Devotion and obedience: a devotio moderna construction of St Bridget of Sweden in Lincoln Cathedral Chapter Manuscript 114

Mederos, Sara Danielle (2016) Devotion and obedience: a devotio moderna construction of St Bridget of Sweden in Lincoln Cathedral Chapter Manuscript 114. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

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This dissertation places a medieval manuscript of the late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries in a new historical context. Lincoln Cathedral Manuscript MS 114 has, previously, been understudied and where it has been noticed it has been misidentified. Formally, used only for a few studies focusing on St Bridget of Sweden, it has been considered to be of English provenance, perhaps linked to one of the Birgittine monasteries in England.1 By noting the manuscript’s Dutch provenance and exploring its probable connection to the devotio moderna movement, this thesis will consider how MS 114 might have been used in the early years of the movement. It will examine key themes of different explorations of chastity for lay women, and in particular, the nature of female obedience, as portrayed within the manuscript.
This devotional manuscript is made up of nineteen different pieces or extracts from larger medieval works of theology and philosophy. The nineteen articles of the manuscript are arranged in two nearly equal parts. The manuscript’s division into two parts is significant to our thinking about how it was intended to be used and read. The first half, which contains Articles 1 through 10, is made up largely of documents relating to St Bridget of Sweden, exploring her life and arguments concerning the legitimacy her sanctity. Bridget was born in 1303 to Swedish nobles Birger Persson and, his second wife, Ingeborg Bengstdotter.2 Birger was a
1 For Birgittine supporters in England, see: F.R. Johnston, ‘English Defenders of St Bridget’ in Studies in St Birgitta and the Brigittine Order Volume 1, ed. James Hogg, (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1993), 263-75.
2 The exact date of Bridget’s birth is debatable; it is generally agreed she was born sometime after the New Year in 1303, see: Birgit Klockars, Birgittas svenska värld (Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1976), 29-33. Bridget’s father, Birger, was probably born in 1265 and Bridget’s mother, Ingeborg was probably born after 1275. Päivi Salmesvuori, ‘Birgitta of Sweden and her Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela’ in Women and Pilgrimage in Medieval Galicia ed. Carlos Andrés
Swedish lagman (lawman)3 who was described as a generous benefactor of the church and piously practiced confession every Friday.4 Bridget’s mother Ingeborg was born into the Swedish aristocratic Folkung family but died when Bridget was eleven years old, leaving her to be cared for primarily by her maternal aunt, Katarina Bengtsdotter in Aspenäs, Östergötland until her marriage.5 Bridget was the second of seven children but only she, her younger sister, also named Katarina, and her youngest sibling Israel, survived to adulthood.6 Not much is known about Bridget’s childhood, apart from what appears in her vita, the hagiographical account of her life. In the vita, Bridget is depicted as having several mystical experiences in her youth. In 1316 Bridget and her sister Katarina were married to brothers Ulf and Magnus Gudmarsson.7 Sons of a knight and councillor of state, acting as lagman in Västergötland, these two men were also descended through their mother to the aristocratic Folkung family. As a political
González-Paz, (New York: Ashgate, 2015), 113-4; Klockars, Birgittas svenska värld, 24-6; Bridget Morris, St. Birgitta of Sweden, (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1999), 32.
3 A Swedish lagman was an expert in matters of law and jurisdiction, usually in charge of laws within a local province. This practice began at the end of the thirteenth century and continued until around 1347 when King Magnus Eriksson’s reign where Sweden obtained its first landslag (state law). Salmesvuori, ‘Birgitta of Sweden and her Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela’, 114n5; Klockars, Birgittas svenska värld, 67-75.
4 Bridget Morris estimates that Birger was born around 1265 as there is record of him in 1280 referring to him as a ‘knight, councilor of state and lagman. See: Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 32; A&P, 472.
