The Geraardsbergen Manuscript: Story 4

The fourth story of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript has been suggested by the Flemish scholar Theo Coun.

According to Coun, the Geraardsbergsen Manuscript was once part of a chained library (?). This type of library was common in the later Middle Ages. The books were chained to the shelves or the lecterns to prevent them from being taken by the readers.

To enable the reader to find a specific book, chained books often had a fenestra on the cover: a little window made of horn and attached with small metal strips and nails along the sides, behind which a piece of paper or parchment with the title of the book was placed.

On the inside of the modern back cover of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript some remains of the old leather cover have been attached to the wood. In this strip of leather a rectangular shape of little holes can be clearly discerned. Coun assumes that these are traces of a fenestra, which used to be on the back of the book!

But there’s more. When we buy a book nowadays and write our name in it to mark it as our property, we usually do so at the beginning of a book. A sixteenth century owner of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript, Sjodocus Croy, however, wrote his name at the end of the first codicological unit (?) of the manuscript, which may imply that the codex was already lying on the front cover before the second unit was attached.

For modern man, a title on the back of a book (or an owner mark at the end) seems a little strange, but in a chained library it all depended on the chain: it could be attached to the front or to the back cover. If it was attached to the back cover, the book would be kept with its back on the lectern, but when it was attached to the front, it was easier to keep the book with its front cover to the lectern, otherwise the chain would have to be moved on opening the codex (which might damage the book).

Chained libraries are usually institutional libraries with a public function (and therefore with a reason to avoid theft). Regional differences in storing the books occur and in the Low Countries they coincide more or less with the boundaries of the dioceses. The diocese of Cambrai for instance has the habit of resting the books on their back. Therefore one would expect that a manuscript from Geraardsbergen, located in this diocese, would have been kept on its back with a fenestra on the front cover, but this is not true for the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

Coun argues that, since the Geraardsbergen Manuscript is not an institutional manuscript it should not necesarilly follow the habits of the diocese. In his opinion, the later owner of the manuscript, Sjodocus Croy may have been a professional writer who wrote manuscripts under commission. In his shop, there could have been lecterns with manuscripts (on their front cover) containing sample texts, offering the customers a wide varierty of texts to chose from.

For more details, see: further reading

Back to the five stories of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

The Geraardsbergen Manuscript: Story 3

The third story of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript was told by Joris Reynaert in an article which was published in 1999. This Flemish scholar focused on the function of the text collection. He argued that the manuscript was meant to enable a scribe to write inscriptions on objects, such as statues, to produce decorative plates on the walls of living rooms and inns, and to copy texts onto single sheets or separate quires.

Various short texts explicitly signal this kind of usage. Text 26, for example, cites Saint Bernard´s recommendation to take care of and to protect animals, and is entitled In een stal te scrivene (‘To write in a stable’). Other examples include short texts which were meant, according to their headings, to be connected to a spieghel, a mirror (Text 35), or a wiwater vat, a stoup (Text 42).

And what about the longer texts in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript? Reynaert argues that these texts could function in an identical way. The text which describes a pilgrimage to Aachen (Text 69), for example, counts 72 lines, and could, therefore, easily be copied on a single sheet of parchment or paper, which a pilgrim could take with him on his trip. Even the longest text in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript, Vanden IX besten (About the Nine Worthies), shows signs of independent usage. The text has been adapted in such a way that it consists of multiples of 40 lines. As a result of this reworking, the 800-line text was particularly suited to be copied, in combination with nine illustrations, on eight leaves, which would yield a quire of four bifolia (?).

For more details, see: further reading

Go back to: the five stories of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

The Geraardsbergen Manuscript: Story 2

The second story of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript was told by Robrecht Lievens in an article which was published in 1996. This Flemish scholar has argued that the text collection which has been preserved in the c. 1465 codex was based on a collection of texts owned by an inhabitant of the town, viz. the scribe Guillebert de Mets (d. 1460?).

