Manuscript German

M. Logutova

Nuremberg Prayerbook

Nuremberg Prayerbook
The parchment prayerbook (under shelfmark Ms. Nem. O.v. I. 3) was written on 47 pages in the first quarter of the 16th century. The East German dialect of the High German language gives grounds to assume that the manuscript was created in Nuremberg or near it. The binding of the 18th century are made of cardboard covered with blue silk. The manuscript is decorated with red and blue patterned initials, red and blue headings. The prayerbook entered the Imperial Public Library (a former name of our library) in 1896, along with P. Savvaitov's collection.

Small in size, the manuscript is notable for two prayer cycles. The first cycle contains the extensive devotions, reffering the Our Father. It follows immediately after the calendar. The second cycle consists of 110 litanies, also directed to God the Father. After litanies is the large Prayer of Thanksgiving to God the Father, with gratitude to the Heavenly Father for everything that his son has done to save the human race. The first chapter of the Gospel of John (I, 1-14) ends the manuscript. The two choruses Kiri eleison are written in German on the last three sheets in a different handwriting.

Such thematic cycles of prayers are a characteristic feature of German prayerbooks. For the most part, they were dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Christ, and also to St. Anne, Mary Magdalene and John the Evangelist, ie, people closest to Christ during his earthly life. These are Rosaries, Crowns of Thorns, the Passion of Christ, the prayers to the parts of the body of Christ etc.

The main Christian prayers, the Our Father and Hail Mary, were always included, although the texts themselves were not always cited, because everybody knew them by heart. Their role was to conducive to meditation. The Aves and the Paternosters were added after a separate prayer, after a segment of a prayer or a cycle. They usually were indicated in abbreviated forms (“pr nr”, “ave”)

The Hail Mary, like the Our Father, is the essential element of the cycles. A red ink word or extract from it introduced a prayer or meditation, referring to that particular word or extract. There were Aves with glosses. In the so-called Golden Ave Maria, every word of prayer served as the first word of a small poem dedicated to this very word.

Our Father
By a similar principle, the cycle Our Father was composed in the Nuremberg Prayerbook. Four prayer meditations are devoted to the first two words, Our Father (they are marked in red ink). Each following fragment of the Lord's Prayer prefaces two prayers, visually separated from each other by the colour of the initials. The initial word of the first prayer meditation begins with a blue patterned initial, the initial word is the second is written in red.

Each pair of prayers is constructed universally. In the first prayer, a believer confesses before the Father in Heaven to not following the spirit of His covenants. In the second meditation, the praying one asks God the Father to help in improving his spiritual nature, to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Who art in heaven
In addition to the words of the prayer Our Father, a believer read another 20 prayer meditations addressed to God the Father.

The second cycle consists of 110 litanies dedicated to the "entire life and suffering of Christ". The preceding rubric explans that Christ is the only mediator between God and people.

In Middle Ages, Christians often prayed to the Virgin Mary and the saints as the protectors and mediators between God and man. 'Be my protector', a believer asks Our Lady in prayer. Jesus is a natural mediator between the heavenly and earthly worlds because he united humanity and divinity in one individual existence. When in the 15th century, believers prayed to Christ as an intermediary between God the Father and them. They expressed their hopes to God the Son and asked him to throw the light of knowledge on them in order to remain constantly with Christ.

For that Jesus Christ became a man
The connection between God and man is represented differently in the litanies of the Nuremberg prayerbook. Each litany contains a request to the Heavenly Father to forgive people due to one of the 110 acts of Christ's earthly life:

'For Jesus Christ became man, the Our Heavenly Father, have mercy on us.
For His holy birth, the Our Heavenly Father, have mercy on us.
For His holy circumcision, the Our Heavenly Father, have mercy on us…”

Rubrics preceeding the litanies state that only Christ can be an intermediate between God the Father and people. The litany develop this idea and depict Christ as the necessary connecting link between the human race and God the Father. The all 110 litanies are addressed to the Heavenly Father. All prayer text in the Nuremberg Prayerbook is devoted to only one of the persons of the Holy Trinity: 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.

Portrait of Luther by Hans Holbein the Elder, 1529
Most likely, such changes in the religious consciousness of society are related to the Reformation. In 1517, the Augustine monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) published his 95 theses, in which he rejected the mediation mission of the church between believers and God. He stated that personal faith is the only way for salvation and recieving God's grace. By December 1517, theses were translated into German and spread all over Germany. In 1520, Luther published three programme works, in which he develped ideas about the reforms of the Catholic Church and secular education and about liberation of the German church from the pope's power.

The prayerbook was written in the 1520s. The most likely place of its creation was the imperial city of Nuremberg, which flourished in the first half of the 16th century. It was an economic and cultural center of Southwestern Germany. In Nuremberg in the mid 15th century, there was founded the first circle of German humanists. The circle influence on entire area of the city's culture. This led to a brilliant blossoming, associated with the names of the printer Anton Koberger (ca. 1440—1513), the painter Albrecht Dürer (1471—1528), the humanist Willibald Pirkheimer (1470—1530) and the writer Hans Sachs (1494—1576).

Erasmus of Rotterdam's Portrait  by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523
In the early years of the Reformation, German humanists sympathized with Luther's ideas. But when it became clear that the publication of Luther's works led to a schism in the church, many, including Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469—1536) and Pirkheimer, moved back. However, not all leading figures of German culture remained Catholics. The son of the Nuremberg shoemaker, the most famous German writer of the 16th century Hans Saks accepted the Reformation in the Lutheran version.

In March 1525, a religious dispute of all classes of Nuremberg took place in the city hall. On the results of the dispute, the city council ordered to dissolve all monasteries, as staying outside the family is contrary to human nature. The exception was only one female Franciscan monastery. The property of the monasteries was transferred to the social needs of the citizens. The veneration of the saints and the Virgin Mary was declared to be idolatry. Nuremberg gained independence from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Bamberg. Worship services in churches were conducted only in German. No city in Germany went to such lengths in the religious issue: Nuremberg and its neighbourhood become Lutheran.

Luther's attitude toward prayer and prayerbooks was ambiguous. After the publication of the “95 Theses”, Luther believed that only one prayer given by Christ is enough for the Christian – the Our Father . All that Luther wrote about prayer in these years was only about the Our Father .

Portraits of Luther and Melanchthon by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1543.
Over time, Luther's views on prayer changed. The Reformed Church was established and it became evident that people needed other prayers in addition to the Our Father . The closest Luther's associate Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) composed a prayer addressed to God the Father and read it daily. In the mid 16th century, Protestant prayerbooks appeared.

People were accustomed to pray using the handwritten and printed prayerbooks produced according the 15th century traditions. From them, the Nuremberg manuscript remains the liturgical calendar, litanies with 110 episodes of Christ's earthly life, and the Golden Ave Maria . The prayerbook has no direct influence of Luther. However, there are no prayers addressed to God the Son, the Mother of God and the saints. The addressee of all prayers is only one divine person – God the Father. The Nuremberg prayerbook shows that an accent gradually shifted. Gratitude for the salvation of the human race was no longer expressed to Christ, but to His Father. The aspiration to enter the world of Christ and the Mother of God and thereby save their souls was replaced by a more pragmatic desire to live an earthly human life according to the laws established by the Heavenly Father. The main theme of the prayers was a demand of unceasing work to improve the spiritual nature of the person.

This Prayerbook is a kind of transitional stage from the 15th century prayerbooks devoted to Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints, to the reformed prayerbooks of a new type, which simply did not exist.

Our Father
Thou art in heavenWho art in heaven
“For the fact that Jesus Christ became a man, Our Heavenly Father have mercy on us”.