The Medieval Review 16.11.14

Adams, Jonathan. The Revelations of St Birgitta: A Study and Edition of the Birgittine-Norwegian Texts, Swedish National Archives, E 8902 . Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, 194. Leiden: Brill, 2015. pp. . ISBN: 9789004304659 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Julia Bolton Holloway
University of Colorado, Boulder (emerita)

Jonathan Adams' particular research on the ca. 1400 "Birgittine-Norwegian" text in E 8902, now in the Swedish National Archives in Stockholm, is interesting because it presents the Revelationes in the vernacular, a mixture of Swedish and Norwegian, and also includes four passages not found elsewhere. Birgitta had herself made the pilgrimage to St Olaf's shrine in Trondheim, Norway, in 1339, and the monastery, Munkeliv, in Bergen, was taken over by the Brigittines in the 1420s. There are three groups of the vernacular versions, the first, Birgitta's own handwritten fragments, the second, literal translations from the Latin made around the 1380s, the third, around 1400-1420. Adams notes that the Latin and Swedish versions, including oral accounts, fed off each other (24). Adams makes the case for Bishop Aslak Bolt's involvement with the manuscript (39, and again at his conclusion, 245). He discusses the various hypotheses raised by a sequence of scholars working on the text, in general contradicting each other. But they do agree on the importance of the manuscript as the largest source for the Swedish pre-Latin tradition of the Revelationes. It cannot be fully determined where the manuscript was written, whether in Sweden or in Norway. It seems to be written for the Norwegian lay nobility (Adams does not mention the prior knowledge of the King's Mirror), but it is not a carefully presented manuscript as would have been the case with a Vadstena Abbey production.

Adams presents a very careful and technical description of the parchment manuscript, its hair and flesh quires, its graphemes, its punctuation, in this determining the number of scribes as being four. Particularly interesting is the presentation of direct speech, preceded by Christi brwdh sagde, Christus swaradhe, Ther aefte taladhe gudhz modhir til mik sighiande. He demonstrates his observations with careful graphs. The binding is not original, using flyleaves from an Oslo cadastre, either done when Aslak Bolt was there or later when the Munkeliv monks were temporarily in Oslo. The first colour plate (of Figures 15 through 24) shows the X with Xpi brudh sagde, the capital X rubricated with green flourishes. The pages are ruled top and bottom and margins while the lines themselves, being unruled, are uneven.

Chapter 6 discusses the language/s of the manuscript, Chapter 7 discussing similar language mixtures in Medieval Scandinavian manuscripts, explaining that, while Icelandic is static and uniform, the Norwegian dialect is affected politically by Swedish rule and the intermarriage of Swedish and Norwegian nobility, including by Birgitta's descendants, following the Black Death which had emptied the monasteries and chanceries of Norwegian scribes during the hiatus before Danish rule and the Danish language came to exercise linguistic control over the Norwegian population. Diglossia is also discussed as the High, educated form, in this instance the mixed Swedish-Norwegian language, while the language of childhood is the Low and in this case the purer form. Alongside this there was also the typical medieval diglossia of Latin and the vernacular languages. Many influences mix in the text, for instance, the dialect of the original, the dialect of the scribe, the dialect of the audience, and the dialect of the region of the scribe's training if different than his birth region.

Chapter 8 proceeds to discuss these observations within E 8902, noting that statistics in literary texts, stylometry, was begun by the mathematician Augustus de Morgan, later much augmented with computerized research, but now fallen out of favour with education's separation of numeracy and literacy. Adams studies the different scribes' language mixtures minutely and statistically in a way that situates each within the development of these languages from their runic to their Christian alphabetic forms.

He concludes that four scribes worked on the manuscript, that their language is Norwegian, that they were copying a text that was in Swedish and not Latin, and that their dialect forms place them near Oslo, not Vadstena nor its daughter house at Munkeliv in Bergen, though they could have hastily copied the texts hurriedly in Vadstena while visiting there. He also finds that their version in Part 1 is taken from the oldest redaction of Birgitta's Revelationes in Swedish, while Part 2 seems to be taken from lost notes made at Birgitta's dictation and thus clearly the more important for Brigittine studies. He proposes Aslak Bolt, the nobleman elected Bishop of Oslo in 1407, as the intended recipient and prime mover of the manuscript, who worked for the transfer of the Benedictine Munkeliv Abbey in Bergen to the Brigittines and then who came to Trondheim in 1428, where he was listed as having a liber revelacionum Birgitte.

The edition that follows is diplomatic, with much explication in its parallel pages of textual and explanatory notes, and is of great value. It is moreover followed by further careful explications in its "Commentary and References" section. The revelations unique to this manuscript are to be found on folios 51:27-56:3, 60:15-61:27, 83:22, 97:4-14. It could have been of use to the reader if a translation into English had been provided of these important passages.

Since writing the dissertation with readings from editions, Jonathan Adams has completely revised the work, going to the actual manuscripts. The work is extremely scholarly and well organized, but errs in having Katarina journey with her mother Birgitta on the pilgrimage to Rome through the Black Death (7). Katarina left her husband later, her marriage unconsumated, and arrived in Rome, seeking her mother, who, at that time, was camped outside the monastery of Farfa. It would be Katarina who would oversee the transporting of her mother's bones to Vadstena and become its Abbess, then return to Rome to similarly oversee her mother's canonization, in turn herself to be beatified. Had Adams read Saint Bride and her Book: Birgitta of Sweden's Revelations (1992, 1997, 2000), and followed up its citations to primary documents on Birgitta's and Katarina's lives, with more care, this mistake would not have occurred.

Copyright (c) 2016 Julia Bolton Holloway

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