TextmanuscriptTextmanuscripts - Les Enluminures

les Enluminures

Prayer Book, including the Ars moriendi compiled by SEBASTIAN BRANT and JAKOB WIMPFELING, with additional texts on bloodletting

In Latin, with inserts in Low German, manuscript on paper
Northwestern Germany (diocese of Minden?), c.1520-1545

TM 952

i + 316 + i folios on paper, in octavo, modern foliation in pencil, top, outer corner; original foliation in pen of quires ii-xxxvii only, bottom, outer corner, in the manner of a printed book, i.e. a1-a4, next four leaves unnumbered, b1-b4, next four leaves unnumbered, etc., three watermarks: (a) quires i-xiv and xxvi-xxix, a bull’s head, with eyes and nostrils, above which is a snake with five loops wound around a double-contoured cross, using a chain line as the central axis, closest to Piccard-Online nos. 77435-36 (1525), at one remove to nos. 77440-42 (1534; 1542-43), and further to nos. 77796-856 (1516-30); (b) quires xv-xxv and xxx-xxxviii, a bull’s head, with eyes and nostrils, above which is a snake with four loops wound around a double-contoured cross, above which is a crescent and star, with loops below the bull’s head, between the chain-lines, of the type represented by Piccard-Online nos. 78001-06 (1529-34); (c) quire xxxix only, a crown, with a double-contoured arch with pearls, above which is a double-contoured cross, above which is a single-contoured star, using a chain line as the central axis, of a type very widely attested c. 1520-145, and which requires more precise measurements for identification than can be obtained from an example thus divided in an octavo manuscript, missing one leaf (collation i9 [f. 9 an added singleton] ii-v8 vi7 [wants 1 after f. 42 with loss of text] vii-xxiv8 xxv12  xxvi-xxxix8), calendar is ruled with 25-26 lines, otherwise unruled (justification c. 70 x c. 120 mm; calendar 75 x 120 mm.), written in one main hand in a neat and regular hybrida libraria usually on 20-24 lines, with additions in five later hands (at least two tiny later sixteenth-century hybridae cursivae, ff. 8, 9v, 313v-315 and 316rv, two further hybridae librariae, f. 301 and ff. 309-312v, and a seventeenth-century cursive hand, ff. 302-307, three eight- to nine-line penwork initials, ff. 10, 153, and 186v, smaller initials in red ink, rubrication of majuscules and underlining in red throughout, except the later additions on ff. 9v, 302-308v, and 313-316v; ff. 301v, 312v, and 315v are blank. CONTEMPORARY BINDING of brown leather over wooden boards, the leather blind-stamped, but now so far abraded that the tools are no longer recognizable or identifiable (on the rear cover, a central image, perhaps a Virgin and child?, within a halo, above which a crucified Christ), with stations and nail-holes for two clasps on the front and rear fore-edge, sewn on three cords with white endbands incorporating red and green threads, PARCHMENT PASTEDOWNS AND FLYLEAVES FROM EARLIER MANUSCRIPTS, at front, a Latin commentary on the apostolic creed, with a second commentary occasionally inserted in the interlinear space, in an early praegothica showing residual features of Carolingian script, probably of the first half of the TWELFTH CENTURY; rear, an unidentified theological text in two fourteenth-century hands, written on two columns). Dimensions 155 x 100 mm.

From a known Benedictine nunnery, the personalized contents of this Prayer Book speak to the continued vitality of Catholic devotional practice in the heartland of the Protestant Reformation.  Tradition is combined with innovation:  the latest prayers and indulgences circulated from Rome, prayers copied from the new medium of print, and an ars moriendi by two of the most prominent German humanists. This manuscript survives from a location “on the edge” of the famous literary and cultural world of the convents which survived the Reformation, including Ebstorf, Medingen, and Wienhausen.


1. Written in Northwestern Germany at the Benedictine Nunnery of St. Jakobus in Rinteln in the diocese of Minden; on the basis of the watermarks present in the paper stocks, the manuscript can be dated conservatively to the period 1520-1545, most likely c.1530, although neither of the watermarks used for the original book-block (a and b above) is so well documented in the standard repertories as to permit precise chronological localization. The absolute date post quem is given by the inclusion of indulgences granted by Pope Leo X (r. 1513-21) at ff. 86-87 and 88v-89.

Throughout, the prayers have been consistently transposed into the female voice and the context indicated in many of the rubrics is obviously that of a monastic community. The prayers at ff. 157-160 and 248-249 indicate that the scribe and first owner of this manuscript was a nun in a Benedictine community; the prayers at ff. 229rv indicate that St. James the Greater was the patron saint of her community, and the calendar at ff. 1-8 indicates an origin in the diocese of Minden. There is just one Benedictine nunnery in the diocese of Minden with a patrocinium of St. James the Greater: the convent at Rinteln, a small town on the Weser approximately equidistant between the cities of Minden and Hamelin (see Online Resources below).

