Margriet Hoogvliet at the journée d’études “Les réformes religieuses dans les anciens Pays-Bas (XVIe-XVIIe siècles)”, Arras, Université d’Artois

La Renaissance dans les provinces septentrionales
Troisième journée d’études “Les réformes religieuses dans les anciens Pays-Bas (XVIe-XVIIe siècles)”
Arras, Université d’Artois, Maison de la Recherche
10 novembre 2017

Des lectures religieuses de laïcs à Amiens avant la Réforme.

Margriet HOOGVLIET, Postdoctoral Researcher, Université de Groningue

Lors des commémorations de 500 ans de Réforme, on lit régulièrement que Luther et Calvin auraient donné la Bible traduite en langue vernaculaire et des textes catéchétiques aux laïcs, qui en auraient été dépourvus pendant tout le Moyen Âge : « Ceux et celles dans les bancs d’église n’étaient plus obligés de se fier aux dires des curés et des évêques au lieu de la parole de Dieu » (The Guardian, le 19 mars 2017). Dans cette intervention je voudrais examiner de plus près les lectures religieuses de laïcs à Amiens (et accidentellement à Tournai et à Douai) pendant le passage du XVe au XVIe siècle (c. 1450-1530), afin de montrer que toutes les couches de la société urbaine avaient accès à la culture écrite et que la majorité de la population avait vraisemblablement une connaissance solide de la religion, parfois assez avancée. Dans certains textes catéchétiques en Français/Picard les laïcs étaient encouragés à partager leurs connaissances bibliques et religieuses avec leurs proches. En outre, certains évêques menaient une politique active de « réforme » de la vie religieuse des laïcs, comme, par exemple, Jean Avantage (1437-1456) à Amiens. Par conséquent, l’idée courante de la Réformes luthérienne et calviniste comme une réaction contre une Église dysfonctionnelle est à mettre à question pour ce qui est des régions Picardie-Flandre et on pourrait avancer l’hypothèse que la participation active des laïcs à la vie religieuse était plutôt un terreau fertile.

Sabrina Corbellini at the “Heresy and Bible Translation” Meeting, Poitiers, France

Heresy and Bible Translation in the Middle Ages and at the Dawn of the Renaissance

Première journée d’études, 27 octobre 2017
Centre d’études supérieures de civilisation médiévale, CNRS, Université de Poitiers, France

Sabrina Corbellini: New Communities of Interpretation. Bible Translations, Readers and Users in Late Medieval Europe

 Main aim of this introductory lecture is to reflect on the central issues of vernacular Bible translations, orthodoxy, heresy and dissent drawing from the experience gained within the framework of the research project Holy Writ and Lay Readers, New Communities of Investigation and Cities of Readers. The projects are focussed on the connection between vernacular Bible translations (and religious texts in general) and religious transformations with a specific focus on the “human factor”. It is essential to approach these topics from a point of view that challenges traditional research paradigms and crosses or at least questions the boundaries of orthodoxy and heterodoxy and approaches vernacular Bible translations not just as a wish to create an “alternative” to “traditional” religion but a manifestation of social, cultural and religious transformations.

Paper presentation by Sabrina Corbellini: “Reconstructing an Urban Reading Public: A Spatial Approach to Religious Reading in Late Medieval Italy”

Sabrina Corbellini, Chair History of Reading in Premodern Europe, Department of Medieval History, University of Groningen, the Netherlands

International conference “Über Religion entscheiden. Religiöse Alternativen und Optionen im spätmittelalterlichen und frühneuzeitlichen Christentum”, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany
19-21 October 2017

Reconstructing an Urban Reading Public: A Spatial Approach to Religious Reading in Late Medieval Italy

Recent research has shown that the fifteenth century is characterized by high levels of involvement and commitment in religious activities of urban laity and the growing diversification of “possibilities” to integrate religious activities into daily and worldly life. It was, citing the seminal contribution by John van Engen, a period of “multiple options”, discussions, choices and even conflicting attitudes. Although a throughout analysis of the fifteenth century transformations and their significance for the early modern “religious plurality” is still a desideratum, this presentation aims at discussing three central issues in the study of fifteenth century religious life: a. the possibility for lay believers to access, read, comment and discuss religious texts, mostly in the vernacular (although the access to Latin texts should not underestimated); b. their strategies to find and select their reading materials and “navigate” through the abundance of available texts, in order to create their own religious persona; and c. the creation of “sacred networks”, including lay and religious alike, that facilitated the transmission and the availability of texts and contributed to the dissemination of specific reading habits and techniques.