How did Lievens arrive at this conclusion? He showed that various textual characteristics can be linked to the life and work of Guillebert. A fine example is provided by Text 69, which describes a pilgrimage route to Aachen, ending on the way back in Geraardsbergen, more precisely Inden vranxschen scilt (In the French shield). This inn is also mentioned in a French manuscript which was copied by Guillebert shortly after 1434. There, the scribe makes himself known as Guillebert de Mets, hoste de l´escu de France à Gramont. Another example is Text 73, which introduces itself as the verclaers van eener biechten (elucidation of a confession), translated from a French source which was written by meester Jan Jarcoen. This Dutch name refers to the famous Parisian scholar Jean Gerson (1363-1429), who composed the French original, Examen de conscience selon les pêchés capitaux, around 1400. It is irrefutable that Guillebert, who was trained in Paris, had knowledge of Gerson´s work. In his Description de la ville de Paris (1434), the Flemish scribe praises the sermons of maistre Jehan Jarcon.

These and other links between texts in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript and Guillebert suggest that the text collection was compiled by this prominent resident of Geraardsbergen, serving the town as alderman and official representative.

For more details, see: further reading

Return to: the five stories of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

The Geraardsbergen Manuscript: Story 1

The first story of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript was told by Gerard Sonnemans, the scholar who took the initiative that led to the publication of the whole manuscript. Sonnemans was interested in the ‘profile’ of the compiler of the manuscript. What type of person would want to possess such a text collection. As there are no external data to answer this question, Sonnemans constructs a profile from the types of text that are found in the manuscript. He suggests that the book was made for (and; by?) a secular cleric from Geraardsbergen with a passion for pilgrimage. The link to Geraardsbergen is justified by the references to two famous local inhabitants and the name of one of Geraardsbergen’s most famous inns. These conclusions are still generally accepted.

The passion for pilgrimage is assumed because there are two texts in the manuscript that discuss pilgrimages, one to Rome, one to Maastricht, Aachen and Cologne. The idea of a secular cleric is based on the appearance of a number of texts in the manuscript regarding confession, mass, care of the dying and devotion. However, Sonnemans neglects many of the more worldly texts in the manuscript and the religious texts he mentions are all fairly elementary and their use by a devout lay person is just as plausible. And talking about a passion for pilgrimage on the basis of two texts is not very convincing. So in more recent research Sonnemans’ ideas are no longer followed. One could even argue that one of the pilgrimage texts shows that Sonnemans is wrong and Joris Reynaert is right.

For more details, see: further reading

Go back to: the five stories of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

People connected with the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

The Geraardsbergen Manuscript can be linked to many people, all for different reasons. Do these people help us to find the origins of the manuscript, or do they distract us from the real clues? Future research will tell, hopefully.


The Stories of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

The story of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript is still not unravelled. Questions such as ‘who was responsible for the compiling the manuscript’, ‘who was the scribe’, ‘who was the first user’ and ‘why were these texts put together’ remain unanswered. Several scholars have attempted to shed light on these questions, but the outcomes of their investigations are surprisingly diverse.

Every codex tells a story? The Geraardsbergen Manuscript tells five!

  1. The story as told by Gerard Sonnemans
  2. The story as told by Robrecht Lievens
  3. The story as told by Joris Reynaert
  4. The story as told by Theo Coun
  5. The story as suggested by Hans Kienhorst in the critical edition

For more details, see: further reading

Scribblings in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

Apart from the names of two (possible) owners, there are several additional marginal notes and inscriptions by other owners or readers in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript.

One of those additions is particularly interesting: at the end of the first codicological unit (?) on fol. 101r someone wrote in the empty lower half of the leaf, below the second chronicle:

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, fol. 101r: Inscription by the scribe? (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, fol. 101r: Inscription by the scribe? (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

  • Als levende gheboren was ic wast te zochter, november XVI Alyonora een dochter
  • When she was born living, my heart was put at rest. November the 16th, Alyonora, a daugher (was born)

The same handwriting can be found in the second codicological unit (?) of the codex on fol. 123r: in between the second and third line of the text two rhyming lines have been added. One would expect that it was the main scribe of the codex that added these two lines after he finished the text. After all, he is the one who could know what the correct version of the text should be. But if this is the ‘hasty’ handwriting of the main scribe, then the marginal note on fol. 101r is also his, which means he owned both units of the codex.

What are the consequences if the scribe owned both parts of this manuscript? See Story 5 of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript.

