Julia Bolton Holloway

title.none: Risberg, ed., Liber usuum fratrum monasteri Vadstenensis (Julia Bolton Holloway)

identifier.other: baj9928.0608.027 06.08.27

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Julia Bolton Holloway, Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Risberg, Sara, ed. Liber usuum fratrum monasterii Vadstenensis: The Customary of the Vadstena Brothers. Series: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis: Studia latina Stockholmiensia, vol. 50. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 2003. Pp. 254. ISBN: $36.00 91-22-02040-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.08.27

Risberg, Sara, ed. Liber usuum fratrum monasterii Vadstenensis: The Customary of the Vadstena Brothers. Series: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis: Studia latina Stockholmiensia, vol. 50. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 2003. Pp. 254. ISBN: $36.00 91-22-02040-3.

Reviewed by:

Julia Bolton Holloway
Biblioteca e Bottega Fioretta Mazzei

Sweden has long had a strong tradition in the Classics with, at the same time, an emphasis on texts written in medieval Latin, this last because of the figure of Birgitta of Sweden, Foundress of Vadstena Monastery and the linked double monasteries throughout Europe of her Order of the Most Holy Saviour. Thus rigorous commendable scholarly methods have been brought to bear not only on Classical texts but also medieval ones. One could wish this tradition were also present in the editing of medieval English texts or that departments of English required similar training for graduate students as was once the case.

This fifteenth century text of the Brigittine Brothers of Vadstena's Liber usuumalso exists in several seventeenth-century copies, witness to the expansion and reform of the Brigittine Order, copies coming to Altomünster (Germany), Maria Sion (Cologne, Germany), Marienbaum (Kleve, Germany) and Marienwater (Rosmalen, Holland). The twelve manuscripts of the Liber usuum are now to be found in the Kungl. Biblioteket, Stockholm, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München, in the archives at Cologne and Aachen, and in the monastic libraries at Altomunster and Maria Refugie, Uden, while the text speaks also of Syon Abbey in England, attesting to the once-strong presence of the Brigittines in England and its influence on medieval/Tudor culture. That some of these manuscripts are still contained in monastic houses testifies to the living continuum of monasticism itself. I visited Syon Abbey's Marley House in Devon and Altomünster in Bavaria and was shown at the grille precious manuscripts; at Syon the Sisters' account in Tudor handwriting on fragments of parchment of how the procession was to be held for Profession, the banners with Christ and the Virgin borne before the candidate.

Customaries (called Liber usuum or Consuetudines) cover those aspects of monastic living not already guided by the Rule and indeed tend to be closer to the actual conditions of that life. This previously unpublished text tells of the life at Vadstena from the perspective of the Brothers, and at the same time offers revealing glimpses of the lives of the Sisters, in particular concerning a Sister's death, the only time when her cell would become crowded with persons of both genders, the careful cloistering for once being broken. Scholars have been surprised that so many persons should be present at the time of Julian of Norwich's near-dying if she were in an anchorhold. For an explanation the entire section of chapters 38-42, (184-191), is worth reading. Dying, in the Middle Ages, was a public drama, best done in piety and in the intense presence of the Sacraments.

The Liber usuum begins with an invocation to Christ on the part of the monastery of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and St Birgitta in Vadstena. It discusses its Rule as Augustinian and also as that revealed to Birgitta, giving the legal justification for this dual usage, and speaking of St Catherine of Sweden, its first Abbess and St Birgitta's daughter, and of Magister Petrus Olavi. It speaks of the need for humility, charity and chastity, for silence. Conversations are to open with Benedicite answered by Dominus, as in Julian's Showing, or with Ave Maria answered by Gracia plena. The text is both practical, and at times lyrical, breaking out in Latin verse. It uses the Scandinavian pronunciation and spelling, ewangel. Because Vadstena is a royal house, it gives the protocol for entertaining kings and queens. But it also emphasises the hardness and asperity of the life to warn off new entrants. The consecration of Brothers and Sisters is treated with gender equality (131), Brigittine houses being ruled by their Abbess as if the Virgin, the Confessor General as if Christ.

The Customary (142-3, 149) discusses the Hermit Bishop Alphonsus of Jaén's recommendations concerning the Regula Salvatoris and the relations of the Order with the Bishop. On pages 144-5 there is a discussion of the care to be taken in giving or selling the relics of St Birgitta. This required the consent of the Abbess and the whole congregation, and similar care was to be taken in selling precious books, in order to update and obtain other books. The monastery is intensely, in Brian Stock's term, a "textual community", and the Brothers are especially entrusted to preaching to the laity, ewangelizantibus, having for this purpose a strong grounding in the Gospels, and in the scribal history of the Order's founding in the bosom of a peripatetic family and its household in exile, which included a Bishop Hermit, a Prior, a Master, etc., headed by the widowed Birgitta.

The Sacrament of Confession, particularly to the Sisters, is discussed carefully. Vadstena possessed significant privileges and indulgences and attention is to be paid to administering these. The Brothers had the right to absolve excommunicated persons and also vows of pilgrimage to Vilsnach, Aachen and Trondheim. The readings in the Brothers' refectory included the Bible, the Nicolas of Lyra commentaries on it, the Sermo Angelicus, the Brigittine Revelationes, the Vitae patrum and the Passions and Miracles of Saints. We recall that Birgitta's initial spiritual director had been Magister Mathias who had studied Hebrew under Nicholas of Lyra in Paris, translating the Bible for her from that language into Swedish.

The Confessor General administered the Sacrament of the Eucharist to the Sisters at the window from the chalice rather than the pyx or paten, and they communicated rarely, on the feasts of the Apostles, also Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Easter, Pentecost, Assumption, and St Michael, being listed. A section follows that on the administering of the Last Sacraments to a dying Sister, her funeral and her burial, on the various Papal Bulls justifying the Brigittine Order, and includes the speeches in visions to Prior Peter and to the Blessed Birgitta by Christ (196-7). The final section is on the carrying out of the liturgy and the role of the Hebdomadary, the weekly rotating of the Brother in charge of leading the Offices or Hours of Prayer. We know, though this is not said, that the Sisters and the Brothers alternated in the liturgy, the lakeside Blue Church in Vadstena thus being in continuous use as a place of prayer.

The edition concludes with a Glossary, an Index, a plan of the Vadstena cloister and church, four color plates of Liber usuum manuscripts, and a Bibliography.