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les Enluminures

Noted Breviary (part) for Dominican Nuns

In Latin and German, decorated manuscript on parchment and paper
Southern Germany (Bamberg?), c. 1455-1475, with seventeenth-century additions

TM 387


i (paper) + 235 folios, ff. 1-139 on parchment, and ff. 140-235, later paper, watermarks, three unidentified motifs, including “R” in a shield, modern foliation in pencil, top, outer corner (collation, i-xiii10 xiv10 [-10, following f. 139, cancelled, 7, f. 137 and 9, f. 139, parchment leaves with paper leaves glued to both sides] xv8 [8, f. 147, glued to the first leaf of the following quire] xvi8 [1, glued to f. 147, so it functions as f. 147v, 2 and 3, glued together as f. 148, 4 and 5 glued together as f. 149] xvii-xxvi8 xxvii4 [4, unnumbered pastedown]), no catchwords or signatures, ruled very lightly in ink with the top ruled line full across on some folios, (justification, 85-80 x 60-58 mm.), copied below the top ruled line in a hybrida script in sixteen long lines, square musical notation on red four-line staves, occasional custodes added later, red rubrics, one-line initials, alternately red and blue, within the line of text, two-line initials, alternately red and blue, five-line initials with red pen decoration, f. 1, rubbed, and f. 128, quite fine with decorative shapes within the initial, some soiling, especially in the bottom margin, and stained by damp, bottom margin, final folios, but overall legible and in very good condition. Bound in late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century (?) dark brown leather over wooden boards, tooled with a simple border of triple fillets on both covers, spine with three raised bands, two leather clasps with brass fasteners attaching to pins on the upper board, lower clasp almost detached, edges dyed red, the leather on both covers and spine is quite worn, and both covers are cracked along the hinges, with the front cover only loosely attached. Dimensions 109 x 90 mm.

This small, unassuming, but attractive manuscript consists of a portion of a fifteenth-century Breviary copied for Dominican Nuns in southern German, probably in the diocese of Bamberg. It includes both musical notation, particularly full in the Office of the Dead, and rubrics in German. Manuscripts once belonging to Nuns are less common than those from male foundations. Added to the text in the seventeenth or early eighteenth century is a very complete liturgy for the Dead and for Burial, also noted, which deserves further study.


1.The Dominican origin of the manuscript is clearly evident from the liturgical use of the Hours of the Virgin and the Office of the Dead, the inclusion of prayers mentioning St. Dominic and other Dominican Saints and the Saints many Dominican saints in the litany, including Dominic (twice), Thomas Aquinas, Peter Martyr and Vincent Ferrer. Liturgical forms and directions that mention the Nuns and the Prioress, demonstrate that it was written for Dominican Nuns. The manuscript certainly dates after 1455 in the second half of the fifteenth century; Vincent Ferrer was canonized in 1455, and the script suggests that the manuscript was likely copied within a few decades of that date.

Probably written for a convent in Southern Germany, and in particular, in the diocese of Bamberg, as indicated by the saints included in the litany and the dialect of the German rubrics. Henry II and Cunigundis are associated with Bamberg (Henry is buried in the cathedral), and Sebald was the patron of Nuremberg. Other saints included were also especially venerated in southern Germany, including Elizabeth of Thuringia, Odilia and Achatius (both added in a slightly later hand). A later hand crossed out Henry, Louis and Sebald, and added two saints associated with Regensburg, Erhard and Wolfgang. Added to the litany in a slightly later hand are Casper, Melchior and Balthazar, and Emerentiana (if Emerentiana is meant, since the name is added alongside the male martyrs), saints especially venerated at Cologne.

Although the evidence is not strong enough to definitely assign the manuscript to one particular Dominican convent, it is possible that the manuscript may have been copied in Bamberg itself for the convent of the Heilig Grab, founded in 1365. A number of manuscripts survive from Heilig Grab’s library (see “The Monastic Matrix,” listed below, online resources; and Sigrid Krämer, Handschriftenerbe des deutschen Mittelalters. Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge, Deutschlands und der Schweiz, Ergänzungsband 1, Munich, 1989, volume 1, pp. 67-8). There were other Domincan convents within the diocese of Bamberg. The most well-known is the convent of St. Catherine’s in Nuremberg, which, especially after its reform in 1428, was known for its active scriptorium and library (see Krämer. Handschriftenerbe 2:622, and P. Ruf. Bistum Augsburg, Eichstätt, Bamberg, in Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskatalogue Deutschlands und der Schweiz, Munich, 1932, pp. 578-670, and “The Monastic Matrix,” listed in Online Resources). There was also a Dominican house at Erlangen, Frauenaurach, founded in 1268 and suppressed in 1548 (see “The Monastic Matrix,” listed in Online Resources).

