The Medieval Review 09.09.16

Hamburger, Jeffrey F. (ed.). Leaves from Paradise: The Cult of John the Evangelist at the Dominican Convent of Paradies bei Soest. Houghton Library Studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library, 2008. Pp. 213. . $35.00976547287 .

Reviewed by:

Debra Stoudt
Virginia Tech

The recent acquisition of a pair of leaves from a fourteenth-century gradual produced in the Dominican women's community of Paradies serves as the occasion for this publication, the second in the Houghton Library's series. The volume consists of six essays; editor Jeffrey Hamburger's previous scholarship on John the Evangelist informs the work and is complemented by it.

The words, neumes, historiated initials, and marginalia featured on the cover of the paperback edition herald the book's contents, "a case study in the relationship of text and image" (4). The leaves in the Harvard collection and an additional leaf in Munich from the same fragment are presented in six color plates that preface the essays; they comprise the sequence Verbum dei deo natum for the Mass of the Feast of John the Evangelist. (The four folios of Houghton's MS Typ 1095 can be viewed on the library's Digital Medieval Manuscripts website at Two additional plates depict excerpts from other liturgical manuscripts produced at Paradies, now housed in the Universitäts- and Landesbibliothek in Düsseldorf. A transcription of the Verbum dei text and an English translation of it follow; several discrepancies between the transcription and the manuscript text, e.g., "quarter seni procures" for "quater seni proceres" as the third line of 4a and "quid" for "quis" in the first line of 11b are presumably typographical errors. In the four-page introduction Hamburger acknowledges the challenge inherent in studying liturgical manuscripts given their multivalent presentation of art, music, and text. In this volume the challenge is met with success by engaging the diverse scholarly expertise of art historians, musicologists, Latinists, and liturgists.

Susan Marti's "Sisters in the Margins?: Scribes and Illuminators in the Scriptorium of Paradies near Soest" provides a history of the community, a description of the sacred space, and an overview of the extant illuminated liturgical manuscripts; appended to the essay are descriptions of five Paradies manuscripts as well as the three leaves. When first discovered, the fragments were compared to manuscripts from the Swiss religious community of Engelberg; however, Marti's characterization of the overall layout of the page confirms greater similarity to two Paradies graduals in the Düsseldorf library, D11 and D12, thereby validating the relationship to the Westphalian convent. External influences such as the occasional hand of a professional artist are apparent, but both text and image in the Paradies collection bear witness to the nuns' pivotal roles as illuminators, scribes, and patrons. Colophons mention a few sisters by name, and initials next to or on portraits of nuns in the manuscripts identify others; by recording their roles, the religious women corroborate their personal engagement and "ensure their salvation in the context of Christian memoria" (43).

The position and function of the sequence in the mass as well as the interplay between sequence text and music inform Nancy van Deusen's "Verbum dei deo natum and its Manuscript Context." Placed between the alleluia, with its concomitant Psalm verse, and the Gospel lesson, the sequence bridges the Old and New Testaments (57), contributing to the polysemy of the text. Noteworthy is the allusion to the community of believers before the throne of God that frequently occurs in the closing line of many sequences, among them the Verbum dei (64). The essay includes the musical setting of the Verbum dei sequence and of a second sequence in honor of John the Evangelist, both from a Kassel manuscript, along with the initial phrases of three melodies for Verbum dei. The melody in the Paradies fragments is not explored, but concluding remarks regarding the paucity of decoration in graduals from Western Europe underscore the unusual and extraordinary artistic accomplishment of the Westphalian scriptorium.

In "Explaining the Bread of True Intelligence: John the Evangelist as Mystagogue in the Sequence Verbum dei deo natum," Felix Heinzer traces the origins of the text, the evolution of its structure, and changes in its rhetoric. Reflecting the "new poetry" of the twelfth century, the text interweaves traditional images of John as prophet, visionary, and saint with novel characterizations of him as an alter Christus, herald of the Bridegroom, and intermediary between the Bridegroom/Christ and the Bride/Church (92). The Eucharistic imagery in the final couplets shifts the focus from the Evangelist to the individual who derives knowledge and understanding of Christ by partaking of the bread/Bread. In customary fashion, the sequence text venerates the spiritually gifted patron saint; however, it also extols the relationship to Christ that religious women (and men) of the time sought--and sometimes achieved--a reflection of a spiritual contour of the later Middle Ages.