The later Owners of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, fol. 102v: Owner inscription (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, fol. 102v: Owner inscriptions (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Margins and empty leaves are the favourite places where owners and readers scribble names, remarks, and additional texts.

In the Geraardsbergen Manuscript we find several marginal notes and two names of (possible) owners.

At the top of fol. 102v, the last leaf of the first unit of the codex, we find an interesting owner mark: ‘SJodocus Croy’. The script is post-medieval and may have been added in the late sixteenth century, in which century the famous and French speaking De Croÿ family provided three stadtholders in the county of Flanders and therefore was connected to Geraardsbergen. But… the records do not show any Jodocus, so the question remains unanswered: was this not very elaborate Dutch manuscript once in possession of a wealthy and influential French speaking family?

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, front pastedown: Inscription by Jan Baptista Coninckx (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)
Brussels – KBR – 837-45, front flyleaf: Inscription by Jan Baptista Coninckx (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

With more certainty the other inscriptions on fol. 102v can be ascribed to Jan Baptista Coninckx. Not only did he scribble these mottos, but he added also his name and some dates (1635 and 1668) on other leaves. On one of the flyleaves (?) at the beginning of the codex he adds ‘Distensis’ behind his name, meaning the town of Diest in Brabant. This owner can be traced in the archival records of Diest, apparently he was on of the seventeenth century majors of the town!

But still… Diest is very close to the town of Aarschot, which was an independent duchy in the sixteenth century. And guess, what were the names of two sixteenth century dukes of Aarschot? Philip II and Philip III of Croÿ!

Return to: People connected with the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

Return to: Geraardsbergen Manuscript, Story 4

The Nine (well-structured) Worthies

Geraardsbergen Manuscript, Text 89 (fols. 170v-183v)

In the Middle Dutch poem Van den Negen Besten (The Nine Worthies) the nine greatest rulers of the world are portrayed. Three of them are pagans, three are Jews and the other three are Christians. Three is the number of the divine trinity, the perfection. In this text we are shown three times three: the perfect perfection!

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, fol. 170v: The Beginning of The Nine Worthies (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, fol. 170v: Prologue to The Nine Worthies (by courtesy of KBR Brussels)

This is a good example of numerology. Symbolic use of numbers has always had a major appeal to people, also in the Middle Ages. Many intricate examples of medieval numerology are known. A simple case as three times three, as we find here, is not a surprise in a codex. But is it really that simple?Three copies of Middle Dutch The Nine Worthies have survived the ages, one of them in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript. The Dutch scholar Hubert Slings has shown that this copy has some features the other copies do not have: each description of a ruler contains 40, 80 or 120 verses. The number 40 plays an important role in the structure of the text. The two other copies of the text have more irregular numbers of verses for each ruler.

According to Slings, this structure around the number 40 did not exist in the original source and is therefore presumably added by a later editor. The number of verses has been adapted to be precisely 40 or a multiple of 40 by adding or deleting a few verses where necessary. The editor also paid attention to the overall structure. Here, the number of divine perfection can be found again, for there are three parts of 40 verses, three parts of 80 and three parts of 120 verses (excluding the prologue and epilogue).

In the Geraardsbergen Manuscript the description of the ninth worthy, Godfried of Bouillon, ends abruptly after 72 lines. Since there are already three descriptions of 40 lines and three of 80 lines, this description would have been the third with 120 lines. This means that at least 48 lines are missing, but possibly 88, since an epilogue of 40 lines is to be expected. For these missing lines the scribe would have needed at least two extra leaves.

But why did the editor go to all this numeral trouble? Would readers have been able to detect the elaborate structure? At this stage we can only guess:

  • Maybe the copy in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript was copied from a manuscript with 40 verses per page? Because of the different layout in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript the structure of the text was not visible anymore.
  • The importance of numerlogy in the Middle Ages does not necesarilly imply that the average (wo)man could recognize the symbolic use of numbers (e.g. in architectural proportions)?
  • Numerology did not have a esthetic function, but was applied to give praise to God, by paying extra attention to the form of the text and using meaningful numbers?

What do you think?

And how can this fit in in one of the five stories about the Geraardsbergen Manuscript?

Return to: The Nine (mutilated) Worthies