5 Ingeborg was the daughter of Swedish lagman Bengt Magnusson from Östergötland. In some copies of Bridget’s canonical vita Ingeborg’s name is mistakenly given as ‘Sigrid’, Sigrid was actually Ingeborg’s mother. This does not happen with the vita in MS 114 as MS 114’s vita does not specify any names of Bridget’s family. Morris gives Ingeborg’s death as 21 September 1314. Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 32 n52 & 35; For the genealogies of the family see: Folke Wernstedt, Äldre svenska frälsesläkter. Ättartavlor utgivna av Riddarhusdirektionem, (Stockholm, 1957-1965).
6 Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 35.
7Klockars argues 1316 as the year of marriage for both Bridget and her sister Katarina. According to canon law, the minimum age requirement would have been twelve years, in 1316 Katarina would have just met the minimum age requirement, see: Klockars, Birgittas svenska värld, 43; Little is known about Katarina after her marriage, apart from a very short testament in A&P (p. 65) from Katarina’s daughter, Ingeborg. Klockars archival work on Bridget is the best modern source on the subject. Morris’ work on Bridget, concerning this topic draws from Klockars’ work, see: Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 40n8.
arrangement, these two marriages united a royal bloodline, strengthening the aristocracy of the families as well as the families’ economic assets.8
This marriage also appears to have been a union based on mutual affection and friendship.9 In her revelations Bridget describes a similar model of marriage as her ideal, although she also accepts a clear gender-hierarchy, following St Paul, and advises that the husband should be the master and the wife should obey.10 According to Bridget’s vita, she and Ulf spent their first year of marriage in chastity and after this period their sexual relations were prefaced with prayers to God for a child.11 Between the years 1319 and 1334/1341, Ulf and Bridget had eight children, four boys and four girls, six of whom reached adulthood.12
After Ulf’s death in 134413 Bridget’s religious activities became her primary focus.14 As a form of pious humility, Bridget voluntarily chose a life of poverty, distributing her possessions to her children, the poor, and the church before leaving Sweden in 1349 to make Rome her permanent home.15 During her residence, Bridget embarked on several pilgrimages, often joined by her children.
8 Nieuwland makes this observation as well, and claims because of Bridget’s familial standing, Ulf married a woman who was his ‘equal’. See: Jeanette Nieuwland, ‘Birgitta’s View of Marriage: Theory Versus Practice’ in Birgitta, Hendes Vaerk Og Hendes Klostre i Norden, ed. Redigeret Af Tore Nyberg, (Odense: Odense Universitetsforlag, 1990), 84.
9 Sources detailing her relationship with Ulf are scarce, Bridget was said to come to love Ulf ‘like her own heart.’ A&P, 479. Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 44-46.
10 Nieuwland, ‘Birgitta’s View of Marriage’, 87.
11 This part of Bridget’s vita in MS 114 is missing due to scribal errors, discussed below. It is possible this period of marital virginity lasted several years. Nieuwland argues that Bridget and Ulf did not have intercourse while Bridget was pregnant, showing they only engaged in sex for the sole purpose of procreation. A&P 77; Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 44-5; Nieuwland, ‘Birgitta’s View of Marriage’, 85.
12 For an outline on Ulf and Bridget’s children, see: Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 46-52.
13 This date is given in both the canonical vita and on Ulf’s gravestone, there is some debate amongst scholars as to whether a more accurate year could be 1346. For this debate, see: Tjader Harris, Birgitta of Sweden, 240n32.
14 Bridget receives a ‘calling vision’ from Christ after Ulf’s death, the vision summons Bridget to help in the salvation of others. A&P, 80-1; Morris also discusses this time in Bridget’s life, see: Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 64-5.
15 Bridget primary objective was to reach Rome in time for the Holy Jubilee in 1350 to wait for Pope Clement VI, at the time residing in Avignon, to return to Rome as well. To what was surely Bridget’s dismay, Pope Clement VI did not return to Rome for the Holy Jubilee.
