German Manuscript

M. Logutova

Segeberg Prayerbook

Segeberg Prayerbook
Written on 160 paper sheets, the manuscript under the selfmark Ms. F. 955 op. 2 No.53 was produced in 1517 in the monastery of Segeberg (Holstein). It bound in the cover of brown leather and decorated with red headings, initials and underscores. In Wittenberg, where Luther taught teology at the university, indulgences were sold by the Dominican Johann Tetzel. Tetzel is famous for his statement, 'As soon as the coin in the money box rings; the rescued soul to heaven springs'.

The commonly known reason for writing Martin Luther's 95 theses was the sale of indulgences - fogiveness of sins to both the living and dead Christians, without confession and repentance. Even many of his contemporaries condemned Tetzel's actions as extreme exaggeration and an abuse of the sacrament of penance.

The German manuscripts prayerbooks of the 15 - early 16th centuries evidence that the practice of spiritual efforts and repentance, rewarded by absolution of sins, was widely represented in everyday religious life. The rubrics demonstrate that the forgiveness of sins was given for saying a prayer or prayer cycle with piety and contrition of heart, kneeling before the image of the Virgin or a saint. The rubrics consulted how to earn eternal life.

The Holstein prayerbook shows how in the 16th century, the attitude towards the indulgences changed. The manuscript consists of three paper blocks, written separately at different times in three different hand in the Middle Lower German language. The first part contains a liturgical calendar with Easter tables. The second part of the manuscript, dated 1517, is the Psalter for the Virgin Mary. The only quire of the third block includes a prayer attributed to St. Augustine.

Scribal Record
The blocks are written on watermarked paper. So watermarks help to date them. The dates of when each part of the manuscript was produced are close enough. They fall in the interval between 1510 and 1523.

The second part is dated, it is completed by a scribal record in Latin:

fol. 141r: 'In the year of our Lord 1517, the brother of Michael Campis, who took the vow in Segeberg, wrote. Pray for him'.

The Segeberg monastery of Augustinian canons was founded in Holstein in 1131. In 1445, the monastery underwent reforms in the spirit of the late medieval religious movement «Modern Devotion» (Devotio Moderna). The main principles of the «Modern Devotion» were the unceasing spiritual growth of a believer and sharing this experience with other people.

At first glance, the manuscript from Segeberg represents the usual late medieval prayerbook. The texts of the prayers in its second and third parts are traditional for German Prayerbooks, the first part is a liturgical calendar, like in many other prayerbooks. But what distinguishes this manuscript among the vast majority of other books is this calendar.

Prayerbook's folios
I block. Calendar. Liturgical calendars were usually written on six or twelve sheets. The calendar of the Segeberg manuscript occupies 43 pages - every month takes three pages, on an average. The text is composed of a three sections.

The initial section of each month contains the month name in Latin and German, the number of days and the duration (in hours) of the day and night in this month.

f. 1 f. 1r: KL Jannuarius harde
man heft xxxj daghe de nacht
heft xviij dach vj

January has 31 days, the night lasts 18 hours, a day – 6 hours

Prayerbook's Folios
The second section contains the liturgical calendar itself - church general holidays and saints' days. After each entry about a holiday, there is an information about the forgiveness of sins that are granted to people on that day. Absolution is given with no preconditions (repentance, confession) and to all without distinction as to the laity or clergy. On one holiday, plenary indulgence is promised, sometimes, only several of the sins are absolved. :

f f. 5r: f xiij e Marien lichtmisse [3 feb]Solemne
In sunte marien kercken van
dem volcke is Vorgheuinghe
aller sunde Item des suluen da
ghes vnde alle daghe to der gro
ten sunte marien kercken synt
xlciij iaer vnde so vele karenen
vnde vorgheuinghe des drudden
deles aller sunde

16 February. The solemn mass in honor of Mary

On this day, the Virgin Mary's church attenders are granted forgiveness of all sins.

The Segeberg monastery church of the Virgin Mary was a parish. The priests of Segeberg took care of the nonmaterial benefits of their parishioners. Indulgences to the all parishioners with no their spiritual efforts presents a sharp contrast both to the principles of the «Modern Devotion» and to the general practice of the 15th century, reflected in the rubrics of the German Prayerbooks.

An example is the prayer I pray you hanging on the cross that was copied more often than the others. The Cologne Prayerbook, created in the 1480s, recommended to say this prayer 'with devotion and contrition of heart', ie. with repentance. Only a quarter of a century separates this Cologne Prayerbook from the Segeberg manuscript, but over this rather short period, the public conscience changed. That is shown in the Segeberg calendar.

A brief description of what each of the months brings to people goes after the liturgical calendar.

ff. 4v: De dunre in deme harden ma
ne bedudet grote starcke winde
ouerulodicheit des kors Orlich
vnde striden manck dem luden
God helpe vns vnde beware
vns denne

In January is a very strong wind shifting direction, war and enmity between people. God save and help us.

After the calendar, there are absolution of the sins of the Roman church on the day of each of the saints: 'On the day of St. Antonina, the fourth part of all sins is forgiven' etc.

Next are the tables used to determine the calendar date of Easter. The first block of the manuscript ends with an instruction for the head of the monastery on how to handle the subordinates under him.

II block. The second part of the manuscript, dated 1517, was copied in Segeberg by the monk Michael Campis and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is traditional in spirit and in content. The Psalter for the Virgin Mary prefaces the litanies for the Virgin Mary and two prayers addressed to her. This part of the book is notable for very beautiful regular handwriting.

III block. The last part of the manuscript contains the prayer attributed to St. Augustine. Most of the North German Prayerbooks of the 15th century are dedicated to empathy with Christ's passions and the Virgin Mary's suffering. St. Augustine's prayer shows that the accents are gradually moving. A believer addresses to all three persons of the Holy Trinity by turn. He asks the Holy Spirit for consolation, prays to God the Son for eternal life, he thanks God the Father for all the blessings. While thanksgiving to God the Father are written on ten pages, only six sheets of the manuscript are dedicated to the Holy Spirit and Christ. The tonality of the texts also changes. An aspiration to enter the world of Christ and the Mother of God is replaced by a more pragmatic desire to live an earthly life according to the laws established by God the Father in Heaven.

The Segeberg manuscript shows that, in the early 16th century, two religious practices coexisted side by side. One was derived from the 15 century hand-written prayerbooks and “Morden Devotion”. In 1517, Michael Kampis preceded the Psalter for the Virgin Mary by the instruction: 'Here comes the Psalter for the Mother of God, which should be read willingly and from the depth of the heart'. This requirement for intensive spiritual efforts is fully consistent with principles the “Morden Devotion” and rubrics in German prayerbooks.

At the same time, the calendar of the Segeberg manuscript granted the absolution of sins to the faceless crowd of parishioners for one single pious action – visiting the church on this day. Money was not payed yet for indulgence. But the general tendency towards the degradation of the Catholic Church on the eve of the Reformation is already visible. The sale of indulgences without confession and pentance to both living and dead Christians in Wittenberg in 1517 was the despicable act in the late medieval religious practice before the Reformation.

Scribal Record: 'In the year of our Lord 1517, the brother of Michael Campis, who took the vow in Segeberg, wrote. Pray for him'.
“January has 31 days, the night lasts 18 hours, a day – 6 hours.”
“16 February. The solemn mass in honor of Mary. On this day, the Virgin Mary's church attenders are granted forgiveness of all sins.”