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The Materiality of Medieval Manuscripts

Pages 121-141 | Published online: 11 Jul 2016


The article presents the author's Inaugural Lecture for the Chair in German Medieval Literature and Linguistics, delivered on Thursday 21 January 2016. The subject of the lecture is a new acquisition by the Bodleian Library in Oxford, a psalter written ca. 1500 by the nun Margaret Hopes in the Cistercian convent of Medingen near Lüneburg, MS. Don. e. 248. The hypothesis advanced is that the nuns use the materiality of their prayer-book as the embodiment of their devotion. The psalter is analysed in terms of its physical realization (material, layout, writing, corrections, music, illustrations, and additions) and its execution interpreted as a spiritual act. The journey of the manuscript beyond the Middle Ages is highlighted through the accommodation of the manuscript to the Lutheran Reformation and the addition of a bone plaque with a floral border in the nineteenth century, reflecting the contemporary concept of the medieval object. The purpose of the lecture is an enquiry into the changing history of manuscripts as objects of devotional, antiquarian and scholarly interest.

Photos of the psalter Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Don. e. 248 by Henrike Lähnemann (1,2,4,5) and Laura Light (6), reproduced by permission of the Bodleian Libraries.


1 A podcast of the Inaugural Lecture with all the slides is available via the website for Medieval German http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/medievalgerman. On 21 January 2016, the manuscript was part of the procession, carried in by Bodley's Librarian accompanied by the current Abbess of Medingen, and displayed at the drinks reception in a case below the medallion of Goethe in room 2 of the Taylorian. The four Medingen manuscripts in Oxford are (sorted according to the sigla): (O1) Medingen Bodleian Prayer-Book: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Lat. liturg. f. 4; (O2) Manual for the Provost: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Lat. liturg. e. 18; (O3) Medingen Keble Prayer-Book: Oxford, Keble College, Ms. Nr. 18; (O4) Medingen Bodleian Psalter: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Don. e. 248. The four manuscripts were reunited for the first time since the eighteenth century at a Masterclass in the Weston Library on 22 January 2016. All Medingen manuscripts are listed on medingen.seh.ox.ac.uk (accessed 21 January 2016).

2 The donation was made possible by the Art Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries, the Friends of the Bodleian and by a collection among staff and students at the University of Connecticut with whom I had worked on the Medingen prayer-books in the Houghton Library at Harvard. Cf. Bodleian Library Friends’ Newsletter Summer 2015–Winter 2015/16 p. 2.

3 Urkundenbuch des Klosters Medingen, ed. by Joachim Homeyer (Hanover: Verlag Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2006); charters from 1505 October 8, p. 585, and 1524 [after June 15], p. 642.

4 The Psalter is quoted from my own transcription; the numbering follows the Vulgate available on vulsearch.sourgeforge.net. English translations of the Psalms are taken from the New King James Version available on biblegateway.com. English translations of other texts are my own. I wish to thank Elizabeth Andersen for polishing the text. I am indebted to Beate Braun-Niehr who, in her catalogue entry for the Medingen Psalter in the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin, Ms. theol. lat. oct. 189, provided me with a thorough introduction to the characteristic features of this group of manuscripts: Beate Braun-Niehr, Die theologischen lateinischen Hand-schriften in Octavo der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Teil 2: Ms. theol. lat. oct. 126–189 (forthcoming). Online from manuscripta-mediaevalia.de (search for obj 31101550). Cf. also Beate Braun-Niehr, ‘Ein lateinisches Psalterium aus dem Zisterzienserinnenkloster Medingen (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Ms. theol. lat. oct. 189)’, in: Von Frauenhand. Mittelalterliche Codices aus dem Nonnenkloster Medingen, ed. by Hans-Walter Stork (forthcoming).

