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Title: Devotion and obedience : a devotio moderna construction of St Bridget of Sweden in Lincoln Cathedral Chapter Manuscript 114
Author: Mederos, Sara Danielle
ISNI:       0000 0004 6350 8688
Awarding Body: University of Lincoln
Current Institution: University of Lincoln
Date of Award: 2016
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This dissertation places a medieval manuscript of the late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries in a new historical context. Lincoln Cathedral Manuscript MS 114 has, previously, been understudied and where it has been noticed it has been misidentified. Formally, used only for a few studies focusing on St Bridget of Sweden, it has been considered to be of English provenance, perhaps linked to one of the Birgittine monasteries in England.1 By noting the manuscript’s Dutch provenance and exploring its probable connection to the devotio moderna movement, this thesis will consider how MS 114 might have been used in the early years of the movement. It will examine key themes of different explorations of chastity for lay women, and in particular, the nature of female obedience, as portrayed within the manuscript. This devotional manuscript is made up of nineteen different pieces or extracts from larger medieval works of theology and philosophy. The nineteen articles of the manuscript are arranged in two nearly equal parts. The manuscript’s division into two parts is significant to our thinking about how it was intended to be used and read. The first half, which contains Articles 1 through 10, is made up largely of documents relating to St Bridget of Sweden, exploring her life and arguments concerning the legitimacy of her sanctity. The second part of the manuscript is apparently less unified: no individual figure, like Bridget, ties together its apparently disparate pieces. It is made up of extracts from the works of the Church fathers, anonymous theological guidance and sermons from works of the fourth to the fourteenth century. However, that does not mean that it has no cohesion. Rather, its different articles are linked by a thematic approach, with themes it picks up on ideas expressed in the manuscript’s first part. These two parts are further distinguished by the use of two different scribes. It is both important and interesting to note that these two scribes were working on the manuscript simultaneously, as its second half contains marginal notes, usually corrections of errors in the text, written in the hand of the first scribe. Overall, the nineteen articles contained in MS 114, both those focused around Bridget and those which make no mention of her, emphasize the value of the same virtues: those of humility, chastity, and, particularly, of spiritual obedience in general. These virtues are those of the monastic movements. Claire L. Sahlin has, specifically, labelled Bridget as a ‘fountainhead’ who led the way for later prophetic reformers, including Catherine of Siena, Constance of Rabastens, Marie Robine, Jeanne-Marie of Maille, and Joan of Arc. For several reasons, largely the political upheaval of the Papal Schism but also the social catastrophe of the Black Death, St Bridget of Sweden was the only woman canonized in the fourteenth century, and the only fourteenth century saint canonized in Rome—all others were canonized in Avignon. This will be discussed in greater depth in Chapter Two. Many of these articles are attributed to Early Church Fathers, however, we now know many of these articles are actually Pseudo-written articles from the fourteenth century, Middle Ages, but in a lay setting. Especially when focused upon lay women, these virtues were espoused by the devotio moderna movement. This religious movement emphasized the use of literature and, in particular, the examples of holy, female lay lives. Whereas more popular, and later, devotio moderna manuscripts, known as sister books, used devotio moderna sisters as these examples for the movement’s female lay followers. MS 114 was compiled at a time too early in the movement’s history to have deceased sisterly examples. St Bridget is used in MS 114 in a similar fashion to the later sisters of the sister books. Furthermore, the beginning of the devotio moderna movement coincides with the canonization of Bridget, therefore showing how devotio moderna valued contemporary events within their devotion. The articles in this manuscript, complied in the Netherlands during the early fifteenth century, were, therefore, chosen with precise care and purpose to form a single compilation meant to be read as part of a whole and intended as an enhancement of devotion and of individual devotional practice. This thesis takes two of those themes, chastity and obedience, both of which were rooted in the virtue of humility. It will principally consider these through Article 10, the vita (saint’s life) of St Bridget of Sweden. Bridget’s vita makes up both the physical and the intellectual centre of MS 114. As a saint’s life, Article 10 is also most similar to the later centrepiece of teaching and exempla of the devotio moderna movement: the sister book. Like those manuscripts and later printed books, the saint’s life in general provides stories and anecdotes of the life of a pious individual. Wybren Scheepsma analyses both the physical and literary contents of devotio moderna sister books as well as the sisters themselves. In a manuscript, too large for close study within just one doctorate, the vita also stands out for the way in which it has been adapted for inclusion in this manuscript. More than one vita of St Bridget existed in the early fifteenth century, with the longest, most detailed and best attested being that produced as part of her canonization dossier for the papal curia. The version of the vita found in MS 114 is recognizably a version of that canonization vita: it shares its shape and all the stories told about St Bridget. Yet it is a much-abbreviated version of that work, and the anecdotes considered particularly worthy of inclusion within it are those which emphasise the values of MS 114 as a whole. Additionally, the vita has been altered to focus more closely upon Bridget herself, rather than placing her in the general context of her life and society. The majority of names, for example, have been removed, leaving only Bridget and one or two saints specified as named individuals. This reshaping – or chosen reshaped version, for we cannot be certain whose hand made the alterations here – of the vita makes it a particularly clear demonstration of the purpose of the manuscript’s compilers. Bridget’s canonical vita remains the most popular amongst modern scholars. However, several, significantly, different versions of her life exist in various languages including a popular Middle English vita which was particularly popular amongst English Birgittines such as Margery Kempe. Discussions in this thesis of the manuscript’s themes will, therefore, focus around the vita, whilst also putting it in the context of the other texts found within the manuscript. Overall the thesis aims to consider what it meant in the religious movements of the early fifteenth-century Low Countries to be obedient and to whom obedience was owed, at different stages in the female lifecycle, considering in particular the nature of control and how this was to be expressed by women.
Supervisor: Hoskin, Philippa Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: V130 Medieval History