2. Remained, and was used, in Germany into the seventeenth- or early eighteenth- century when the additions were made; the litany includes many Dominican Saints including Hyacinth (1594), “Reimund” (Raymond of Penafort? 1601), Louis (Louis Beltran?, 1671), “Pie” (Pius V? 1712), Catherine of Siena (1461), and Rosa (Rose of Lima, 1671); the response in the litany is “pray for her,” and the manuscript was clearly still used by Domincan Nuns at this point.

3. Nineteenth-century description in German laid in.

4. Private Collection, USA.


ff. 1-3, Commemorations of the Cross, the Virgin, St. Dominic, and Saints Peter, Thomas, Vincent and Katherine;

ff. 3v-7v, and lessons for the dead;

ff. 7v, at the lessons of Matins;

ff. 9v-13v, Benedictions for various occasions, including the morning, “Zu dem frue male,” f. 10v, for evening, “Zu dem abent male,” f. 11v, “Zu metten,” and “Uber ein regen,” f. 12, for good weather, “Vmb eim schon wetter,” ff. 12v-13, “An dem aschmit Wochin vnd hohen donstag uber die vii ps,” and f. 13rv “An den creutztagen fur die heiligen cristenheit”;

ff. 13v-48, Hours of the Virgin, Dominican Use (see http://www.chd.dk/use/hv_dominican.html), incipit, “Incipit cursus de beata virgine”; with changed Office following Vespers for Advent, Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost; compline followed by the Salve Regina and a commemoration of Dominic;

ff. 49-51v, Penitential prayers with rubrics in German specifying prayers said by the prioress and those said by the nuns, including prayers accompanying the Gradual psalms, the Credo, and Pater noster;

ff. 51v-62, Office of Compline, beginning “Sorores sobrie estote et vigilate …,” with variations for Christmas, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, Purification, Annunciation, Visitation, Assumption, and Nativity and Conception of Mary;

ff. 62-108, Noted Office of the Dead, Dominican Use (the responsories following the lessons agree with those identified as Domincan in Knud Ottosen, The Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead, Aarhus, 1993, pp. 108-110; see also pp. 239-242).

ff. 108-125v, Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany, including Peter Martyr, Dominic (twice), Thomas Aquinas, Vincent Ferrer, Catherine, (twice), Ursula, Cunigundus, and Elizabeth; the original litany also included Henry, Louis and Sebald, which have been crossed out, and replaced by Erhard and Wolfgang; other additions include Achatius Emerentia, and Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.

ff. 126-128, Alternate litany for the Dead, incipit, “Die dotem letaney,” with directions, f. 126v, to follow the saints in the preceding litany with the petition, “Ora pro eis,” and to begin with St. Elizabeth of Thuringia;

ff. 128-135v, Psalms 22, 23, 24, [25, omitted, added in margin], 26, 27, 28, and 30, with antiphons and prayers (some with cues only); ending top, f. 135v, remainder blank, with added prayers: “Jhesu bone prece dominici tibi … ora concede,” and “Proprio filiio suo .., O pro nobis omnibus tradit illum.”

ff. 136-216, seventeenth-century additions with the liturgy for Death and Burial; beginning with prayers said when the dead are brought into the chapel; noted response and prayers, ff. 137-139, incipit, “Subvenite sancte dei ..”; ff. 147-150, the noted processional antiphon for bringing the dead to the cemetery, incipit, “Clementissime domine qui pro nostra misericordia …”; litany, ff. 151-153, with the response, “ora pro eam,” including “pater dominic,” twice, Thomas, Vincent, Hyacinth (1594), Reimund (Raymond of Penafort? 1601), Pia (Pius V? 1712), Louis (Louis Beltran?, 1671), among the confessors, and Catherine of Siena and Rosa (Rose of Lima, 1671) among the widows and virgins; ff. 172-188, penitential psalms and prayers remembering the dead, including f. 183, a prayer for the soul of brother Stephen Albert, f. 183v, Elizabeth, f. 184, Henry, f. 184v, “Rieza”; ff. 188-210v, prayers in German; ff. 210v-216, prayers for the dead [ending mid f. 216, remainder, and ff. 216v-235v, blank]

Although many of the texts usually found in Breviaries are absent here, a comparison of the text of this manuscript with those found at the beginning of another Dominican Breviary, now San Marino, California, Huntington Library, HM 1065, also copied for Dominican Nuns from Germany in the second half of the fifteenth century, leaves no doubt that our manuscript is in fact part of a Breviary. The contents of Huntington HM 1065 are strikingly similar; there are similarities in script and musical notation as well (see Digital Scriptorium: http://dpg.lib.berkeley.edu/webdb/dsheh/heh_brf?CallNumber=HM+1065).