5 ‘Hic iacet in presepio qui et sidera regit. Tamquam sponsus’. These are extracts from the antiphon ‘O mundi domina’, sung in Medingen at Christmas, cf. Ulrike Hascher-Burger and Henrike Lähnemann, Liturgie und Reform im Kloster Medingen. Edition und Untersuchung des Propst-Handbuchs Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Lat. liturg. e. 18 (Tübingen: Siebeck, 2013), p. 198. The text is commented on in the Low German prayer-books written in Medingen, such as Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, Ms. Memb. II. 84, fol. 23r: ‘O mundi domina: O vrouwe der werlde, van konichliken stamme gheboren, uth dynen iuncvrouwelken lyve is Christus nu gheghan alse en brudegham uth synem brutbedde. Hic iacet in presepio: Hir licht he in der krubben dede sterne regeret unde de hemmel’. On the text in the Gotha prayer-book cf. Elizabeth Andersen, ‘Das Kind sehen: Die Visualisierung der Geburt Christi in Mystik und Meditation’, in: Sehen und Sichtbarkeit in der Literatur des deutschen Mittelalters, XXI. Anglo-German Colloquium London 2009, ed. by Ricarda Bauschke et al. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011), pp. 290–310.

6 For the history of the convent and especially the Manual written for the Provost during the conventual reform cf. cf. Hascher-Burger/Lähnemann, Liturgie und Reform.

7 On the personal patron saints in Medingen and the effects of the Lutheran Reformation on the issue of intercession of saints cf. Henrike Lähnemann, ‘“Saluta apostolum tuum”. Apostelverehrung in Kloster Medingen’, in: Weltbild und Lebenswirklichkeit in den Lüneburger Klöstern, ed. by Wolfgang Brandis and Hans-Walter Stork (Berlin: Lukas Verlag, 2015), pp. 41–64.

8 Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan, ed. by Peter F. Ganz (Wiesbaden: Brockhaus, 1978).

9 Nigel Palmer, ‘Professor Peter Ganz’, in: Independent, Thursday 14 September 2006 (online via independent.co.uk).

10 Nigel F. Palmer, German Literary Culture in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. An Inaugural Lectures delivered before the University of Oxford on 4 March 1993 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

11 Henrike Lähnemann, ‘“An dessen bom wil ik stighen”. Die Ikonographie des Wichmannsburger Antependiums im Kontext der Medinger Handschriften’, Oxford German Studies, 34 (2005), 19–46.

12 For the continuation of this debate in German medieval studies cf. Karl Stackmann ‘Neue Philologie?’, in: Modernes Mittelalter. Neue Bilder einer populären Epoche, ed. by Joachim Heinzle (Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1994), pp. 398–427.

13 Codex Aureus Epternacensis, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Hs 156142. Cf. Anja Grebe, Codex Aureus. Das Goldene Evangelienbuch von Echternach (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2007).

14 ‘Et uerbum caro factum est. et habitauit in nobis. Et uidimus gloriam eius. gloriam quasi unigeniti a patre Plenum gracie et ueritate’ (Jo 1:14f).

15 Ars sacra. Kunst des frühen Mittelalters: Juni-Oktober 1950, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München. Katalog, ed. by Albert Boeckler (Munich: Wolf, 1950).

16 Grebe, Codex Aureus, p. 22.

17 The Lindisfarne Gospels returned to the North East in 2013 for an exhibition. This was an event which was truly celebrated by people from all walks of life who saw this magnificent work as an embodiment of the region's heritage. Cf. Richard Gameson, From Holy Island to Durham: the Contexts and Meanings of the Lindisfarne Gospels (London: Third Millennium Publishing, 2013).

18 Das Goldene Evangelienbuch von Echternach. Codex Aureus Epternacensis Hs 156142 aus dem Germanischen Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg. Faksimile und Kommentar, ed. by Rainer Kahsnitz (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer and Stuttgart: Müller und Schindler, 1982). The publisher who made the facsimile offered sample pages for sale: Das Goldene Evangelienbuch von Echternach: Codex Aureus Epternacensis Hs. folio 156142 aus dem Germanischen Nationalmuseum in Nürnberg. Faksimile-Edition. Einladung zur Subskription (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1961).

19 The most recent example of an integrated approach to manuscript studies, including philology, codicology and history of art, cf. Jeffrey F. Hamburger and Nigel F. Palmer, The Prayer Book of Ursula Begerin. vol. 1: Art-Historical and Literary Introduction. With a Conservation Report by Ulrike Bürger, vol. 2: Reproductions and Critical Edition (Dietikon-Zurich: Graf, 2015).