It was this widowhood which allowed Bridget to gain her greatest significance within the religious social sphere.16
Only one document within MS 114 is not directly related to Bridget and that is part of the office of the Virgin Mary, to whose cult Bridget was particularly attached.17 At the end of the fourteenth century, Europe faced a number of troubles. Economically and socially, it was still recovering from the effects of the Black Death (c. 1346-53)18 whilst, politically, Europe was feeling the effects of the both the Papal Schism (1378-1417) and the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).19 Amid hostility, and turmoil and the uncertainty within which Europe was locked at this time, there also existed a desire for religious reform.20 This took a number of forms, from the extremism of the flagellants to the practical – if possibly heretical – communities of the Beguines.21 Amongst these forms of religious revival, St Bridget of Sweden appeared. She was noted for her outspokenness on religious, political, and social matters, and has further been characterized as the first in a line of late medieval prophetic reformers. Using her
16 Robert Bartlett, Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 142.
17 Many of Bridget’s revelations are given to her through the Blessed Virgin Mary, with these revelations being received throughout Bridget’s life. In turn, Bridget’s association with the Virgin Mary influenced later medieval women to lead similar devotions, this was particularly true for Margery Kempe. Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, (New York: Random House, 1976), 285-98; Claire L. Sahlin, Birgitta of Sweden and the Voice of Prophecy, (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2001) 78-108; Diane Watt, Secretaries of God: Women Prophets in Late Medieval and Early Modern England, (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997), 33; Sarah Jane Boss, Empress and Handmaid: On Nature and Gender in the Cult of the Virgin Mary, (London: Cassell, 2000), 64.
18 Whilst the Black Death was at its height, was also when Bridget travelled from Sweden throughout Europe and settled in Rome. Bridget Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1999), 91.
19 For Bridget’s revelations on the Hundred Years War, see: Morris, St Birgitta of Sweden, 79-82.
20 On the desire for religious reform throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see: Michael D. Bailey, Battling Demons: Witchcraft, Heresy, and Reform in the Late Middle Ages, (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), 55-7.
21 On the Beguines, see: Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1565, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).
prominent religious status, Bridget influenced kings and popes on behalf of God.22 She was also an example of a remarkable lay women. In a period when few women were to be canonized, she provided a pattern of spiritual living which could be extended to women of all classes, and even more importantly, she appealed to all women regardless of their status of maiden, wife, mother, or widow.23 The value of her example within this manuscript is immense.
The second part of the manuscript is apparently less unified: no individual figure, like Bridget, ties together its apparently disparate pieces. It is made up of extracts from the works of the Church fathers, anonymous theological guidance and sermons from works of the fourth to the fourteenth century.24 However, that does not mean that it has no cohesion. Rather, its different articles are linked by a thematic approach, with themes it picks up on ideas expressed in the manuscript’s first part. These two parts are further distinguished by the use of two different scribes. It is both important and interesting to note that these two scribes were working on the manuscript simultaneously, as its second half contains marginal notes, usually corrections of errors in the text, written in the hand of the first scribe. Overall, the nineteen articles contained in MS 114, both those focused around Bridget and those which make no mention of her, emphasize the value of the same virtues: those of humility, chastity, and, particularly, of spiritual obedience in general. These virtues are those of the monastic movements of the
22 Claire L. Sahlin has, specifically, labelled Bridget as a ‘fountainhead’ who led the way for later prophetic reformers, including Catherine of Siena, Constance of Rabastens, Marie Robine, Jeanne-Marie of Maille, and Joan of Arc. See: Claire L. Sahlin, Birgitta of Sweden and the Voice of Prophecy, (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001), 12.
23 For several reasons, largely the political upheaval of the Papal Schism but also the social catastrophe of the Black Death, St Bridget of Sweden was the only woman canonized in the fourteenth century, and the only fourteenth century saint canonized in Rome—all others were canonized in Avignon.
24 This will be discussed in greater depth in Chapter Two, however many of these articles are attributed to Early Church Fathers, however, we now know many of these articles are actually Pseudo-written articles from the fourteenth century.