In order to scrutinize and better grasp the interconnectedness and the intersection of these three pivotal issues for the understanding of late medieval and early modern religious transformation, the late medieval religious text panorama will be analyzed through a spatial approach, i.e. focusing on the reconstruction of “spaces for reading” in the late medieval urban cityscape. Which were the channels of dissemination of religious knowledge? Where could the late medieval reading public find religious texts? Which were the conditions for accessing religious texts? And most importantly who were the agents in this process of dissemination of religious texts and in the creations of lieux de savoir religieux in late medieval Italian cityscape? And how were these readers trained to engage in process of selection, discussion and interpretation? Fundamental in this approach to late medieval religious readership is the application of the concept of lieu de savoir (places of knowledge), “lieux de savoir”, places of knowledge, created by the French historian Christian Jacob. In Jacob’s definition a “ ‘lieu de savoir’ is a space of construction, materialisation, inscription and social transmission. It is strongly linked to a dynamic and genetic approach to knowledge situated in a spatial and social framework. Moving from one space to another, knowledge is built, transformed, divided and merged, it changes its status and value, it lives or dies, it moves through time and space and through human societies”.

In order to reconstruct the late medieval Italian reading public and their interaction with religious texts, in particular in the vernacular, I will describe and examine three groups of sources that convey essential information about “spaces of religious knowledge”:

1. Manuscript miscellanies, which will be studied as “snapshots” of late medieval religious textual culture, registering the presence, circulation and transformation of religious knowledge and outcomes of processes of selection and adaptation in a period of textual dynamics and interpretational plurality. They are moreover material evidence of late medieval “geographies of reading” and bear witness of the active search for texts and books, contributing to an essential step in research on late medieval readership: moving away from a research focused on individual book owners and heading towards the awareness of the formation of “communities of readers” literally gathering around books and reading, and actively getting involved in an exchange of objects and of textual knowledge.

2. Archival sources, such as testaments and probate inventories, reporting evidence of book ownership, the creation of “links and flows” of transmission of religious textual knowledge and the formation of a “shared reading cultures” across the traditional boundaries between lay and religious individuals and groups;

3. Catalogues and inventories of late medieval libraries, testifying of the seminal relevance and ethical dimension of creating spaces and places dedicated to books and reading, real nodes in the religious knowledge transmission networks and at the very heart of the construction of religious textual dynamics.

Web Programm Tagung Über Religion entscheiden

A literate and devout weaver in Amiens, 1521

Shortly after 1479 the French town of Amiens incorporated a group of newcomers: artisan weavers (called sayeteurs) from Arras who probably had had to flee their town after the conquest by the French king Louis XI. These weavers introduced in Amiens a commercially successful industry of woollen cloth mixed with silk, the sayeterie. For the weavers themselves, however, the financing of their production was quite difficult: they had to buy first wool and silk from merchants in the halle and after two weeks of weaving, the prices given for cloth might have dropped considerably. Consequently, most sayeteurs were only very modestly wealthy or actually poor.

As David Lee Rosenberg (1978) has shown, a relatively large group of sayeteurs and woolcombers joined the first Protestant community in Amiens during the years c. 1550 to 1565. His study of literacy among them, based on the absence of signatures in legal documents, shows that a large group among the sayeteurs was illiterate, or at least not able to sign a contract (however, this still leaves open the possibility that they did master the skill of reading). The low level of literacy found by Rosenberg contradicts general assumptions about the relation between Protestantism and literacy.

A post-mortem inventory made on 26 July 1521 of the estate of the sayeteur Jehan Baillet (Amiens, Archives communales FF 166/13) suggests that at least this sayeteur was able to read and to write and that he was an active participant in religious live at least 30 years before the first Protestant communities appeared in France.

The inventory consists of only six pages and it was visibly written on the spot, because the writing is irregular and there are many erasures. This inventory was most likely made as part of a legal procedure for the execution of the will of Jehan Baillet, because piece of clothing in black velvet with silver buttons and a silk belt are described as having been bequeathed to a certain Angneline Baillet (“legate a Angneline Baillet”). Consequenty, it can be inferred that the inventory mainly lists the goods that remained after the execution of Jehan Baillet’s will and that he probably had more possessions that were not mentioned.

Jehan Baillet lived in a house surrounded by a small plot of land near the Porte de Beauvais on the southern edge of Amiens. The house counted two rooms and a kitchen downstairs, and three smaller rooms upstairs; the inventory mentions a weaver’s loom in one of the latter rooms. Most of his belongings are of little worth. For instance, most of the bed sheets are made from hemp and these were used and full of holes. The inventory also mentions furniture: chairs, wooden benches, tables, beds, two dressers, and “a little chair to go sermons” (une caielle pour aller au sermon), a strong sign of Jehan Baillet’s engagement in religious life.

