Henrietta Leyser

title.none: Griffiths, Garden of Delights (Henrietta Leyser)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.001 07.11.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Henrietta Leyser, St. Peters College, Oxford,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Griffiths, Fiona J. The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century. The Middle Ages. Philadelphia, PA.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Pp. 381. $65.00 978-0-8122-3960-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.01

Griffiths, Fiona J. The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century. The Middle Ages. Philadelphia, PA.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Pp. 381. $65.00 978-0-8122-3960-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Henrietta Leyser
St. Peters College, Oxford

Fiona Griffiths, in The Garden of Delights, presents a much needed study of the Hortus Deliciarum, a twelfth-century text composed by Abbess Herrad of Hohenbourg for the instruction of her community. The original manuscript, destroyed in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, was reconstructed by scholars at the Warburg as long ago as 1979 but nonetheless up to now it has attracted comparatively little attention. Griffiths attributes this neglect to the recent focus on the affective character of the spirituality of cloistered women at the expense of their intellectual gifts and ambitions. Room may have been made for an exceptional figure such as Heloise but not for a whole community of scholars--and yet any study of the Hortus leads ineluctably to the conclusion that this is precisely how Herrad viewed her canonesses of Hohenbourg.

The Hortus is a history of salvation which, despite its lavish illustrations, is far more than as a picture book. The texts chosen by Herrad, numbering over eleven hundred, were culled not only from the early Fathers but also from cutting edge sources emanating from Paris, such as the works of Peter Lombard and Peter Comestor. Herrad may not have been interested in the subtler points of theological debate but she did believe passionately in the cause of reform and in the value of education to promote this. It mattered therefore to Herrad that her canonesses could belong to the same intellectual community as their brothers in religion and indeed that were they to find any of the priests to whom they had been entrusted were in any way inadequate or ill-educated they could themselves make up for their deficiencies. Two of Herrad's favourite authors, Honorius Augustodunensis and Rupert of Deutz, both strong supporters of ecclesiastical reform, had written manuals specifically for use by priests but this did not in any way inhibit Herrad from copying extensively from their works. Herrad's canonesses were to be at least as well-educated as their chaplains, if not more so.

The Hortus is divided into four sections: a typological reading of the Old Testament; a narrative account of Christ's life; a discussion of the Church as the Bride of Christ and a consideration of the Last Days. The account of Christ's life is the most lavishly illustrated section of the four but throughout the book is punctuated by images which serve to act as navigation tools and markers and as ways to give emphasis to particular points. The introductory picture (for example) to the Christological section illustrates Christ's mission by an image (taken from Honorius) in which God captures Leviathan by means of a fishing rod to which Christ is attached as the bait while the seven prophets act as line weights; lest the allegorical message be lost the hook is clearly labelled as "the hook of divinity." The originality overall of the composition--in terms both of the illustrations and of the texts chosen--rules out (argues Griffiths) the possibility that Herrad was working from florilegia and suggests that she had at her disposal remarkably rich resources thus giving the lie to the idea that female communities were always impoverished. Given the scale of the work it also seems likely that many of the scribes and artists may themselves have been members of the Hohenbourg community even if lack of evidence makes certainty here impossible.

Herrad wrote her book so it would, in her words be both "useful" and "delightful" and her wish was that the women of her community would "never cease to ponder it" in their thoughts. The book is nonetheless too large to be used for personal devotion and Griffiths imagines it opened for group reading, possibly under the guidance of a magistra. Its didactic character is re-inforced by the image of Hell presented near the end of the book. Here the besetting sin is shown to be avarice, notably the avarice of the clergy. The message is clear: it is money and worldly ambition not women who lead the clergy astray. Herrad's contemporaries, Hildegard of Bingen and Elisabeth of Schonau may have been similarly critical but with this important difference: both Hildegard and Elisabeth claimed to speak with authority of the weak but inspired woman. Herrad by contrast relied on her book.

Herrad's own contribution to the Hortus (in terms of original texts) was small, amounting possibly to only two but as Griffiths is at pains to point out this should not detract from the originality of Herrad's work. Herrad's achievement, as she herself described it, it was to act "like a bee inspired by God [to collect] from the various flower of sacred Scripture and philosophic writings [a] book.called the Hortus the praise and honour of Christ and the if into a single honeycomb." Grffiths argues forcefully that we take seriously the role of the bee as an important symbol for creative composition, a metaphor dating back to Seneca but found also in a range of Christian texts, and she thus refutes the suggestion that Herrad is only an encyclopaedist with no claim to be an author. For this re-evaluation of Herrad and her work and her fine study of this hitherto strangely neglected book Griffiths must be congratulated.