The Benedictine nunnery of St. Jakobus in Rinteln was not closed until 1568.  No other manuscripts produced in this location are known to survive; the sole manuscript associated with the convent in Sigrid Krämer’s Bibliothecae codicum medii aevi (see Online Resources below), a copy of the homilies of Bede from the early ninth century, cannot have been produced there, as it predates the convent’s foundation by three centuries.

2. The texts added later at ff. 302-308v may, to judge from the script, postdate the closure of the convent in Rinteln; if so, then the manuscript must have found a new institutional home, perhaps in one of the numerous convents in the duchies of Calenburg and Lüneburg, in the adjacent diocese of Verden, which were reformed but never closed; on the material and literary culture of those convents, see the exhibition catalogue Schatzhüterin, 2018.

3. Ownership marks on f. 1 and f. 316 have been cut away, removing all direct trace of provenance, save for the name Henricus Stöter, in a tiny hand on the front pastedown. The family name Stoter/Stöter/Stotter is, however, so widespread across much of northern Germany and the Dutch-speaking Netherlands as to preclude identification.

4. The post-medieval provenance is unknown. A shelfmark label on the rear cover has been largely removed, but the final number may have been 9; a small label on the spine gives the number 1247.


ff. 1-8 and 9, Calendar and Tabula signorum siue minutionum, with very few feasts entered.  The entry in red ink on 9 September, “Gorgonii martiris medium apud nos” points towards the diocese of Minden, of which St. Gorgonius was the patron saint, and where his feast was celebrated on 9 September, not (as elsewhere) on 8 September (Online Resources below). The entries concerning the number of days in each month unusually specify the length in hours of days and nights, and together with the zodiac table on f. 9, indicate that the primary function of the calendar was not liturgical, but to calculate optimal times for bloodletting.

ff. 8 and 9v, Tractatus de minucione, incipit, “Er de mane vyf dage olt is vnd vyff dage to voren er he vorgaen wel stastu nycht laten … so synt al dyne aderen vul blodes…”; incipit, “Ari\es/ li\bra/ de vena bene fundunt urna\aquarius/ sagitta\sagittarius/ can\cancer/ pis\piscis/ scor\pio/ media non sunt bona cetera signa Martini blasii. philippi bartholomei…”; [f. 9v], incipit, “Aries calidus siccus atque igneus est capud hominis totum sibi vendicans aptus incisione vene. Taurus frigidusque terreus siccus …”;

A tiny sixteenth-century hand has entered on blank space at the end of the calendar a series of short notes on bloodletting. The first is a brief statement on propitious and unpropitious times for bloodletting, in Low German, followed by mnemonic verses and notes on the same subject in Latin. The same hand has then entered a list of the zodiacal properties with reference to bloodletting on f. 9v. The addition of this information confirms that the primary purpose of the calendar was likely not liturgical, but medical.

ff. 10-37v, Incipit libellus orationum deuotarum in primis de sancta trinitate Et primo oratio de eadem quod quidem quottidie maxime tamen in die dominico perorandum est …, incipit, “O summa vera et sempiterna trinitas adque indiuisa vnitas …”; … [f. 37], Quicumque subscriptam orationem cum iii pater noster legerit procul dubio exaudietur a sancta trinitate, incipit, “O dulcissime et amantissime domine … ut custodias me in hac causa et omnibus periculis corporis et anime mee ad honorem nominis tui dulcissimi per nimiam misericordiam tuam Amen”;

The first thematic block of ­­prayers in this manuscript, which its scribe labels as “a little book of devout prayers” (libellus orationum deuotarum), are prayers to the Trinity. Many are found in other late medieval prayerbooks from north-west German convents, of which the collections of Ebstorf and Medingen are the most well-known. The first (ff. 10-12), for example, is also found in Ebstorf, Klosterarchiv, MS IV 4, f. 19v, and in several other Prayer Books from Ebstorf; a version of the second (ff. 12rv) is found in Ebstorf, Klosterarchiv, MS IV 5, f. 274v. The seven prayers, one for each day of the week, at ff. 20v-35, attributed here to Augustine, are extracts from the “Confessio theologica” of the Benedictine abbot John of Fécamp (d. 1079), a work that circulated as the pseudo-Augustinian “Manuale” (edited Leclercq and Bonnes, 1946, pp. 110-83, here the prima pars, at pp. 110-20).