Jehan Baillet also had several paintings on cloth. The only iconography mentioned in the inventory is religious: an image of Saint Stephen, another sign of Jehan’s religiosity.

A small room upstairs is called “escriptoire” and “estude” in the inventory: a place usually used for administration, letter writing, the storage of books, and for reading. The inventory mentions quills (pennes), probably a small container with sand (ung grabeler) used for removing excess ink, and a writing table (ung escriptoire). All this is proof of Jehan Baillet’s writing and reading skills. The inventory also lists a “small book” in this room, unfortunately without specifying its content.

Earlier studies of the inventories from Amiens, as Alfred Labarre’s study Le livre dans la vie amiénoise du seizième siècle (1971) never noticed Jehan Baillet’s book and it is to be expected that there are still more books hidden in the thousands of pages with hastily scribbled inventories.

For the weaver Jehan Baillet it is certain that he was literate, that he had access to written texts, and that he was participating in religious life, in his home and in places elsewhere in Amiens where sermons were to be heard. He was not motivated to do so by the Reformation, because in 1521 Luther had not yet divided the Church, but his knowledge and literacy might have rendered him receptive to the message of the Reformation.

Margriet Hoogvliet

“La Bible et la réforme/Réforme”; presentation by Margriet Hoogvliet, 35th Romanistentag

“La Bible et la réforme/Réforme”

Sektion 4: 73 Konfessionsdynamiken in den romanischen Literaturen der Frühen Neuzeit/ Dynamiques confessionnelles dans les littératures romanes de la première modernité

DYNAMIK – BEGEGNUNG – MIGRATION, 35th Romanistentag, Universität Zürich, Switzerland (08-12 October 2017)

English summary:
Shared religious reading practices and confessionally undefined French Bible translations in the early sixteenth century

After 1520 the theologians of the Sorbonne sharply condemned new French translations of the Bible and they were highly suspicious of religious books in French. In line with their ideas, several town councils decided to confiscate religious books in French. On the other side of the confessional divide, the followers of l’Évangélisme and later the Protestants were actively promoting active reading practices of the French Bible translation an indispensable element of lay religiosity. Modern research has often taken the confessional polarization at face value and has generally accepted a simple binary division with regard to religious reading practices by lay people, with specific and clearly distinguishable Roman Catholic and Protestant reading cultures. In my paper I will challenge this idea by discussing textual, codicological, and archival evidence showing that several French Bibles, bible-based texts and other religious texts were read by both Roman Catholic and Protestant lay people. The theologians of the Sorbonne did not target all religious texts in the vernacular, and, surprisingly, some of them were printed and sold in Paris without any hindrance. In spite of the polarizing disputes, lay people from Roman Catholic and Protestants backgrounds shared in many aspects a very similar religious reading culture. Moreover, and confirming Thierry Wanegffelen’s book Ni Rome, ni Genève (1997) many lay people were highly interested in the religious debates of their times and they did not always made a clear confessional choice.

Programme du colloque Dynamiques confessionnelles 170911

“Cities of Readers” at the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean 5th biennial conference, Ghent University, 10-12 July 2017

In collaboration with Professor Konrad Hirschler (Freie Universität, Berlin; The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands: A Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices (2012)) the “Cities of Readers” project organised a series of three sessions at the SMM Conference: “Emotions, Imaginations, and Communities in the Medieval Mediterranean”, organised by Ghent University, 10-12 july 2017.

I. Books and Reading in the Mediterranean, Communities, Identities, and Connected Histories: Circulation of Knowledge
– Mario Antonio Cossío Olavide (University of Minnesota): Crossing the Reading Sea. The Libro de Los Ejemplos as a Case of Mediterranean Reading
– Christopher D. Bahl (SOAS, University of London): The Circulation of Arabic Grammar Books Across the Eastern Mediterranean.

II. Books and Reading in the Mediterranean, Communities, Identities, and Connected Histories: Books, Materiality, and Religion
– Konrad Hirschler (Free University Berlin): The Materiality of Inter-Religious Manuscript Reuse.
– Margriet Hoogvliet (University of Groningen): The French “Midi” as a Hub in the International and Interreligious Trade of Christian Religious Books in the Vernaculars (15th-16th centuries).
– Yehoshua Frenkel (University of Haifa): Books: Forms and Functions.

