gotland,” Gotländskt Arkiv 5, 12-19.
  • SOLLERIO, J.B. 1883: “De sancto Ketillo,” AS, Iulius, tomus III, Paris, 229-32 (Sylloge, Lectiones I-VI from Brev. Slesvicense (p.230) and a prosaic edition of antiphons, responsories and hymns from Brev. Lundense (p.230)).