ff. 37v-62, Summa indulgenciarum ad subsequentes beati gregorii orationes data lxxxa milia et lxxx annorum et xcij dies in super tales indulgencie sunt duplicate per octauam orationem, incipit, “O domine ihesu christe Adoro te in cruce pendentem …”; … [f. 59v], incipit, “O tu preclara sapientia eterna dei patris veritas diuina christus … Quod me prestare digneris tu eterna patris sapiencia crucifixe ihesu christe qui cum patre et spiritu sancto viuis et rengnas [sic] deus per omnia secula seculorum Amen”;

The second thematic block includes prayers to the crucified Christ and/or prayers on the subject of Christ’s Passion in general, including (ff. 37v-39) the famous seven prayers of St Gregory on the Passion (Online Resources below), and (ff. 39-46v) the “Fifteen Oes” attributed to Birgitta of Sweden (d. 1373). Although certainly inauthentic (see Montag, 1968, pp. 25-26), they circulated widely in manuscript and print under Birgitta’s name (GW 4362-83); see Gejrot, 2000, pp. 223-229, edition of older Latin text; this manuscript contains the augmented newer version, Gejrot, 2000, pp. 221-222. Third is a sequence of fifteen prayers linked to fifteen joys experienced by Christ on the cross (ff. 46v-49v); a similar, possibly identical text is in Ebstorf, Klosterarchiv, MS IV 13, f. 109r, perhaps from the Cistercian abbey of Wienhausen near Celle.

ff. 62-76v, Orationes beati gregorii pape de v vulneribus domini nostri ihesu christi et quicumque has deuote legerit habebit quingentes annos indulgenciarum, incipit, “Aue manus dextra christi perforata plaga tristi nos …”; … [f. 74v], Est sciendum quod quicumque omnibus quintis feriis et specialiter in bona quinta feria ante pascha ista triginta pater noster flexis genibus deuote legerit illum vult deus protegere ab omni malo corporis et anime …, incipit, “O domine ihesu christe verus deus et verus homo per illam anxietatem et pauorem quos habuisti in humanitate tua…”;

The third thematic block of prayers shifts focus to Christ’s five wounds and of the drops of blood that He shed upon the cross and includes numerous pairs or shorter sequences of prayers. It begins with the famous prayer of St Gregory to the five wounds of Christ.  Amongst the others, are the prayer to the five wounds at ff. 65v-66v, said here to have been engraved on a stone tablet in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; the rosarium in honor of the five wounds at ff. 66v-67 (here extended to six days), and the very detailed instructions in the long prefatory rubric accompanying the prayers at ff. 67v-68v, which explains how one might offer sufficient prayers in the course of a year to honor each droplet of blood Christ shed, and the rewards that are incurred by so doing.

ff. 76v-85, Quicumque subschriptam [sic] orationem legerit coram coronato capite domini nostri ihesu christi meretur tria milia indulgenciarum dies et debet legi cum dominica oratione…, incipit, “O domine ihesu christe saluto saluto [sic] sanctum capud tuum quod coronatum est spinis et benedictam faciem tuam…”; … [f. 84v], Item Johannes papa fecit sequentem orationem de armis christi et quicumque eam singulis diebus vere contritus deuote legerit promeretur indulgenciam omnium peccatorum…, incipit, “Domine ihesu christi rogo te per extencionem brachiorum tuorum et distencionem viscerum tuorum per solucionem omnium membrorum tuorum…”;

The fourth thematic block of prayers handles the suffering and wounds experienced on the different parts of Christ’s body besides the five wounds of the crucifixion. The rubrics make explicit in some cases that the use of these prayer texts formed part of a multi-medial devotional culture. The first secures the associated indulgence of 3000 days when recited in front of an image of Christ’s head crowned with thorns (ff. 76v-77); the rubric to another notes that the penitent who gazes daily on an image of the exact length and width of Christ’s side-wound will secure remission of all venial sins (ff. 80rv). These prayers, taken as a set, attest to the tendency in late medieval devotional culture – textual, material, and visual – to separate out individual parts of Christ’s crucified body on which to lavish attention, divorced from the narrative sequence of the Passion (see most recently Olson, 2015).

ff. 85-89, incipit, “Quicumque se omni die singnauerit [sic] et benedixerit cum titulo triumphali vii dona inde consequentur Primum quod non sustinebit illa die notabile scandalum…”; … [f. 88v], Leo papa decimus concessit vniuersis christi fidelibus qui dixerint coram nomine ihesu hos quinque psalmos sequentes cum antiphona versiculi et collecta tantas indulgencias quantas habunt orationes gregorianas…, incipit, “Jubilate deo omnis terra seruite domino in leticia et c. Exaudiat te dominus in die tribulacionis…”;

