Monthly Archives: June 2017

Amiens, BM MS 573: Lay people shaping liturgical reading in their parish church


This early fifteenth-century manuscript is a liturgical book (Lectionary) with musical notation, interestingly donated by a married couple of lay people to their parish church in Amiens:

« Enguerran de Noyelle et Symonne du Puys, se femme, donnerent chest livre à l’esglise Saint-Remy en Amiens pour partir aus biens et priere fais en le ditte esglise, le XIIe jour de decembre l’an de grace mil IIIIc XXXV. Priés pour eulx » (f. 215v).

“Enguerran de Noyelle and Symonne du Puys, his wife, gave this book to the parish church of Saint Remy in Amiens in order to dispose of their wealth and to have prayers said for them in aforementioned church, the 12th day of December in the year of grace 1435. Pray for them”.

While the vast majority of liturgical texts and songs in this manuscript are in Latin, the last 46 pages reproduce so-called épitres farcies: liturgical Epistles intended to be sung in Latin alternating with translations into French/Picard, for the feasts of Saint Stephen (26 December), the Holy Innocents (28 December), and Saint John the Evangelist (27 December)

The inscription mentioning Enguerran and Symonne as donators of the manuscript is in the same hand as the rest of the texts, thus suggesting that it was their intention to have these liturgical readings in French included in the manuscript. Consequently, it was this couple of lay people that, by donating the manuscript, shaped the liturgy of some of the most important Christian feasts of the year by introducing French/Picard vernacular translations of liturgical Bible readings.

The French/Picard texts indicate manifestly that the intended audience consisted of both clerics and lay people:

Entendes tuit a chest sermon/ et clerc et lay tout environ” (f. 193r).

“Listen all to this sermon/ Clerics and lay people alike”.

The inclusion of Epistles in French/Picard in the manuscript was explicitly intended as a means of religious and biblical knowledge transfer to the widest possible audience:

Or escoutes grant et petit
traies vous cha vers chest escript
Si attendes tant que jaie lit
cheste lechon et chest chant dit … (f. 207r)

“Now listen, old and young,
draw near to the book here
and give your attention until I have read
this ‘Lesson’ and said this song…”
            (Transl. Stephens 1986, pp. 245-246)

The book given by Enguerran and Symonne explicitly played a role in disseminating religious and biblical knowledge to the widest audience possible, while using the parish church of Saint Remy and its clergy as instruments for the realisation of this goal.

Margriet Hoogvliet

The manuscript can be consulted online through the BVMM.

Inaugural lecture (“oratie”) by Professor Sabrina Corbellini, 6 June 2017, University of Groningen

Professor Sabrina Corbellini, Chair “History of Reading in Premodern Europe”

Geographies of Reading

A few months ago, the American National Book Foundation awarded the Innovations in Reading Prize to Barbershop Books (Harlem, NY), a community-based reading program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops. Over the past 2 years, “the program has transformed 49 barbershops into community spaces that support positive early reading experiences for Afro-American boys in 18 cities across 11 states”. Other four organisations have received honourable mention for the 2017 Innovations in Reading Prize: Books@Work, the Great Reading Games, Poetry in Motion, and Reach Out and Read. All the awarded programs share one main feature: the effort to integrate books and reading into everyday experience – waiting at barbershops, entering working spaces, travelling by public transport and seeing a paediatrician – in order to stimulate young and adult readers to perform reading activities. The societal impact of reading cannot be overestimated, as reading has always been, in premodern and modern times, essential for the creation and development of sustainable, strong and healthy communities and societies (see for example Studied in a historical perspective, research on reading activities, strategies and techniques allows researchers to investigate how knowledge was produced and disseminated, to reconstruct its availability and to test the impact of the circulation of knowledge on societal transformations.

The acknowledgement of the relevance of a spatial approach to reading (i.e. where are reading activities performed? And how do spaces and places of performance affect reading activities?) forms the connecting thread in the inaugural lecture that reconstructs “geographies of reading” through the study of late medieval and early modern sources. Far from being scarcely literate and virtually bookless, premodern societies will be approached as “laboratories” for testing not only who were the readers, how and what they were reading but also to “map” their reading strategies and activities.


Cities of Readers

The research project “Cities of Readers” aims to supply a new phase in the scholarly exploration of the “long fifteenth century” (1400-1550), a period characterized by great cultural, political and religious changes: a stronger urbanization, the development of religious observance movements, a growing social mobility accompanied by a rising literacy and an increasing book production. This pivotal period in Dutch and European history will be approached by studying the participation of lay people in the production and the transmission of religious knowledge through their engagement in reading, textual and performative activities. The project will innovatively approach religious knowledge in terms of dynamics, exchanges and negotiations and will consider both individuals and groups (“communities of interpretation”, i.e. formal and informal textual communities sharing texts and knowledge) as objects of research. Reading activities will moreover be studied in relation to the specific places and spaces in which they were generated. The complexity of the topic and the broad varieties of selected sources (ranging from personal miscellanies to post-mortem inventories) require an interdisciplinary and programmatic approach that will be conducted along three main methodological lines: a) the study of the multiformity of readership and modes of transmission (textuality, orality, aurality and performativity); b) the role of communities of interpretation; c) a spatial approach to cultural dynamics striving towards the reconstruction of a late medieval religious taskscape, i.e. identifying the place where religious knowledge was ‘made’, ‘discussed’ and ‘exchanged’. The research lines will be combined in three complementary research projects and in the final co-authored monograph that will contribute to the evaluation of material from the Low Countries in a wider European perspective. The project will result in the writing of new narratives concerning the crucial role of active readership during a pivotal period in European history.