In "Commentaries on Verbum dei deo natum in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-century Manuscripts," Erika Kihlman examines 34 such texts; an edition of the Latin text from a Klagenfurt manuscript, along with an English translation, is appended to the essay. Sequence commentaries originated in the late twelfth century and were strongly influenced by Aristotle. The Aristotelian sequence commentary tradition followed a strict scheme: either a prose paraphrase of the sequence strophe, followed by interpretation, or interlinear glosses. In commentaries on the Verbum dei text examined by Kihlman, the role of John as visionary predominates. The author notes that various textual commentaries offer different glosses; the originality and the unconventional nature of glosses in D11 suggest that the convent's "pictorial commentaries" may derive from a separate tradition (110).

The essay by Lori Kruckenberg, "Music for St. John the Evangelist: Virtue and Virtuosity at the Convent of Paradies," describes the evolution of sequence melodies beginning in the ninth century and the ensuing ecclesiastical debate regarding the two kinds that emerged: without text and with. The Carolingian liturgical commentator Amalarius of Metz claimed that the wordless sequence permitted the singer to express the inexpressible; thus, the singer achieved "abiding and eternal joy through the neuma" (137). In subsequent centuries, melodies without words engendered concern that focus on the music could divert attention from the import of the text and lead to prideful or foolish behavior on the part of singers. A decretal from 1324/5 mandated simplicity in musical settings, and the Verbum dei in the Paradies manuscripts reflected a conservative stance. Given musical strictures, it is not surprising that the nuns turned to decoration as a less controversial means of artistic and spiritual expression. As a consequence, the manuscripts acquired a two-fold purpose: public performance and private meditation.

In "Inscribing the Word--Illuminating the Sequence: Epithets in Honor of John the Evangelist in the Graduals from Paradies bei Soest," Hamburger provides descriptions, tables of comparisons, and lists of sources for the naming of John in the Paradies manuscripts. He elaborates on the "micrography" introduced by Marti (29): the tiny initials, words, and phrases interwoven almost imperceptibly into the decoration. Commenting on the meaning and function of this distinctive style of filigree, which may have been unique to Paradies, Hamburger suggests that the nuns had at their disposal a wide range of primary sources or as yet unidentified florilegia--or that theirs was an original initiative. As he identifies and elucidates the writing that circumscribes and otherwise adorns initials and margins of the text, the programmatic nature of the decoration unfolds: the nuns--as artists, as patrons, or simply as religious women--have been integrated or have integrated themselves literally and pictorially into the fabric of the sequence, forging an inextricable link with John and with Christ.

Whereas Marti and Hamburger survey and analyze the Paradies leaves, each of the other four contributors deals with a specific musical or textual aspect of the Verbum dei sequence in general. Thus, the first essay introduces particulars regarding the Munich/Cambridge fragments that are not explicated further until the last essay. Incorporating the first part of Marti's study into the introduction and repositioning the remainder of it before Hamburger's analysis might have provided a more logical progression from the broader context of the cult of John the Evangelist to the specifics of the Paradies fragments.

Despite the distinct emphasis of each study, the six essays are closely intertwined. The contributors allude to and build upon each other's arguments, e.g., Heinzer and Kihlman cite each other's comments in their concluding paragraphs. They also provide commentary on the same phrases ("ante portam latinam") and images (the iconography of Ezekiel's visions) and reference common thematically related manuscripts (those of St. Katharinenthal) and specific texts: three authors characterize the role of the Verbum dei text in the Legatus divinae pietatis of Gertrude the Great of Helfta. These frequent common threads contribute substantively to a multifaceted, well-rounded examination; an index of words and names as well as a listing of all manuscripts referenced would have facilitated identification of prevalent themes and comparison of similar as well as conflicting interpretations. The interrelatedness of the essays constitutes a principal strength of the collection, one that is equaled by the wealth of bibliographical information included in the footnotes; the amount of relevant scholarship published in recent decades is especially striking.

In the introduction Hamburger describes this collection of essays as a "first foray" into the study of the liturgical manuscripts from Paradies since he and Marti are preparing a comprehensive study of all of them (4). The volume takes on the task in admirable fashion by explicating noteworthy musical and textual facets of the cult of John the Evangelist and exploring the Paradies nuns' appropriation of them. The future publication likely will catalog the more than 1000 images in the Paradies manuscripts and undoubtedly will address questions raised by Marti and Hamburger regarding the purpose of the convent's graduals and the primary sources available to the sisters. The present volume serves as a significant and stimulating precursor.