The fifth thematic block of prayers concerns the titulus INRI (the tablet affixed to the cross on which Christ was crucified) and Christ’s Holy Name, a devotion that had grown in intensity in the later fifteenth century, not least through the energetic preaching of the Franciscan Observant friar Bernardino of Siena. The begins with a short text (ff. 85rv) that informs the reader of the seven gifts bestowed on those who bless themselves daily using the holy titulus: the first being that on that day the individual shall suffer no noteworthy scandal (!). After the list of gifts, the reader is told of the amuletic power of the titulus: demons cannot exercise their power over an individual who has marked the titulus upon their body, or carries it written down about their person, or who has it carved on a board above the threshold to their house.

ff. 89-112v, Si quis sequentem orationem de singulis membris domini nostri ihesu christi legerit omni die habebit a beato petro papa tres annos indulgenciarum…, incipit, “Salue tremendum cunctis potestatibus capud domini nostri ihesu christi pro nobis …”; … [f. 112], Beatus gregorius papa dedit cuilibet legenti deuote orationem sequentem centum annos indulgenciarum pro mortalibus peccatis et mille pro venialibus, incipit, “Domine Ihesu christe fili dei viui Precor te per sanctissima quinque vulnera tua que in cruce pertulisti …”;

The sixth thematic block of prayers are focussed Christ’s Passion in general. The sequence of fourteen prayers (ff. 90v-93v) to Christ’s limbs are extracted from the Orationes et meditationes de vita Christi of Thomas à Kempis, here tr. 1, pars 2, c. 34, ed. Pohl, vol. 5, 1902, pp. 204-08; on the style and theology of the prayers, see Caspers, 2012, pp. 44-50. The long cycle of prayers at ff. 104-112 organizes the events of the crucifixion in chronological order and maps them on to the canonical hours, so that the Passion may be recollected in the course of a full-day sequence of prayer. The exact same cycle of prayers and indulgences is again also found in Ebstorf, Klosterarchiv, MS IV 13, ff. 28-39v, a precisely contemporary manuscript that may be from the Cistercian nunnery of Wienhausen (see above).

ff. 112v-114v, Oratio sequens reperitur rome scripta in ecclesia sancti iohannis et quicumque eam deuote legerit…, incipit, “O domine Ihesu christe pater electissime rogo te per gaudium quod dilecta mater tua habuit. te videns cum tu ei apparuisti. in sanctissima nocte resurrectionis tue …”; … [f. 114], De sequenti oratione dat ecclesia m. annos mortalium peccatorum, incipit, “Domine Ihesu christe suscipe hanc orationem in memoriam illius gaudii quod habuit beatissima maria mater tua …”;

The brief seventh thematic block of prayers concerns the triduum and Christ’s resurrection. Two of the prayers, at ff. 112v-113 and 114rv, handle Christ’s apparition to his mother, Mary (an episode without mention in the Gospels).

ff. 114v-123, rubric, Incipit rosarium deuotissimum de domino nostro ihesu christo, incipit, “Gracias tibi ago sapientia dei patris qui in castissimis visceribus beate marie virginis nouem mensibus requieuisti … in mortis agonia amarissime laboranti Amen.”

A rosary cycle of 56 prayers of unequal length begins with Christ’s gestation in Mary’s womb, and ends with Christ dying upon the cross as Mary gazes upon him.

ff. 123v-135, rubric, Quicumque hanc orationem sequentem quottidie legerit fit particeps omnium missarum ipso die in toto mundo celebratarum, incipit, “Adoro domine Ihesu christe corpus tuum quod hodie consecratur per totum mundum et rogo te per illud sacratissimum corpus et sanguinem tuum…”; … [f. 134], Alia valde bona, incipit, “Deus propicius esto michi peccatrici et custodi me omnibus diebus et noctibus vite mee Deus abraham. Deus isaack. Deus jacob … Crux christi protege nos Crux christi defende nos …, Amen”;

The eighth thematic block are eucharistic prayers, starting with a prayer in veneration of the sacrament that is stated in its rubric to allow the penitent to participate in the spiritual rewards of all masses celebrated on that day in the entire world (ff. 123v-124). After the prayers for the elevation of the host follows a prayer that is specified for recitation during the Canon of the mass, a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father for the sacrifice of his son (ff. 126v-130v). This very lengthy prayer would have allowed the penitent to occupy her mind during the lengthy Canon. 

ff. 135-151, In ingressu ecclesie lege sequentes orationes cum pater noster v in honore v vulnerum de cuius virtute quoddam pulchrum reperitur exemplum, incipit, “O domine ihesu christe hic sto tanquam mendicus ante diuitem petens …”; … [f. 150], Post com[munionem], incipit, “Ineffabilem misericordiam tuam domine ihesu christe humiliter exoro vt hoc sacrum corporis et sanguinis tui qui suscepi indigna sit michi purgacio scelerum…”;