20 The digital reconstruction of a Scriptorium is the next logical step; this is what I try to do with the Medingen website.

21 Catalogue entry by Renate Giermann and Helmar Härtel, Handschriften der Dombibliothek zu Hildesheim: Teil 2. Hs 700-1050, St. God. Nr. 1-51, Ps 1-6, J 23-95 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1993), pp. 173–76.

22 Edition and discussion in Hascher-Burger/Lähnemann, Liturgie und Reform, p. 1.

23 On the use of the form cf. Henrike Lähnemann, ‘Reimprosa und Mischsprache bei Williram von Ebersberg. Mit einer kommentierten Ausgabe und Übersetzung seiner “Aurelius-Vita”’, in Stephan Müller and Jens Schneider (eds.), Deutsche Texte der Salierzeit. Neuanfänge und Kontinuitäten im 11. Jahrhundert (Munich: Fink 2010), pp. 205–37.

24 The basic tripartite division (Ps 1, 50 and 100) is combined with the monastic cursus with further subdivisions for days and hours, cf. Braun-Niehr, Theologische lateinische Handschriften.

25 On the relationship of the reform movements to devotional practice and Cistercian identity cf. the chapters by Anne Bollmann, Tanja Mattern, Ulrike Hascher-Burger, Henrike Lähnemann and Eva Schlotheuber in Mysticism and Devotion in Northern Germany in the Late Middle Ages, ed. by Elizabeth Andersen, Henrike Lähnemann and Anne Simon (Leiden: Brill, 2014); specifically on the repositioning of the Medingen nuns as Cistercian cf. Hascher-Burger/Lähnemann, Liturgie und Reform, pp. 17–35 and 90–98.

26 Many thanks to Laura Light who alerted me to the manuscript in the first place and sent me photographs and her unpublished description in advance of the exhibition; a shorter version of the description is published in the catalogue Laura Light, Women and the Book in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Paris, Chicago, and New York: Les Enluminures, 2015), pp. 52–55, available online at textmanuscripts.com, including a double-spread illustration of fol. 20v–21r.

27 Cf. Renate Giermann and Helmar Härtel, Handschriften des Klosters Ebstorf (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1994).

28 Cf. Nigel F. Palmer, ‘“Simul cantemus, simul pausemus”. Zur mittelalterlichen Zisterzienserinterpunktion’, in Lesevorgänge. Prozesse des Erkennens in mittelalterlichen Texten, Bildern und Handschriften, ed. by Eckart Conrad Lutz (Zurich: Chronos Verlag, 2010), pp. 483–569.

29 London, National Art Library, MSL/1886/2629, cf. Henrike Lähnemann, ‘Schnipsel, Schleier, Textkombinatorik. Die Materialität der Medinger Orationalien’, in Materialität in der Editionswissenschaft, ed. by Martin Schubert (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2010), pp. 135–46.

30 On the use of holes as pictorial elements of the page cf. Phillipa Hardman, ‘The Mobile Page: “Special Effects” in Some Late Medieval Manuscripts’, in Tributes to Kathleen L Scott: English Medieval Manuscripts: Readers, Makers and Illuminators, ed. M. V. Hennessy (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), pp. 101–13; on the interplay between Bartholomew's martyrdom and its presentation in manuscript format cf. Sarah Kay, ‘Original Skin: Flaying, Reading, and Thinking in the Legend of Saint Bartholomew and Other Works’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 36 (2006), pp. 35–74.

31 The exact motif is not listed in the database of medieval tooling, http://www.hist-einband.de/; the closest is EBDB s004819 ‘Granatapfel 1’ ascribed to the Benedictine Abbey St John the Baptist in Uelzen, the town closest to Medingen, on the basis of ownership marks. The pomegranate stamp from the Bodleian Medingen Psalter can be found on at least five other bindings of Medingen manuscripts. On the discussion of whether there was a workshop in Medingen cf. Hascher-Burger/Lähnemann, Liturgie und Reform, pp. 176–78.

32 Online at archive.thulb.uni-jena.de, catalogue: Cornelia Hopf (ed.), Die abendländischen Handschriften der Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek Gotha. Bestandsverzeichnis. Teil 2: Kleinformatige Pergamenthandschriften Memb. II (Gotha: Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek, 1997), p. 55–56.

