Life and Legend of Gerbert of Aurillac

Author: Flusche, Anna Marie
Born a peasant at the end of the first millennium, Gerbert of Aurillac ascended the chair of Peter as Pope Sylvester II. His meteoric rise in power helped bring about the legend which sprang up after his death. Gerbert distinguished himself in nearly every field of human endeavor. It was as a teacher and a mathematician that he exercised the role of organ builder.
A feature unique to this book is the use of sources from a variety of disciplines. In order not to present a one-dimensional (and therefore false) appraisal, this study examines Gerbert in his various roles as letter-writer, mathematician, scientist, politician and churchman.


“This timely study has the nature, inevitably, of a kind of pilgrimage in which literary ‘sites’ are re-visited and interpreted in order to feel the presence of a remarkable man, one who became pope at a period halfway between Jesus of Nazareth and ourselves, and to whom important advances in mathematical reasoning have been accredited ... The present study draws in all the available primary and secondary sources to trace, as best they allow, the man and his achievements. There are many unknowns and uncertainties, though as so often, a leading question is, Why is there anything? What was so special about Gerbert that facts and legends about him circulated? ... Not the least valuable part of this book is its bibliography and the use it has made of so many sources. The picture of Gerbert, who he was and what exactly he did, will never be quite clear, but the reader, introduced here to a fascinating world, knows how the story ends: through such men the intellectual life of the Church developed to produce the medieval glories of the West, one of which is the music of its Church.” – (from the Preface) Peter Williams, Editor, The Organ Yearbook

“This history of the medieval scholar Gerbert of Aurillac as an organbuilder presents some fascinating insights into the life of the Frenchman who became pope in 999 under the name Sylvester II. He was known as a great teacher at the cathedral school in Reims, teaching astronomy, math, and logic at a level comparable to that of the encyclopedists. Besides his work as an organbuilder, which this book documents, he also reintroduced the use of the abacus to the Latin West, and built clocks and astronomical instruments. Dr. Anna Marie Flusche has produced a superb document, which not only pulls together the numerous scholarly and political achievements of Gerbert, but fills in many gaps in our knowledge of his musical works ... This [book] is intended to be a book for specialist readers, and those who use it will be well rewarded.” – Cecil Adkins, Professor Emeritus, University of North Texas

“With impeccable scholarship and an elegant writing style, the author pieces together the activities of an extraordinary man who rose from peasant origins to become the most powerful man in Christendom in 999 A.D. Legends surrounding Gerbert of Aurillac have hinted, without substantiation, that this multi-faceted genius was, among other things, an organ builder. In this study, Dr. Flusche provides a definitive answer to the question of whether or not he built organs. She simultaneously provides fascinating insights into ecclesiastical and political life at the end of the first millennium and the crest of the second.” – Marilou Kratzenstein, Professor Emeritus, University of Northern Iowa

Table of Contents

1. The Early Years
2. Reims: The Scholasticus
3. Italy
4. Reims: The Politician
5. Reims: The Archbishop
6. Germany and Italy
7. Ravenna
8. Rome
9. The Legend: Fact, Fantasy and Fiction
10. William of Malmesbury
11. Gilbert of Aurillac, according to William of Malmesbury
12. William’s Account: Analysis and Problems I
13. William’s Account: Analysis and Problems II
14. The Letters of Gerbert; The Acrostic Poem
15. Bobbio
16. Rogatus
Index of Names