The ninth thematic block of prayers accompany the penitent from entrance into the church, through confession, extensive preparation prior to communion, the moments immediately preceding communion, and the period of quiet contemplation and reflection following communion and sacramental reception. The rubric to the prayer for preparation for communion begins (ff. 138v-139v) asks the penitent to ensure that her heart is an attractive place in which for Christ to dwell, and to check that it is not full of weeds and thorns which harm the heart and the soul, including anger, jealousy, and backbiting (murmuratio) (issues that have a particular resonance in a conventual setting). The prayer that follows calls to mind Christ’s Passion, and the rubric can thus be seen to play on the long-standing association of the scriptural verse fasciculus murrae dilectus meus (Ct 1,12) with meditation on the Passion, a link first established by Bernard of Clairvaux and extensively elaborated in the later Middle Ages (Mossman, 2009, pp. 229-238). The penitent should implicitly gather in her heart a bundle of myrrh (recollections of the elements of Christ’s Passion), not the weeds and thorns of misbehavior and vice.

ff. 151-152v, rubric, Eyn scone oracio, incipit, “O leue here Ihesu christe Ick mane dy der leue in der du quemest ses dage vor dynem dode in de stat iherusalem … O here dor dynem bytteren doet make mynen ende vullen guet Amen”;

Entered at a later point, very likely by the same scribe, on leaves that were originally blank at the end of the nineteenth quire, is a Low German prayer for Palm Sunday.

ff. 152v-187, Quicumque sequentem orationem quottidie legerit deuote legerit ante ymaginem beate virginis non morietur in peccatis mortalibus, incipit, “Aue nobilissima creatura beatissima virgo maria est enim tibi quasi osculum hunc audire versiculum Aue maria gratia plena dominus tecum …”; [f. 186], Sequuntur lamentaciones beate virginis filium in gremio habens mortuum, incipit, “O ue lumen mundi quomodo mutatum es…; Alexander papa sextus concessit decem milia annorum pro mortalibus et viginti milium pro venialibus dicente hanc orationem trina vice […] et puplicauit Anno domini M cccc xciiii, incipit, “Aue Maria gratia plena dominus tecum tua gratia sit semper mecum Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedicta sit sanctissima Anna mater tua…”; Sequitur alia ad quam reuerendissimus pater et dominus Raymundus cardinalis et legatus concessit centum dies indulgenciarum tociens quociens deuote coram ymaginibus predictis legitur, incipit, “Quotquid maris sunt gutte et arene terre grana et gramina arborum fructus et folia stelle celi et angelici… Orate pro nobis miseris peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostre Amen.”

The tenth, and very extensive, thematic block of prayers is addressed to Mary. Some are themselves coherent sequences of prayers, as for example the sequence of twelve prayers to each of Mary’s limbs at ff. 164v-166r (an incomplete set is to be found in a contemporary prayerbook from the Benedictine nunnery of Ebstorf: Ebstorf, Klosterarchiv, MS IV 5, ff. 20v-21), or the sequence of six prayers in praise of Mary’s conception, ff. 179-181. One of these Marian prayers contains important evidence for the localization of the manuscript, for amongst the litany of saints included in the prayer at ff. 157-160 is sanctum patrem meum Benedictum, an indication that the copyist must have belonged to a Benedictine community. Some were very widespread, like the prayer “O intemerata” (Wilmart, 1932, pp. 493-95 and Online Resources) on ff. 160-161v. Others are newer. The prayer at ff. 153v-154 is equipped with an indulgence said to have been augmented by Pope Julius II (r. 1503-13); that at ff. 186rv is said to have been granted an indulgence by Pope Alexander VI in 1494; and the final prayer at ff. 186v-187 is said to have been granted an indulgence by Cardinal Raymond Peraudi, who was created cardinal in 1493 and died 1501. The sequence of five prayers for the five sorrows of Mary at ff. 167-169v, attributed here to Anselm, is found with an identical attribution to Anselm in the “Antidotarius anime”, compiled by the Cistercian abbot Nicolaus Salicetus and first printed 1489 (Online Resources), which may well be the direct source for the text here.

ff. 187-204v, vii gaudia sancte Anne, incipit, “Gaude sancta Anna matrum felicissima que sterilitatis opprobrium commutasti in fecunditatis honorem…”; … [f. 204r], De tota progenie domini oratio, incipit, “O beata progenies et veneranda nacio ex qua christus natus est ex intacte virginis vtero carnem assumens O tu regalis progenies…”;

