NOTED OFFICES FOR THE SICK, DYING AND DEAD, use of the Premonstratensian Order, in Latin and Dutch, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Brabant, second half 15th century]200 x 150mm. 120 leaves: 1-108, 116, 12-158, 162(?of 6, i and ii lacking, iii and iv cancelled blanks, catchwords in the lower margins of most final versos, modern signatures, 20 lines written in black ink in two gothic bookhands between two verticals and 21 lines ruled in grey, justification: 140 x 91mm with pricking on some leaves ff.1-84v, 137 x 94mm ff.87-120v, noted sections written with gothic neumes on a four-line stave ruled in brown, rubrics in red, text capitals touched red; ff.1-84v: one- and two-line initials alternately in blue and red occasionally with decoration in the contrasting colour; ff.87-120v: one- and two-line initials in red, large flourished initials for height of stave in black and red (lacking two leaves of text before f.119, many bifolia with paper reinforcements along folds, tear to margin f.50, damage to coloured initials on a few folios). 20th-century brown leather medieval style stamped in blind with metal corner pieces and two metal clasps with leather straps (scuffed).
The manuscript was written for, and very probably within, a Premonstratensian Abbey in a Dutch speaking area: the Office of the Dead follows the Premonstratensian Use; there are references to 'brothers' and the 'abbot' throughout; the sequence of admonitions and responses for a dying monk appear in Latin and Dutch. The very full lists of saints in the two litanies include those especially revered in the diocese of Cambrai, such as Vedast, Amand, Autbert and Ghislain, and also the seldom encountered Maxellendis, martyred near Cambrai. From the litanies alone, despite the presence of Gudula, the patron of Brussels, and Romuld of Mechelen, the book would seem to have originated near the cathedral city in the south of the diocese, from the number of saints with very local cults such as Pecina (Perseveranda), whose relics were at Saint-Quentin in the diocese of Noyon, and Cilina (Céline), the mother of St Remy, whose relics were at Laon.
An inscription on f.120v attests that in 1612 the book was owned by the Abbey of St Michael, the Premonstratensian house in Antwerp, founded by St Norbert himself in 1124. The record below that it was a gift of 'domini vincenti bosche' may or may not refer to St Michael's. Although Antwerp was in the diocese of Cambrai, the litanies do not invoke local saints like Gummarus and Dympna. The manuscript may not have been made for Antwerp but only come there from another monastery after the disruptions of the 16th century. Of the Dutch speaking Norbertine houses to the south in the diocese of Cambrai, Park, near Leuven was a daughter house of St Martin of Laon; St Martin heads the confessors in the long prayer for the sick, f.70v.
An inscription on f.1 attests to the ownership of 'Dominus Joannis', presumably a brother of the Order; there are a few corrections and additions in the margins. The book continued in use, since in the 17th century a prayer to Sts Peter and Paul, as edited by Urban VIII, Pope 1623-1644, was written on two paper leaves and fastened to the blank f.86. The Premonstratensian Abbey of Grimberghen, to the north of Brussels, was dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul.
Percepta eucharistia, sequence to be said by the priest after someone has taken communion, f.1; Incipit unctio infirmorum, office for anointing the sick, ff.1v-16v; Letania in extremis, litany for the dying, to be extended with further names if desired, with prayers to the Apostles and the Virgin, to be followed by the creed and, if death still has not come, some are to remain when the rest leave to sing the seven penitential psalms, ff.16v-35; Admonition for a dying monk Interrogo frater Letaris quod in fide Christiana...; commendation, absolution by the special grace given by Eugenius IV (Pope 1431-1447), ff.35v-36v; commendation of souls, ff.37-45v; prayers with noted chants for taking the body of a deceased monk to church for the requiem mass and for burial, ff.46-57v; Absolution followed by the admonition for a dying monk in Dutch, Broeder sii du des blide...dat ghi in den habijt sterven selt, ff.58-59v; Prayers and exhortations for the sick, including a sequence on Christ's Passion O Sapiencia quae ex ore altissimi...; and for the moment of death, ff.59v-84v; noted Office of the Dead, Premonstratensian use, ff.87-117v; alternative lessons for the Office of the Dead, sermon 173 of St. Augustine with the final reading from a Pseudo-Augustinian sermon, lacking most of the third, all the fourth and fifth and most of the sixth lessons, ff.118-120.
The letters in red at the end of the two sections are perhaps the signs of the two scribes, the second supplementing the work of the first with a related office, possibly at a slightly later date. Given the limited extent of the decoration and its materials, they may well have been members of the monastery where the book was first used. The sense of community is strong in this collection, as the sick and dying are accompanied by their brothers to the moment of death and beyond. Infirmary buildings in a Premonstratensian monastery were usually large and handsome to meet the material needs of the aged and infirm so that they could then concentrate on their spiritual health and eternal well-being.