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German Manuscript

M. Logutova

Manuscripts Prayerbooks at the First Years of the Reformation

A small selection of the late 15th - the early 16th century German prayerbooks from our collections allows us to trace the main trends of everyday religious life of the Germans. The prayerbooks give an idea of personal religiosity in the period immediately preceding the Reformation, and during the Reformation. They help to understand how people conceived God in the late Middle Ages.

In the 15th century, the distance between God and man, especially in prayer, was less than we usually imagine. The Chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson wrote that a prayer is a rise of our mind to God through a humble and pious feeling. He said that when we pray we talk to God as a close friend. Two prayerbooks of the NLR emphasize the human nature of Christ, for which reason, the believers called Christ a loving brother and mediator and ask him to intercede before God the Father.

Sometimes difficult to understand to which of the persons of the Holy Trinity the medieval prayers of God (Deus, Got) are addressed: to God the Father or God the Son. The persons of the Holy Trinity are overlaid with each other and merged in the minds of believers in a single concept - the concept of God. However, in the final words of gratitude always were said to Christ. Most of the texts in the 15th century German prayerbooks empathize with joys and sufferings of Christ and the Virgin. They get the feel of the Savior's passions on the cross. The Nuremberg prayerbook of the NLR shows that an accent gradually shifted in the 20ies of the 16th century. Gratitude for the salvation of the human race was no longer expressed to Christ, but to His Father.

Five German prayerbooks of the National Library were produced just before and during the first years of the Reformation. The three oldest of them, two parchment (OLDP.O.162 and Ms. Deutsch.O.v.I.5) and one paper (Ms. F.955 op.2 № 51) manuscripts are typical of the late Middle Ages. They contain very similar or the same prayers. Accompanying rubrics give an explanation how to pray and inform what indulgence granted for the correct reading of a prayer. The prayers and rubrics are written in the vernacular, some Latin words indicate only habitual titles: Pater noster, Ave Maria. The prayerbooks are, mainly, devoted to Christ and Mary. They aslo contain apocryphal legends on St. Anna, with selection of prayers addressed to her. Prayers to the other saints are not numerous.

Each sheet of the two parchment manuscripts is illuminated. Such lavishly illustrated prayerbooks for noblemans were very expensive and kept as family values. That is why they have retained their original appearance. Only the wooden bindings, covered with embossed leather, are worn out over time and lost clasps.

Unlike the expensive parchment books, the paper manuscript made up of ten blocks belongs to the most popular type of cheap prayerbooks of the 15th century. Their owners added parts of other prayerbooks to it, if they needed. In such prayerbooks, the empty spaces were filled with short prayers written by unprofessional owners' hands themselves. Cheap paper prayerbooks gave more opportunities for personal devotion, for personal appeal to God.

The rapid spread of the ideas of Luther was possible because the society was prepared for them. In this regard, the role of prayerboks can not be overestimated. Prayerbooks led to a change in an expression of Christian piety of the late Middle Ages. Prayerbooks were proposed for a private use. Each person could pray at home, according to their own plan of devotion. This practice increasingly competed with Liturgical services at the church, anticipating the key moments of the Reformation.

Created in the monastery Segeberg, the manuscript Ms. F. 955 oр. 2 № 53 also consists of three blocks of paper, while the second and third blocks fit well into the late medieval prayerbooks. At the same time, a calendar, with indulgence to a faceless crowd of church members, shows a situation before the Reformation in Northern Germany.

The most recent parchment codex (Ms. Deutsch O.v.I.3) already reflects the changes in the religious consciousness of the people in southern Germany in the early years of the Reformation.