The eleventh thematic block consists of prayers to Anne, Mary’s mother, accompanied at its end by single prayers to Joachim, Mary’s father, to Mary’s husband Joseph, and to the whole holy family. The rosary in praise of Anne at ff. 189v-193 contains some 32 individual prayer texts, some of which are addressed to other members of the holy family.  The prayers to Anne constitute one of the most distinctive features of this manuscript, as they do not appear to be well-known. Compare, however, contemporary Prayer Books from the same region, including Ebstorf Klosterarchiv, MS IV 13, ff. 339v-371v, with a rosary and prayers to Anne, including a prayer to Joachim (potentially from Wienhausen), or MS IV 19, ff. 259r-368v, with a rosary and prayers to Anne, including prayers to Joachim and Joseph (from Ebstorf).

ff. 205r-218v, rubric, Sequitur rosarium de sancto petro apostolorum principe et apostolo meo karissimo, incipit, “Simon bariona tu vocaberis cephas quod interpretatur petrus janitor celi pulsantibus aperi supra modum peccauimus…”; … [f. 217v], rubric, Quando precedencia nomina scilicet petri et pauli legisti tunc os fer [sic] ea cum oratione sequente nominans illum cuius nominem legisti, incipit, “O dilecte mi apostole sancte N. nunc offero tibi hanc exiguam cordis mei deuocionem et has orationes dominicas benedicto nomini tuo ob honorem…”;

The twelfth thematic block consists of four long sequences of prayers to SS. Peter and Paul. It begins with a rosary of 54 prayers to St Peter (ff. 205-210r), who is described by the scribe in the rubric as her most beloved apostle. The rosary is followed by two sequences of six prayers each, the initial letters of which form acrostics to spell the names PETRUS (ff. 210-213v) and PAULUS (ff. 213v-217).

ff. 218v-222, rubric, De proprio angelo, incipit, “Obsecro te angelice spiritus cui ego indingna [sic] peccatrix ad prouidendam commissa sum ut me indesinenter protegas…”; … de ix ordinibus angelorum, [f. 222], incipit, “O inflammati seraphyn ardentes dilectione O illustrati cherubin lucentes dei congnicione [sic] O summi throni iudicantes dei sessione…”;

The thirteenth thematic block contains prayers to the angels. A series of four prayers to one’s guardian angel is followed by individual prayers to the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, and the set is concluded with a prayer in verse addressed to all nine choirs of angels. The first prayer here, “Obsecro te angelice spiritus” (ff. 218v-219v), is very well-known (see Wilmart, 1932, pp. 541-43, with edition). It was printed alongside the prayer by which it is followed here, “Omnipotens et misericors deus” (f. 219v), and the verses in prayer to the choirs of angels, “O inflammati seraphin” (ff. 221v-222r), in the “Hortulus anime” prayerbook, first published 1498 by Wilhelm Schaffener in Strasbourg (Online Resources below) and very frequently thereafter, with four further incunable editions alone (GW 12969-73).

ff. 222-270v, De sancto adam, incipit, “Sancte Adam prothoplaste dei qui non ex virili semine es natus sed a domino mirabiliter factus sicut angelus et fuisti in paradiso donec serpentis insidiis occubuisti transgrediens mandata dei…”; … [f. 266v], Sequitur Rosarium de omnibus sanctis per modum letanie compositum, incipit, “Deus pater qui creasti mundum et illuminasti suscipe me penitentem et illustra meam mentem … ut non damnentur in fornace sed requiescant in pace Amen.”;

The fourteenth thematic block consists of prayers to the saints; from patriarchs and Old Testament figures, to John the Baptist and to the apostles (James the Greater with two prayers, and including Paul and Mary Magdalene); martyrs, (including Laurence (five prayers), Blaise (two prayers), Livinus), confessors (including Benedict (three prayers), Francis, Bernard, Henry, Roch, Dominic), holy virgins (including Ursula and her companions, Scholastica, Aldegonde, Odilia, Gertrude, Mary Magdalene (two prayers), Elisabeth), concluding with a rosary with 63 prayers likewise dedicated to all the saints.

