Friday, January 28, 2011

Seventeenth-Century French Devotional Manuscript

After weeks of writing articles for the Renaissance Center's newsletter and installing our latest rare book exhibit (on early modern emblem books), I can finally turn my attention to the blog and its long overdue first post of 2011. The subject of this post is a recently acquired bound sammelband, composed of several French devotional texts in both print and manuscript. 

Divers Traitez povr la vie spirituelle, & religieuse. À Bray. 1665
Contemporary blind-stamped calf; spine decorated in blind with five raised bands; contemporary [?] metal-clasps; French nonpareil marbled endpapers. 16 cm (8vo). 

Entitled "diverse treatises on the spiritual and religious life," this handy book is a sammelbande of devotional texts and prayers compiled at Bray-sur-Seine, France in 1665. The book is divided into three main sections: the first contains four carefully written fair-copy texts, the second contains part of a printed pamphlet, and the third contains several leaves of miscellaneous devotional materials in MS, primarily prayers. The scribe decorated the fair copy texts with beautiful hand-drawn ornamentation. 

The contemporary calf binding has two metal clasps that probably date to the same time as the composition of the sammelbande. The nonpareil endpapers correspond to the kind used in seventeenth-century France, further suggesting that the binding of the book dates to the same time as the writing of the text. While we have no clues as to the identity of this book's compiler, an endpaper with ink-obliterated gift inscriptions may provide some clues. I am in no way an expert on French paleography or the French language, but I believe the inscription reads "ce livre apartien a ma soeur de la villerobert [?]," or "this book belongs to my sister of [???]." Although I haven't identified what I've transcribed as "villerobert," I think it is clear this book belonged at one point to a nun, probably in a convent near Bray-sur-Seine. 

The fair copy manuscript texts with which the book begins look like they have been copied from printed books, yet we have not been able to find any printed books that correspond to these titles or their texts. The four texts in question—“Maniere d’entendre la Messe” (the way to listen to the mass),  “Discovrs sur la Perfection requise en l’Estat Religieux” (discourse on the perfection demanded in a religious state), “Discovrs de la vie Interieure, Religieuse, & Spirituelle” (discourse of the interior, religious, and spiritual life), and “Discovrs et Exhortation du vray Nouiciat” (discourse and exhortation of the true novitiate)—seem to have been custom-written and copied for the book's audience, although the subject matter details somewhat commonplace knowledge about devotional practices that certainly appears in other printed books and manuscripts.

According to the title of the second and third texts, we are told they were "fait par Messire Octaue de Bellagarde Archevesque de Sens," that is, made for Archbishop Octave de Saint-Lary de Bellagarde, who served as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Sens, France from 1621-1646. The scribe has provided a colophon at the end of the second text which dates its transcription at Bray-sur-Seine to 1665, and indicates that the original writing of the text was completed on July 29, 1620. So it seems like this Archbishop commissioned the writing of these two devotional guides, and at one point manuscript examplars of these texts existed.

The portions of the book in fair-copy feature a number of intricately penned ornaments adorning the text. These seem to be executed in imitation of printed ornamentation, although the detail in the MS drawings is much more fine and intricate. The scribe does not repeat any of the ornaments twice, and at several points adds very ornate drawings to the ends of the individual texts (as seen below).

I still think it is likely some of this ornamentation was copied from printed books, so if anyone recognizes any of these designs please let me know!

The fragmentary printed book that occupies the structural center of the composite volume is exceedingly rare. The text is Pierre de Bérulle, Claude Cayne, and P Jujart, Lettre aux religieuses de l'ordre de Nostre Dame du Mont-Carmel, érigé en France, selon la première observance; Par Monseigneur l'Illustrissime Cardinal de Berulle, leur Superieur et Visiteur. S.l: S.n, 1644. The copy is imperfect, missing A1 and everything after C4, but it is the only copy I could find other than the one held by the Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon. These letters to the nuns of Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel—which according to the book's subtitle were intended in part "authoriser le formulaire qu'elles doivent suivre" (to authorize the formula that they must follow)—nicely complement the fair copy texts in their emphasis on the proper way to conduct one's life in a religious order. 

Finally, the volume's concluding leaves form a devotional manuscript miscellany, written far less carefully than the MS texts with which the book begins. As you can see from the images above, this section contains writing in various hands and inks, corresponding to notes and prayers undoubtedly written down at different points in time. If the fair-copy and printed texts that begin the book provide a codified and carefully prepared guide to the "spiritual and religious life," then the miscellany that ends the book seems to be space for collecting prayers and litanies that the book's owner learned elsewhere. This section contains an “oraison a Sainte geneviesue patrone de paris” (Bray-sur-Seine and the Archbishopric of Sens being close southeastern neighbors of Paris), the Litany of St. Bernard, “litanies de notre pere sains francois de salles," and “litanies de la bieu heureux jeanne francoise fremiot de chantal.”

As one of our few bound manuscripts, I am excited to have this book in our collection and would love to conduct more extensive research into its producers and owners, as well as the religious communities/networks through which it might have passed. Information is welcome.