III. Books and Reading in the Mediterranean, Communities, Identities, and Connected Histories: Book Collections
– Mustafa Altuğ Yayla (University of Hamburg): Tracing Book Collecting Interests of a Naqshbandi/Ahrari Disciple in Early Modern Ottoman Anatolia: The Lamii Çelebi of Bursa (d. 1532) Case.
– Sabrina Corbellini (University of Groningen): The Ethics of Reading: Libraries, Books and Dissemination of Knowledge.

The papers presented a great variety of languages, regions, cultures and texts, yet the approach through “spatial aspects of books and reading cultures” proved to be very fruitful. The “global Middle Ages” was not only characterised by frequent links of connectivity through all the Mediterranean basin, and even beyond to the Indian Ocean, more importantly, the participants discovered that we can learn from each other’s analytical approaches to collecting and disseminating texts, social networks linked to textual circulation, vernacularisation, manuscript cultures, multilinguality, collective reading practices, sacred texts, and “lieux de savoir”: places of the production, storage, multiplication, consultation and disseminating of texts and knowledge.

Public lecture by Sabrina Corbellini at the Festival d’Avignon “Rencontres Recherche et Création Avignon”


Lundi 10 juillet 2017,14h00 – 18h00       

Dignité et héroïsme (Les errances du sujet) 

Avec la participation de Yoshiji Yokoyama, dramaturge, Shizuoka Performing Arts Center (spectacle : Antigone)
Présentation par Christian Biet
Avec les questions, notamment, de : Frédéric Sawicki, Pierre Judet de la Combe
Animation : Alain Viala

Dignité et spiritualité dans la cité médiévale

Sabrina Corbellini, professeure d’histoire médiévale, Université de Groningen, responsable du projet « New Communities of Interpretation: Contexts, Strategies and Processes of Religious Transformation in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe », financé par COST

See also the announcement on the festival’s website

“Cities of Readers” at IMC Leeds 2017

This year two members of “Cities of Readers” presented papers at the International Medieval Congress 2017 in Leeds:

Sabrina Corbellini presented a paper entitled Spiritual Landscapes in Late Medieval Florence: Letters and Networks
in the session: “Spiritual Landscapes: Mapping Female Spirituality in the Middle Ages II”, organised by the “Spiritual landscapes” project (University of Barcelona).

Sabrina was also a referent in the Round Table discussion “New Religious Histories: Rethinking the Study of Medieval Religion”.

Margriet Hoogvliet organised the session:
Mappings, II: Producing and Reproducing Local Maps

Medieval mapmaking is often thought to have been above all ‘unscientific’ and ‘symbolic’. Recent publications have, however, revived the interest in local maps and plans from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period by unearthing forgotten documents from the archives that are sometimes the result of advanced land-measuring techniques. Local maps are also important records of the representation of identities, or of changing spatial conceptualizations. Finally, digital techniques such as GIS and His-GIS offer exciting new possibilities for reproducing and re-using these historical documents for spatial analyses.

with contributions by:

Paul Fermon (EPHE, Paris): “The Traditions of Geometrical Representation and the Rise of Local Mapmaking during the 14th Century and the 15th Century: Italy and South of France”

Désiré Krikken (University of Groningen): “My Plot, Your Plat, Our Inhabited Landscape: Early Modern Land Surveyors and the Record of European Physical and Social Space”

Margriet’s paper was entitled: Using Historical Maps for GIS-Based Analysis: Religious Books in Amiens

The post-mortem inventories in the série FF of the Archives communales in Amiens generally contain quite detailed information about the religious books owned by lay people, as well as about the location of their houses in early sixteenth century Amiens (here 1503-c. 1530), thus allowing for a quite precise localisation of “lieux de savoir” in lay people’s homes and a GIS-based analysis of the spatial dynamics of religious knowledge in urban social networks. Because of the damages of two World Wars, much of medieval Amiens is now lost. Consequently, early modern maps and plans are important sources in order to reconstruct the street plan of late medieval Amiens and to reproduce a map of the town as it was approximately in the period 1450-1520. Sixteenth-century maps and town views of Amiens and its fertile “hortillonages”  (the oldest map dates from 1542, now in the Archives départementales de la Somme) are also instrumental in our modern understanding of historical urban identities and perceptions of Amiens as a prosperous, religious, and fiercely defended town on the border of France and the Low Countries.

Please note: Next year, at the IMC 2018 the “Cities of Readers” project hopes to present a series of four sessions on the theme “Performances”
(Performances of writing, Performances of collecting, Performances of reading, Performances of theatre).

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.