The inclusion of two prayers to the apostle James the Greater (ff. 229rv) is significant. In the rubric to the first, he is described as “our patron saint” (De sancto Jacobo patrono nostro), repeated in the opening line of the prayer (“Sanctissime et beatissime apostole Jacobe frater magni euangeliste Iohannis mi patrone gloriose…”). Similarly significant is the inclusion of three prayers to St Benedict (ff. 248-249), who is described in the rubric to the first as “our holiest father” (De sanctissimo patre nostro Benedicti). The text of the third prayer identifies the penitent as Benedict’s servant (intercede pro me misera peccatrice famula tua) and asks for aid in following his rule that she has vowed to follow.  Taken together, these provide evidence that the scribe and first owner of this Prayer Book was a Benedictine nun resident in a convent dedicated to St James.

ff. 271r-284r, rubric, Sequitur ars moriendi et primo quatuor interrogaciones gersonis apud morientes faciende. Prima, incipit, “Amice dilecte vel dilecta considera nos omnes subiectos esse potenti manu dei et …”; … [f. 273],  Instruc[t]io bona morituri, incipit, “Sanctus Gregorius dicit Omnis christi accio est nostra instruccio …”; … [f. 283], Oratio vltima, incipit, “Domine Ihesu christe qui redemisti nos precioso sanguine tuo scribe in anima famule tue N. sororis nostre tua preciosa vulnera sanguine tuo vt discat in eis legere tuum dolorem…”; [f. 283v], incipit, “Quia tota salus hominis in fine consistit hominis sollicite … Memerare ergo nouissima tua et in eternum non peccabis et c.”;

The Ars moriendi, adapted from the version prepared and incorporated into the expanded 1503 Strasbourg edition of the “Hortulus anime” by Sebastian Brant (d. 1521) and Jakob Wimpfeling (d. 1528), two of the most outstanding humanist scholars of their age, and frequently reprinted thereafter (Online Resources below). The whole work, except for the quattuor interrogationes Gersonis at the start, has been systematically revised here to be suitable in grammar and in content for the death of a nun, and many of the other adjustments, especially to the final prayers, may reflect that context. Some of the individual component texts are shared in common with the more famous “Speculum artis bene moriendi”, the dominant work in the tradition in manuscript and print (see Schneider, 1995, cols 40-49), but the ars moriendi compiled by Brant and Wimpfeling, which they published in their augmented edition of the “Hortulus anime,” is an independent work worthy of greater study in its own right.

ff. 284-290r, rubric, Si quis sequentem orationem xxx diebus deuote pro anima legeri cum quinque miserere et super quemlibet tria pater noster et aue maria dei liberatur de purgatorio…, incipit, “Factus Ihesus in agonia prolixius orabat …”; … Johannes papa xii dedit ad se ora tot dies indulgentie quot corpora ibi sunt sepultura cum legitur in cimiterio vel ecclesia, incipit, “Auete omnes christifideles anime det vobis requiem ille qui est vera requies Ihesus christus filius dei viui qui natus est de inmaculata virgine maria pro nostra omniumque salute…”;

The fifteenth thematic block is prayers for the dead. They begin with a prayer that takes as its opening words the text of the sequence “Factus Iesus in agonia prolixius orabat” (CANTUS database no. 002848; Online Resources), widely transmitted in the Prayer Books now in the Ebstorf Klosterarchiv (MSS IV 4, f. 405v; IV 5, ff. 44r and 376r; IV 18, f. 182v; IV 19, f. 15r).

ff. 290v-300v, rubric, Hyr na volgen vyff miserere vor de zele de men xxx dage complete sal lesen dar mede waert eyns eyn zele vor loset Tot den ersten miserere leset Memento salutis auctor et c. Gloria tibi, incipit, “O here Ihesu christe ick bydde dy vmme der leue wyllen dattu van dem hymmel quemest (f. 300r) incipit, “O ere Ihesu christe ick mane dy der leue dar du anne …”; … Hyr volget na eyn schone gebet van marien der moder gades, [f. 300v], incipit, “Saluto te beatissima dei genitrix virgo semper Maria domina angelorum regina celorum salutatione …”;

Low German prayers, which in large part continue the thematic sequence of prayers for the departed. The seven prayers, each to be prefaced by the recitation of the Lord’s prayer, and to be read on seven consecutive Sundays in the churchyard for the departed (ff. 292-294) are also found in Greifswald, Universitätsbibliothek, nd. Hs. 17, ff. 74v-77. A set of three prayers for the departed that are said to have been endowed by St. Silvester with as many days of indulgence as raindrops may fall in a full day and night (ff. 295rv) are also found in Senden-Bösensell, Haus Alvinghof (olim Haus Ruhr, Privatbesitz von und zur Mühlen), MS Duodec. 304, ff. 364v-365v).

f. 301r, rubric, [O] dominus noster Ihesus christus cuidam suo amico docuit salutaciones sequentes valde vtiles, incipit, “Aue Ihesu christe verbum patris filius virginis agnus dei salus mundi hostia sacra verbum caro fons pietatis Aue Ihesu christe panis angelorum gloria sanctorum visio pacis deitas integra…//”; [f. 301v, blank];