33 On the sisters cf. Henrike Lähnemann, ‘Medinger Nonnen als Schreiberinnen zwischen Reform und Reformation’, in Rosenkränze und Seelengärten. Bildung und Frömmigkeit in niedersächsischen Frauenklöstern, ed. by Britta-Juliane Kruse (Wolfenbüttel: Herzog August Bibliothek, 2013), pp. 37–42.

34 ‘Wanme singhet: Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, et vidimus gloriam eius… (Jo 1:14) We is nu stenen van herten, dede nicht beweghet werde van dessen soten worden: Gode sone is minsche worden. Darumme, leve minsche, bughe dy kny myt ghanser andacht dines herten…’, fol. 21v.

35 Cf. Henrike Lähnemann, ‘The Medingen “Nuns’ War”’, in The Northern Experience. Mysticism, Art, and Devotion between Late Medieval and Early Modern, Antwerp Conference 2011, special issue of Ons Gestelijk Erf, ed. by Kees Scheepers (forthcoming).

36 A full list of these tables and their explanation for the Medingen psalters in the catalogue entry for Berlin, Ms. theol. lat. oct. 189, in Braun-Niehr, Theologische lateinische Handschriften.

37 ‘Ach myn hemmelsche vader, hir kame ick tho dy vnde bringe mith my dynen leuen Sone, mynen bystant, vortreder, Mitler vnde hogen Prester; in gewisser thovorsicht vnde hopinge, du my armen sunderinnen in synem Namen in groter gnade werst annemen van wegen syner genochdondinge vnde rickliken betalenge al myne sunde vorgeuen vnde nummer dencken’, fol. 18r.

38 Cf. Nigel F. Palmer, ‘Blockbooks, Woodcut and Metalcut Single Sheets’, in A Catalogue of Books Printed in the Fifteenth Century now in the Bodleian Library, ed. Alan Coates (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), p. 45. Online on http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk. She has been used as the figure-head for the official Twitter account of Medieval German Studies at Oxford, adding a new twist to her history of being cut-and-pasted across different forms of literary representation, https://twitter.com/medgermox (accessed 17 January 2016).

39 I am indebted to Ulrike Hascher-Burger who provided me with transcriptions and comparative material for the antiphons. Her catalogue is the most comprehensive survey of music in the manuscripts of the Northern German convents: Ulrike Hascher-Burger, Verborgene Klänge. Inventar der handschriftlich überlieferten Musik aus den Lüneburger Frauenklöstern bis ca. 1550 (Hildesheim: Olms, 2008).

40 A Low German prayer-book for Christmas, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen 4° Cod. Ms. Theol. 242. More on the stages of manuscript distribution from Medingen to the libraries in Henrike Lähnemann, ‘The Medingen Manuscripts in the Houghton Library. Houghton MS. Lat. 395 and Houghton MS. Lat. 440’, Harvard Library Bulletin (forthcoming).

41 Johann Ludolf Lyssmanns Historische Nachricht von dem Ursprunge, Anwachs und Schicksalen des im Lüneburgischen Herzogthum belegenen Closters Meding, dessen Pröbsten, Priorinnen und Abbatißinnen, auch fürnehmsten Gebräuchen und Lutherischen Predigern &c. nebst darzu gehörigen Urkunden und Anmerkungen bis auf das Jahr 1769 fortgesetzt (Halle: Gebauer, 1772).

42 ‘…gegen jedermann freundlich und holdselig. Ob sie gleich in der teutschen und lateinischen Sprache eine grosse Fertigkeit, und in der griechischen, auch hebräischen eine gute Kentniß, sich auch überhaupt in den schönen Wissenschaften wol umgesehen hatte: so war sie doch darauf nicht stolz. Die Zeit, welche sie dem Closter überaus rühmlich vorgestanden, erwarb sie sich allgemeine Liebe und Ehrfurcht. Sie vermehrete die Einkünfte des Closters dadurch beträchtlich, daß sie viel unnöthige kostbare Sachen, welche seit dem dreyßigjährigen Kriege in Kasten eingepackt gestanden, dem Closter zum Besten verkaufte, und das Geld zu Capitalien machte. Sie dienete GOtt mit redlichem Herzen, und führete die sämtliche Conventualinnen so wol zu Beobachtung der Closterordnungen, als des wahren Gottesdienstes an’ (Lyssmanns Historische Nachricht, p. 173).

