Presentation for the Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing

Monday, 28 February, 2-4pm (EST = 6-8pm GMT), meeting information on and

God’s hands writing the world
Word illustration for Psalm 18 in the Medingen Psalter written by the nun Margarete Hopes ca. 1500

Oxford, Bodleian Library. MS. Don. e. 248, fol. 43v

Religion and writing are closely linked in the late 15th century reform movement which swept through North Germany, building on the earlier monastic tradition and expanding them with added colour, enthusiasm, and bilingual learning. My paper looks at what can be learned from the material and textual culture surviving in a group of convents around Lüneburg, their devotional manuscripts, images, sculpture and the implements of their daily engagement with religious writing: from styli to parchment scarps sewn up as hem stiffeners in dresses for the statues. My talk will survey the material culture of Wienhausen and link it with the textual evidence from two of my ongoing research projects, The Nuns’ Network (letters by the Benedictine nuns of Kloster Lüne) and Medingen Manuscripts (devotional manuscripts by the Cistercian nuns of Kloster Medingen).


Structure of the Presentation

Cur? The Motivation of Religious Writing

1) The Convents of Wienhausen, Lüne and Medingen 
– Quis & Ubi? The Region and its Profile
 Quando? The Timeline of Religious Writing
2) The Devotional Production 
 Quibus auxiliis? The Material Culture at Wienhausen
 Quomodo? The Historical Evidence from Lüne 
 Quid? The Devotional Manuscripts from Medingen

Text excerpts

Kloster Lüne, Hs. 15: Letter Book 1, Letter 212 
The Lüne Nun Gertrud von Eltzen to her name sake in Kloster Medingen (1490’s)

The Lüne subprioress Gertrud von Eltzen writes to her relative and namesake in Medingen and asks after her health and that of a young relative. She then thanks her for the gilded devotional images: “Furthermore, dearly beloved cousin, I thank your deep-rooted kindness for the many and uncountable signs of good will, particularly for the great kindness which you have shown me recently with these most beautiful gilded pages”:

Ceterum, preamantissima amita, regratior vestre innate caritati pro multis et innumeris beneficiis, sunderghen vor de groten lefmodicheyt, de gy my lest bewiseden cum illis pulcherrimis foliis deauratis, 

She has clearly shown the benevolence of her heart by this and the sender won’t forget it as long as she lives, because as often as she beholds this with her physical eyes, she experiences interior joy and thereby her heart is refreshed; regardless of how busy and vexed she feels but if she looks at those glorious princes, it is as if a heavy burden is lifted from her and therefore the love of her relative keeps increasing:

nam quotiens ea intueor oculis corporeis totiens mirum et inauditum gaudium experior interius, unde darvanwerd myn herteken sepius recreert, wente wan ik aliqua molestia vexcert byn ex multis occupationibus, undeden illos principes gloriosos ansee, so lad ik my dunken, wo se my pondus totius meroris statim allevieren,unde darvan wert juwe leve jo meͤr unde meer aucmentert in corde meo […]

If she could do anything in return for this goodness, she would love to do it. She confirms that she is sending money for the gloves which the Medingen abbess recently sent to the abbess of Lüne, Sophia von Bodenteich. She apologizes for her long silence towards the Medingen abbess and asks for the message to be passed on orally. She sends pickled fish and lets the abbess decide whether she wants to share them with the recipient and her young relatives.

Kloster Medingen: Prayerbook Dombibliothek Hildesheim Ms J 29 (HI1), fol. 128v 
Latin-German Meditation for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb

The wedding feast is prepared by Mary who is organising a procession for the bride to the bedchamber of Christ: “The whole heavenly court assembles for this wedding feast”; in the company of saints are the “martyrs, among them the excellent Duke Maurice and his splendid companions with their arms and banners and shields,” the Abbeys patron saints pictured directly below on 129v. They help the bride to escort home the Easter day with music. 

(129r) To desser brutlacht kumpt de ghanse hemmelsche hof. …  (129v) martires, inter quos egregius dux Mauricius et splendiferi socij eius cum armis et vexillis ac scutis, …. Desse helpen altemale de brut leden, dat se se bringhen dem koninghe vnde helpen ok der brut den hoghelaueden eddelen werdighen Osterdach to hus bringhen mit louen vnde mit sanghe, mit harpen vnde seyden(130r)spelen.

The bride walks in, dancing with thousand steps for joy in the presence of her bridegroom, the lamb, since she makes as many dancesteps as often as she engaged in holy thoughts on earth: 

O quam gloriose incedens hec sponsa quasi mille saltibus saltat coram sponso, coram agno, coram throno, quia quod dulces cogitaciones de corde suo hic de terra mittit, tot saltus coram sponso facit. 

When she then arrives at the bridal bed, she sings as special bridal song an introit:

Cum vero hec electa sponsa peruenit ad thalamum sponsi presentibus hijs omnibus, speciale cantat epythalamium sponso inmortali dicens cum explicabili iubilo cordis: … 

Short bibliography on the Northern German convents

  1. Kloster Lüne: Open Access Edition of the letters from Kloster Lüne
  2. Kloster Medingen: A full list of relevant literature with open access links to the manuscripts on
  3. Kloster Wienhausen: Collection of images with descriptions on
  • Andersen, Elizabeth and Henrike Lähnemann (eds.): Mysticism and Devotion in Northern Germany in the Late Middle Ages (Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition), 2014.
  • Lähnemann, Henrike, “Text und Textil. Die beschriebenen Pergamente in den Figurenornaten,” in: Charlotte Klack-Eitzen et al., Heilige Röcke. Kleider für Skulpturen in Kloster Wienhausen, Regensburg: 2013, pp. 71-78.
  • Lähnemann, Henrike, “Verhüllte Schrift. Pergamentmakulatur aus den Lüneburger Klöstern”, in: Codex und Material, ed. by Patrizia Carmassi and Gia Toussaint (Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien 34), Wiesbaden 2018, pp. 119-135. 
  • Mecham, June L., Sacred Communities, Shared Devotions. Gender, Material Culture, and Monasticism in Late Medieval Germany, ed. by A. BeachC. Berman, L. Bitel, Brepols: 2014 (MWTC 29).
  • Rosenkränze und Seelengärten. Bildung und Frömmigkeit in niedersächsischen Frauenklöstern, ed. by Britta-Juliane Kruse, Wiesbaden: 2013 (Ausstellungskataloge der Herzog August Bibliothek 96).
  • Schatzhüterin. 200 Jahre Klosterkammer Hannover, ed. by Katja Lembke / Jens Reiche, Dresden: 2018.
  • Wehking, Sabine, Die Inschriften der Lüneburger Klöster. Ebstorf, Isenhagen, Lüne, Medingen, Walsrode, Wienhausen, Wiesbaden: 2009 (DI 76). Online

And for some fun reading: Tending the Hearth. A Culinary Journey Through Protestant Convents and Women’s Religious Foundations in Northern Germany, published in 2014 for the General Convent by Abbess Bärbel Görcke (order via email

Nuns and Their Texts. Religious Writing from North German Medieval Convents
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2 thoughts on “Nuns and Their Texts. Religious Writing from North German Medieval Convents

  • February 28, 2022 at 12:10 am

    Thanks so much for making this fascinating material available to us. I unfortunately will not be able to attend the seminar tomorrow, but if you are going to have a Powerpoint presentation and would be willing to share it, I would love to see it. With every good wish and many thanks, Elizabeth AR Brown (Peggy) (

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