A secondary, though roughly contemporary hand has added the prayer “Ave Ihesu Christe, verbum patris” (Wilmart, 1932, pp. 412-13, with edition); the text was left incomplete, and breaks off mid-way through the fifth salutation.

ff. 302-308v, incipit, “in presencia corporis et sangwinis tui domine ihesu christi commendo tibi famulos patrem matrem fratres sorores et omnes amicos meos vt per virtutem sancte crucis eis misterium incarnacionis passionis resurreccionis et ascensionis tue…”; … [f. 307], incipit, “Item wen men in grothen is so schal men duth betht lesen val an dine venien vnde spreck ein pater noster … berge stut vnde sprack pater si possibile est transeatis a me calix iste…”;

Five prayers in Latin added by a seventeenth-century hand on leaves left blank in what was the last quire of the original manuscript block, followed by a sixth text in which short Latin prayers are incorporated into a series of devotional exercises in German.

ff. 309-312, incipit, “Diliges dominum deum tuum et c. Mt. xxii. Circa dileccionem dei duo sunt notanda scilicet quomodo deus sit diligendus et quare sit diligendus Sciendum quod deus sit diligendus tribus modis…//”; [f. 312v, blank];

Paratus, sermo 148, for the 18th Sunday after Trinity, here incomplete; the “Paratus” is one of the most widespread sermon collections from the German-speaking lands in the later Middle Ages, with an enormous circulation in manuscript and print, but has scarcely been subject to any scholarly attention; see Worstbrock, 1989, cols 303-04.

ff. 313v-315 [f. 315v, blank]; and f. 316rv, incipit, “Luna prima dies summo mane sanguinem minuere bonum est in omnibus rebus agere vtile est puer natus sapiens astutus litteratus erit periclitabitur in aqua nata speciosa casta virginea viris placens in posterioritate lecto recumbens…”; [f. 315], incipit, “Item in luna quinta et in luna xv et in luna xx et in luna xxv nequaquam minuas si anxis (?) viuere annum tres dies tibi notum facio…”; [f. 316], incipit, “Wo men dat mynschen bloet erkent. Ist dat dat bloet wyt is alse schuem dat beteckent den hoesten vnd der lungen sucht …”;

Three short texts and notes on bloodletting, added in at least two sixteenth-century hands, the first two in Latin, and the third in German; the third note (f. 316), in German, is a brief diagnostic treatise on the types and colors of blood.

f. 316v, incipit, “Keen groter freud op erden is dan de van herten tho freden is vnd denet godde dem heren vnd leth de werld de werlde syn wante alle dynck vorgencklyck synt besunder god alleyne …wo wal heft he gesungen dat em god barmhertych sy vnd geue vns vergyffnysse van alle vnsen sunden Amen.”

A religious song, in Low German, in five strophes, rhymed; entered on the final verso in the hand responsible for the first and third notes of the previous set of additions on bloodletting.

This Prayer Book takes us into the world of female monastic religiosity in the second quarter of the sixteenth century in the northern German heartlands of the Protestant Reformation. It is a powerful witness to the vivacity of Catholic devotion and the appeal of the doctrine of indulgence just at the point when they came under the fiercest assault. Two of the prayer texts (ff. 86-87 and 88v-89) and their indulgences are associated here with the name of Pope Leo X (r. 1513-1521). Quite aside from the importance of these ascriptions in providing a dating post quem for the production of the manuscript, these prayers take us here into the heart of the Reformation controversy. It was the aggressive campaigns of indulgence preaching undertaken in northern Germany by the commissioners of Leo X, circulating these and other prayer texts for lucrative gain, which famously aroused the ire of Martin Luther. Yet the presence of these texts in this manuscript attests to the continued fervor of Catholic devotion at a time when the Reformation was very likely well underway.  As with many late medieval Prayer Books, it contains a characteristic mix of Latin and vernacular texts, but it is Latin that predominates: testament to the strong culture of Latin learning and literacy in northern German women’s convents.


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Online Resources

Cantus Manuscript Database: Inventories of Chant Sources

Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke

Hortulus anime. Strasbourg: Wilhelm Schaffener, 1498

Hortulus anime, revised by Sebastian Brant and Jakob Wimpfeling. Strasbourg: Johann Wähinger, 1503 (VD16: H 5042)

Krämer, Sigrid. Bibliothecae codicum medii aevi



Liturgical calendars used in imperial (and Scandinavian) dioceses

Niedersächsische Klosterkarte

Niedersächsische Klosterkarte – Rinteln OSBfem

O intemerata et in eternum benedicta

Salicetus, Nicolaus. Liber meditationum et orationum devotarum qui Antidotarius animae dicitur, Strasbourg: Johannes Grüninger, 1489

Seven Prayers of St Gregory on the Passion