PhD-Project mgf 242/243

As many other female religious communities during the mid-sixteenth-century in the Low Countries, the sisters of the St. Agnes convent in Arnhem strived to enlarge the cloister’s library by collecting and/or producing several manuscripts. A very impressive piece of work is the manuscript mgf 242/243 (‘Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz’), which contains a Middle-Dutch translation from two very influential sixteenth-century prints: Johannes Tauler’s Von eym waren Euangelischen leben (Cologne 1543), and Gertrude of Helfta’s Legatus divinae pietatis (most probably: Cologne 1536).

Although it was still quite common during the first decennia of the sixteenth-century to copy printed texts by hand, research on the history of texts in the Early Modern Period mainly concentrates on the way a text “travels” from manuscripts to print, and ignores the fact that the print is by no way the “terminus” of it, but is much more to be seen a new starting point of its reception and transmission.

There are several reasons for copying a printed text by hand: of course, prints were quite expensive, in first place; but copying by hand also allowed a more intense appropriation of the text itself: texts could be altered, adjusted, and adopted to ones special needs and intentions.

The same is true for mgf 242/243: Even if the Cologne (German and Latin) print-editions of the works of Tauler and Gertrude allowed a continuously broad reception of two of the most influential mystical texts from the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century into the Early Modern Period, it was mainly the personalized reshaping of these texts by their users—in this special case the sisters of Arnhem—that guaranteed a true and lasting transmission of the mystical tradition from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Period.

The aim of the further research is to show, what (para-)textual and linguistic strategies the sisters of Arnhem finally used in order to appropriate the text(s). By exemplifying this, the research will also lead to a better understanding of the semantic quality of terms like “text,” “authorship,” and “readership” in the Early Modern Period.


© 2010-2014 by Markus F. Polzer