Breviaries contain the psalms, lessons and prayers for the Divine Office, celebrated by the clergy and members of the religious orders throughout the day and night, beginning with matins, said during the night, and continuing through the day, from lauds at dawn, prime, terce, sext, none, and vespers, and concluding with compline. Very little of the Divine Office is included in our manuscript, apart from some prayers said at matins and the Office of Compline, but Breviaries also contained other Offices, such as the Hours of the Virgin, Office of the Dead, and other prayers, and these are included here. Our manuscript may once have been part of a longer Breviary like HM 1065, which contains a series of Psalms (although not the complete Psalter), and Offices for the common of saints, the Sanctorale, and part of the Temporale, not found in our manuscript. However, the text now included in our manuscript is continuous; there are no breaks in the text that indicate missing sections. Moreover, the last folio ends at the top of the page with the remainder left blank, indicating that it may always have been the end of the manuscript, or at least of this section of text. Therefore, it is possible that this manuscript may be an unusual example of a Breviary containing Compline together with accessory prayers and Offices.

The manuscript does present a problem of nomenclature, since it may seem misleading to call it a Breviary, given its present contents. One might call it instead a noted Office Book. It has been described as a Book of Hours for a Dominican nun, for use in the convent chapel rather than for private devotion, and indeed its contents today are similar to those of Books of Hours. Books of Hours, like this manuscript, commonly included the Hours of Virgin, Litany, and the Office of the Dead, as well as other texts not included here. Nonetheless, Books of Hours were books for private devotion, and since our manuscript clearly includes texts for the liturgy observed in the Chapel by Dominican Nuns, and includes part of the Divine Office, its functional use was quite different from that of Books of Hours.

Women played an important role in the Dominican Order from its very earliest years. St. Dominic himself founded the first Dominican convent for Nuns at Prouille in 1206, and the number of convents grew rapidly. In 1267 a papal order secured the place of women within the order. Throughout the medieval period the number of convents was especially notable in Germany, particularly in the southeast; in 1277 there were fifty-three convents in Germany; by 1303 the number had grown to seventy-four, compared with only forty-eight Houses for men. Modern historians interested in the religious life of women have tended to focus on vernacular sources, and on illuminated liturgical manuscripts that belonged to Nuns. Small, undecorated, or simply decorated breviaries such as this one are a source that deserves to be studied more closely for what they can teach us about the daily life of religious women in the late Middle Ages.

The interest of this manuscript is extended by the extensive liturgy for death and burial added in the seventeenth or early eighteenth century.


Bonniwell, William R. A History of the Dominican Liturgy, New York, J. F. Wagner, 1944.

Battifol, P. History of the Roman Breviary, London and New York, 1898.

Ehrenschwendtner, Marie-Luise, “A Library Collected by and for the Use of Nuns: St. Catherine's Convent, Nuremberg,” in Women and the Book: Assessing the Visual Evidence, eds. Lesley Janette Smith and Jane H. M. Taylor, London, British Musuem, 2007, pp. 123-132.

Eisermann, Falk, Eva Schlotheuber and Volker Honemann, eds., Studien und Texte zur literarischen und Materiellen Kultur der Frauenklöster im späten Mittelalter, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2004.

Harper, John. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford, 1991.

King, Archdale, Liturgies of the Religious Orders, Milwaukee, Bruce, 1955.

Krämer, Sigrid. Handschriftenerbe des deutschen Mittelalters. Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge, Deutschlands und der Schweiz, Ergänzungsband 1, Munich, 1989-1990.

Ottosen, Knud. The Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead, Aarhus, 1993.

Plummer, John. Liturgical Manuscripts for the Mass and Divine Office, New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1964.

Ruf, P. Bistum Augsburg, Eichstätt, Bamberg, in Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskatalogue Deutschlands und der Schweiz, Munich, 1932, pp. 578-670.

Salmon, Pierre. The Breviary through the Centuries, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1962.

Steinke, Barbara. Paradiesgarten oder Gefängnis?: das Nürnberger Katharinenkloster zwischen Klosterreform und Reformation, Tübingen, Mohr Siebeck, 2006.

Online resources

The History of the Breviary:
www.newadvent.org/cathen/02768b.htm (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Breviary”)

Introduction to liturgical manuscripts:
“Celebrating the Liturgy’s Books”:

“The Roman Breviary” (text of modern Roman Breviary in Latin and English, with historical introduction):

“Late Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts – Books of Hours 1400-1530. Institute for Studies of Illuminated Manuscripts in Denmark. CHD Center for Handskriftstudier i Danmark”; notes on identifying the liturgical Use of the Hours of the Virgin:

Mandonnet, P, “Order of Preachers,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911; retrieved March 20, 2009 from New Advent:

Frauenklöster in Mittelalter und Neuzeit: Literatur, Dominikanerinnen:

Monastic Matrix: A scholarly resource for the study of women’s religious communites from 400 to 1600 c.e.:

Monastic Matrix: Heilig Grab:

Monastic Matrix: Frauenaurach:

Monastic Matrix: S. Katharinenkloster (St. Catherine’s, Nuremberg)