43 Cf. the doctoral thesis Halle 1916 on the manuscripts which came into the Bülow collection from the Benedictine monastery in Erfurt by Joseph Theele, Die Handschriften des Benediktinerklosters St. Petri in Erfurt (Salzburg: Pustet, 1916), p. 36–37.

44 Bibliotheca Büloviana, das ist systematisches Verzeichnis der zum Nachlasse des verstorbenen Herrn Stiftsregierungsraths Friedrich Gottlieb Julius von Bülow zu Beyernaumburg bei Sangerhausen gehörigen […] Sammlung von Büchern und Handschriften […] von Georg Heinrich Schäffer, Teil 1–3 (Sangerhausen, 1834–36). The manuscript is listed in part 3 (1836), p. 48, in the section ‘Theologie, in octavo et forma minori’ as ‘Nr. 621 Liber precum. Membr[ana] von 284 Bl[ättern], mit 8 vergold[eten] Miniat[uren] (von 1 Zoll Höhe und Breite) u[nd] vielen vergold[eten] Init[ialen]’. The entry at the end and the foliation of the Psalter are in the hand of the library secretary, Georg Heinrich Schäffer. My thanks to Beate Braun-Niehr for checking the catalogue.

45 I am grateful to Andreas Terwey from Koller Auktionen for having provided extensive information on the acquisition history. The manuscript was described by Gaudenz Freuler as a ‘Breviarium’ which he classed as ‘modest work’ (‘bescheidene Arbeit’) with ‘antiquated style’ (‘rückständiger Malstil’) in the auction catalogue (online at kollerauktionen.ch) and sold as Lot 178 on 21 September 2013, 10am, for CHF 30.000. The description lists the plaque as ivory and the floral border as ‘provincial transformation of standard decoration used in the second half of the fifteenth century’ (‘provinzielle Umformung in der zweiten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhunderts in der deutschen Buchmalerei gängiger Dekorationsprinzipien’).

46 Hascher-Burger/Lähnemann, Liturgie und Reform, p. 185–87.

47 Theele, Handschriften des Benediktinerklosters, p. 37. The auction house Lempertz is still dealing in Cologne; cf. www.lempertz.com.

48 Heinrich Lempertz, Bilder-Hefte zur Geschichte des Buchhandels und der mit demselben verwandten Künste und Gewerbe. 65 Tafeln mit bildlichen Darstellungen in Kupferstich, Lithographie, Farbdruck und Holzschnitt, mit Text (Cologne: Lempertz, 1853–65).

49 Bone casket showing scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ, Netherlands c. 1430–60, Chicago, Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), Inv. 1984–03. Information provided by the cataloguer of the plaque for Sam Fogg (samfogg.com) where the plaque was listed in the unpublished sales document (as item 16409). A full catalogue entry is available on the website of the Gothic Ivories Project at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, www.gothicivories.courtauld.ac.uk (accessed on 25 January 2016; under inventory number 1984–03).

50 Accessible on the Bodleian Special Collections DIYdigitisation flickr site (‘bodspecialcollections’ auf flickr.com, under ‘floral border’): Book of Hours. Use of Rome, uploaded by Renzo Dionigi.

51 Laura Light, Women and the Book.

52 The lecture, together with the contributions on aspects of the Medingen manuscripts by the students from the University of Connecticut, will be published in the Harvard Library Bulletin.

53 Andersen, ‘Das Kind sehen’, p. 290.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Henrike Lähnemann

Henrike Lähnemann holds the Chair of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at the University of Oxford since 1 January 2015. Her current research focuses on late medieval devotional manuscripts and early print culture from Northern Germany. Her two most recent publications are Liturgie und Reform im Kloster Medingen (with Ulrike Hascher-Burger, 2013) and Mysticism and Devotion in Northern Germany (ed. with Elizabeth Andersen and Anne Simon, 2014).

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