Middle Ages, but in a lay setting. Especially when focused upon lay women, these virtues were espoused by the devotio moderna movement. This religious movement emphasized the use of literature and, in particular, the examples of holy, female lay lives. Whereas more popular, and later, devotio moderna manuscripts, known as sister books, used devotio moderna sisters as these examples for the movement’s female lay followers. MS 114 was compiled at a time too early in the movement’s history to have deceased sisterly examples. St Bridget is used in MS 114 in a similar fashion to the later sisters of the sister books. Furthermore, the beginning of the devotio moderna movement coincides with the canonization of Bridget, therefore showing how devotio moderna valued contemporary events within their devotion. The articles in this manuscript, complied in the Netherlands during the early fifteenth century, were, therefore, chosen with precise care and purpose to form a single compilation meant to be read as part of a whole and intended as an enhancement of devotion and of individual devotional practice.
This thesis takes two of those themes, chastity and obedience, both of which were rooted in the virtue of humility. It will principally consider these through Article 10, the vita (saint’s life) of St Bridget of Sweden. Bridget’s vita makes up both the physical and the intellectual centre of MS 114. As a saint’s life, Article 10 is also most similar to the later centrepiece of teaching and exempla of the devotio moderna movement: the sister book.25
Like those manuscripts and later printed books, the saint’s life in general provides stories and anecdotes of the life of a pious individual. Saints’ lives
25 Wybren Scheepsma analyses both the physical and literary contents of devotio moderna sister books as well as the sisters themselves, see: Wybren Shceepsma, Medieval Religious Women in the Low Countries: The Modern Devotion, The Canonesses of Windesheim, and Their Writings, (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1997).
typically contain a narrative shaped by the linear life cycle of events which demonstrate the saint’s spiritual worth and Bridget’s vita is no exception. In a manuscript, too large for close study within just one doctorate, the vita also stands out for the way in which it has been adapted for inclusion in this manuscript. More than one vita of St Bridget existed in the early fifteenth century, with the longest, most detailed and best attested being that produced as part of her canonization dossier for the papal curia.26 The version of the vita found in MS 114 is recognizably a version of that canonization vita: it shares its shape and all the stories told about St Bridget. Yet it is a much-abbreviated version of that work, and the anecdotes considered particularly worthy of inclusion within it are those which emphasise the values of MS 114 as a whole.27 Additionally, the vita has been altered to focus more closely upon Bridget herself, rather than placing her in the general context of her life and society. The majority of names, for example, have been removed, leaving only Bridget and one or two saints specified as named individuals.28 This reshaping – or chosen reshaped version, for we cannot be certain whose hand made the alterations here – of the vita makes it a particularly clear demonstration of the purpose of the manuscript’s compilers. As the story of a lay life well lived, Bridget’s vita could also be expected to be
26 Bridget’s canonical vita remains the most popular amongst modern scholars. However, several, significantly, different versions of her life exist in various languages including a popular Middle English vita which was particularly popular amongst English Birgittines such as Margery Kempe, see: Roger Ellis, ed., The Liber Celestis of St Bridget of Sweden: The Middle English Version of British Library MS Claudius Bi, together with a life of the saint from the same manuscript, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Early English Text Society 291, 1987).
27 The most similar published edition of Bridget’s canonical vita appears in: Marguerite Tjader Harris, ed., Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Revelations, transl. Albert Ryle Kezel, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 69-98; A Latin transcription of Bridget’s entire canonization preceedings, including her canonical vita, has been edited by Isak Collijn, see: Isak Collijn, ed., Acta et Processus canonizacionis beate Birgitte, (Stockholm/Uppsala: SFSS, ser. 2, Latinska skrifter I, Almqvist and Wiksell, 1924-31).
28 Some of Bridget’s close relatives are mentioned, not by given name but rather generically such as ‘father’s father’.
particularly important for priests and laity of the devotio moderna movement in providing teaching about their day to day living. Discussions in this thesis of the manuscript’s themes will, therefore, focus around the vita, whilst also putting it in the context of the other texts found within the manuscript. Overall the thesis aims to consider what it meant in the religious movements of the early fifteenth-century Low Countries to be obedient and to whom obedience was owed, at different stages in the female lifecycle, considering in particular the nature of control and how this was to be expressed by women

Keywords:Manuscript studies
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V130 Medieval History
Divisions:Colleges (pre-August 2023) > College of Arts > School of History & Heritage (pre-August 2022) > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:26975
Deposited On:13 Apr 2017 15:50

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