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les Enluminures

Breviary (Cistercian Use)

In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment, with added musical notation
Southwestern German or Switzerland (diocese of Constance), c. 1475-1500

TM 755

v (paper flyleaves) + 339 folios on parchment (quite thin), modern foliation in pencil top outer corner recto, complete (collation i8 ii6 iii-xxix10 xxx-xxxii12 xxxiii10 xxxiv10 [-10, cancelled with no loss of text; 9, now pasted to the back pastedown]), ruled in ink with the top two and bottom two horizontal lines full across, and with full-length vertical bounding lines (justification 75-73 x 57-55 mm.), written below the top line in a conservative gothic bookhand in fourteen long lines, red rubrics, calendar in red and black with alternately red and blue KL-monograms, two- and one-line alternately red and blue initials, eight 8- to 7-line parted red and blue initials with infilling and penwork in black ink (except f. 181, with red infilling), two larger 10- to 9-line line parted red and blue initials, ff. 15 and 210, infilled with red and blue, with decorative penwork in black, and with the opening letters of the text copied in one-line majuscules, alternately red and blue, arranged vertically alongside the initials, one very small hand-colored oval wood cut of the Virgin, Child and St. Anne, laid in between ff. 224v-225, overall in very good condition, trimmed (with slight loss of  text in calendar and marginal addition on one folio, f. 135v), lower outer corner, f. 154 damaged (slight loss to text), ff. 1-6, small rust stain outer margin (probably from earlier clasp), last nine leaves with small stain top outer corner, last leaf darkened. Bound in sixteenth-century blindtooled brown leather over heavily beveled wooden boards, tooled with multiple fillets framing an outer border with vertical rows of quatrefoils in diamond-shaped stamps, bordered with small dots, and a rectangular center panel (now appears blank, but badly rubbed), spine with three raised bands, two brass catches, upper board, partial remains of one strap, lower board, restored, both covers and spine are worn, but in good functional condition. Dimensions 107 x 82 mm.

This is an example of late medieval liturgical book designed for daily use in saying the Divine Office in a monastery, almost certainly for Cistercian nuns. Small in size, but carefully copied in a fairly large script, this was a practical volume. It includes attractive pen initials and is still preserved in an early binding.The added musical notation in the margins of many of the Psalms is evidence of its continued use. Still found between its leaves are a very tiny (contemporary?) hand-colored woodcut and a petal from a flower.


1. Liturgical evidence of the calendar, and the litany indicates that this small Breviary was copied for Cistercian Use in the diocese of Constance (modern-day Switzerland in the area around Constance and neighboring Southwestern Germany), after 1476; evidence of the script and decoration suggests it was copied not long after that date. The style of the decorative initials may be compared with British Library, MS Hirsch III.606, a Cistercian Antiphonal from Southern Germany or Austria. The calendar includes the important Cistercian Saints: William of Bourges (10 January), Robert of Molesme (29 April), Peter of Tarentaise (8 May), Bernard of Clairvaux (20 August), Malachy (5 November), and Edmund Rich (16 November).

The Feasts included are also evidence of a date after 1476 (although the script and decoration are very conservative for this date); included are Thomas Aquinas, 7 March, observed in the Cistercian Order form 1329; and two feasts added to the Cistercian calendar in 1348: Pudentiana, 19 March, and Ivo, 19 May. Two indications of a much later date include the Visitation, 2 July, added to the Cistercian calendar in 1476, and the feast of St. Anne, Mother of Mary, 26 July, added to the Cistercian calendar in 1366, but elevated to a feast with two Masses and twelve lessons, as in this manuscript, in 1454. We may note that the Cistercians adopted the feast of the Visitation quite late; it was observed in 1263 by the Franciscans, and included in the Roman calendar by Pope Urban II in 1389 (and confirmed in 1444).

In addition, the calendar includes several local feasts that suggest an origin in the diocese of Constance (modern-day Switzerland, around Constance or St. Gall, and neighboring Southwestern Germany), including Bishop Conrad on November 26 in red with a feast of one Mass and twelve lessons. Conrad was bishop of Constance, and his relics are preserved in the cathedral. Other local feasts include Bishop Erhardus on 8 January: his relics are at Ratisbon, and he either baptized St. Odila or was her sponsor when she was baptized by St. Hydulph. Other local saints include: “Gerdrudis” probably Gertrude of Nivelles, on March 17, venerated widely especially in Belgium and Germany; King Oswald, King on August 5, a Northumbrian King, his feast was celebrated in England and was also very popular in Southern Germany; Gallus, principal patron St. Gall, on October 16, celebrated in Switzerland, Freiburg, Munich, and Rottenburg; Othmarus, first Abbot of St. Gall, on November 16; and Odila on December 13, patron of Alsace, her cult was also observed throughout southwestern Germany. The litany includes numerous Cistercian saints, as well as Rupert, bishop of Salzburg, and Onuphrius (venerated at Basel and in Southern Germany).

It seems almost certain that this manuscript was copied for the use of Cistercian Nuns, rather than for monks, since the prayer on f. 13 uses the feminine form for sinner, “peccatrix” rather than the masculine, “peccator.” Later in the manuscript, however, masculine forms are retained in the Office prayers. For example, on f. 306, three prayers for Vespers on Saturday after the Octave of Epiphany retain “fratres”; see Cantus Database, 2896, 2899, 20543. Another example of a manuscript copied for Cistercian Nuns that retains masculine forms for these prayers is Halifax, St. Mary’s University, Patrick Power Library, M 219.L4, an Antiphonal dated 1554 from the Abbey of Salzinnes in Namur.

There were a number of Cistercian Houses for Women in the diocese of Constance, including Günterstal in Freiburg im Breisgau, (see http://monasticmatrix.osu.edu/monasticon/g%C3%BCntersthal),

Heiligkreuztal, in Riedlingen/Donau (http://monasticmatrix.osu.edu/monasticon/heiligkreuztal), and Heggbach in Biberach on the Riss (http://monasticmatrix.osu.edu/monasticon/heggbach).

2. Woodcut, oval, 17 x 14 mm. of Anne(?), Mary and the baby Jesus, hand colored, laid in between ff. 224v-f. 225, and a flower petal (?), laid in between ff. 253v-254.

3. Later additions: musical notation added by a later sixteenth-century(?) hand in the margins on twenty-five folios; later corrections, ff. 67v, 86, 100, 140, 143, 150, 264.

4. Added later notes in German, lower margins of ff. 293, 301, 302, 303, 304v; and a prayer in German, f. 339v, and inside back cover.

5. Belonged to the library at the University of Freiburg; inside front cover, engraved bookplate showing St. Jerome seated at a desk, a dove (the Holy Spirit) above, coats-of-arms below, and at the top, “S. Hieronymus Vniversiatis Friburgensis” with the date, 1756. This attractive bookplate was engraved by Peter Mayer. The University, located in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany (formerly in the diocese of Constance), was founded in 1457. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was an important center for the Counter Reformation, and became a Jesuit institution. In the eighteenth century it was reorganized along more secular lines (this bookplate marks the combination of the Arts Faculty library with the libraries of other faculties in 1755).

6. Front flyleaf, f. i, library stamp in blue ink, “Mzeller Schloss Bibliothek”, IV.3.3.1, with “No. 34” added below in bold black ink; possibly from Mcely in Bohemia, Czech Republic. 

7. Later dealers’ and owners’notes include, inside front cover, note in German, and “5” (circled), added in pencil on the bookplate; below, in pencil, “133/6/159”; front flyleaf, in pencil, “M-149749”, “178” and “159”; collation on a strip of paper in pencil glued to the front flyleaf.


ff. 1-12, Graded calendar in red and black for Cistercian use, including William of Bourges (10 January, two Masses, 12 lessons), commemoration of bishops and abbots [of the Cistercian order] (11 January), Thomas Aquinas (7 March, one Mass, 12 lessons), Gertrude (17 March), Robert of Molesme (29 March, two Masses, 12 lessons), Peter of Tarentaise (8 April, 12 lessons, 2 Masses), “commemoratio omnium regularium per sanctarum ordinis nostri” (20 May), Visitation (2 July, two Masses, 12 lessons, with octave), Margaret “secundum seculares” (15 July), Margaret (20 July, Cistercian use), Anne (26 July, 12 lessons, two Masses), Bernard of Clairvaux (20 August, 2 Masses, 12 lessons, with octave), Lampert (17 September, one Mass, 12 lessons) “absolutio generalis” (18 September), Malachy (5 November, two Masses, 12 lessons), Edmund (6 November, two Masses, 12 lessons), and Conrad (26 November, one Mass, 12 lessons). The calendar omits two feasts expected in the Cistercian calendar, the Conception of the Virgin on 8 December, celebrated by from 1356; and King Louis of France, 25 August (from 1296). Barbara is included on 4 December (Roman Martyrology) and on 16 December (the latter the usual date for the Cistercians); 

f. 13rv, Prayer, incipit, “Suscipe sancta trinitas pater et filius et spiritus sanctus unus omnipotens et misericors deus creator omnium teribilis et fortis … Hanc oblacionem psalmorum quam ego indigna peccatrix cupio offerre ad gloriam et laudem nominis tui …”;

A similar prayer, mentioning “hanc oblationem psalmorum” (the offering of these psalms) is found in the Grandes Heures d'Anthoine Vérard, Paris 20 Aug. 1490

(see http://www.chd.dk/inc/Perg10_7pss.html), but the prayer here uses the feminine form of sinner “peccatrix”, and also prays for the unity of the Church, possibly a reference to the great schism from 1378-1418 when there were two elected Popes, both claiming to be the head of the Church.

ff. 15-264v, Psalms 1-150;

Although this is a monastic Psalter for Cistercian Use, the decorated initials in this manuscript are the traditional ones that originated with the Psalms recited at Matins according to secular use for each day of the week: Psalm 1, Sunday at Matins, Psalm 26 on Monday, Psalm 38 on Tuesday, Psalm 52 on Wednesday, Psalm 68 on Thursday, Psalm 80 on Friday, and Psalm 97 on Saturday; there is also an initial at Psalm 109, said on Sunday at Vespers, and at Psalms 51 and 101, reflecting the older tradition of dividing the Psalter into three parts (ff. 15, 53, 76v, 98v, 99, 123v, 153v, 181, 184v, 210). By the late Middle Ages it seems to have been not uncommon to find monastic Psalters with these traditional divisions, instead of the initials corresponding more exactly to the monastic Office (Solopova, 2013, p. 92).

ff. 264v-287, Gallican Canticles (Confitebor, Ego dixi, Exultavit cor meum, Domine audivi, Audite celi, Benedicte omnia, Benedictus dominus deus, Te Deum) and Creed, Quicumque vult (cf. Mearns, 1914, pp. 80-81);

ff. 287-292, Litany, including Trupertus [Trudpert], and Theodore among the martyrs, and Edmund, Malachi, William, Bernard [all Cistercians], as well as Rupert, and Onuphrius among the confessors, and Agatha, Agnes, Margaret, Thorothea [Dorothy] and Barbara among the Virgins;

ff. 292-301, Daily Office, including hymns for Matins through Compline (not noted);

ff. 301-319, Abbreviated Temporale from feria iii after the Octave of Epiphany to the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost;

ff. 319-338v, Abbreviated Sanctorale, from Saturninus (29 November) through Agricola and Vitalis (4 November), followed by the Octave of St. Andrew (7 December), Agnes, second celebration (28 January) and the Octave of John the Baptist (1 July);

Abbreviated Sanctorale that includes collects only for saints observed with a simple commemoration (and therefore none of the important Cistercian saints found in the calendar are included here, nor are there any distinctive local saints).

f. 339rv, added prayer in German.

This is an example of a customized late medieval liturgical book, and as such it is difficult to know what to call it. It includes the Psalms, a liturgical calendar, the daily Offices, and selected texts for the liturgical year. The Psalms (together with Canticles and the Litany, as was customary), certainly have pride of place, and it could be described as a Psalter. However, it also includes selected texts for the Divine Office, and we have therefore chosen to call it a Breviary, although it is certainly not a complete Breviary. Instead, it was a book designed for daily use for only the ordinary feasts of the liturgical year, and it thus lacks the most important feasts of the Temporale and Sanctorale. The Temporale begins with a weekday Office after the Octave of Epiphany, and concludes before Advent. Major feasts and seasons of the liturgical year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and so forth are not included. Similarly, only the feasts of saints observed with simple commemorations are included here, and the longer Offices for the most important saints are omitted (thus even though this is a book for Cistercian use, the Office for St. Bernard is not included in the Sanctorale).  We can view it either as a portable Breviary, lacking the texts for major feasts, or as a Psalter, expanded to include limited texts for the Office.

The prayers of the Divine Office were the heart of the monastic day, beginning with matins, said during the night, and continuing through the day, beginning at dawn with lauds, continuing with prime, terce, sext, none, and vespers, and concluding with compline. The Psalms were central to the medieval liturgy, and constituted the core of the Divine Office, since the entire Psalter was recited at during the services of the Office each week.

One of the characteristics of the Cistercian Order was their concern with establishing uniform customs and liturgical practices throughout the Order, and establishing a regular system to ensure this (annual general councils and visitations). The calendar in this manuscript follows Cistercian legislation carefully, and even at this late date includes only a very few additional local saints. The use of masculine forms in the Office prayers, even in a book copied for Nuns, may be another example of the respect for the uniform liturgy of the Order


Backaert, Bernard. “L'évolution du Calendrier cistercien”, Collectanea Ordinis Cisterciensium Reformatorum 12 (1950), pp. 81-94, 307-316; 13 (1951) pp. 108-127.

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

Freeman, Elizabeth. “Nuns”, in Mette Birkedal Bruun, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Cistercian Order, Cambridge, 2012, pp. 100-111.

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.

Lekai, Louis J. The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality, Kent, Ohio, Kent State University Press, 1977.

Mearns, James. The Canticles of the Christian Church, Eastern and Western, in Early and Medieval Times, Cambridge, 1914,

Solopova, Elizabeth. “The Liturgical Psalter in Medieval Europe”, in Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms: Conflict and Convergence, ed. Susan Gillingham, Oxford, 2013, pp. 89-104.

Solopova, Elizabeth. Latin Liturgical Psalters in the Bodleian Library: A Select Catalogue, Oxford, 2013.

Van Deusen, Nancy, ed. The Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages, Albany, 1999.

Online resources

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

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

Jean-Baptiste Lebigue, “Livres de l’office. L’office des heures”, in Initiation aux manuscrits liturgiques, Paris-Orléans, IRHT, 2007 (Ædilis, Publications pédagogiques, 6) 

Calendrier Cistercien

Gildas, M. “Cistercians”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York, 1908

The History of the Breviary (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Breviary”)

 “Order of St. Benedict: The Cistercians” (links to short history and other resources)

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