The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century

The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century

The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century

The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century

Synopsis

In The Garden of Delights, Fiona J. Griffiths offers the first major study of the Hortus deliciarum, a magnificently illuminated manuscript of theology, biblical history, and canon law written both by and explicitly for women at the end of the twelfth century. In so doing she provides a brilliantly persuasive new reading of female monastic culture. Through careful analysis of the contents, structure, and organization of the Hortus, Griffiths argues for women's profound engagement with the spiritual and intellectual vitality of the period on a level previously thought unimaginable, overturning the assumption that women were largely excluded from the "renaissance" and "reform" of this period. As a work of scholarship that drew from a wide range of sources, both monastic and scholastic, the Hortus provides a witness to the richness of women's reading practices within the cloister, demonstrating that it was possible, even late into the twelfth century, for communities of religious women to pursue an educational program that rivaled that available to men. At the same time, the manuscript's reformist agenda reveals how women engaged the pressing spiritual questions of the day, even going so far as to criticize priests and other churchmen who fell short of their reformist ideals.

Through her wide-ranging examination of the texts and images of the Hortus, their sources, composition, and function, Griffiths offers an integrated understanding of the whole manuscript, one which highlights women's Latin learning and orthodox spirituality. The Garden of Delights contributes to some of the most urgent questions concerning medieval religious women, the interplay of gender, spirituality, and intellectual engagement, to discussions concerning women scribes and writers, women readers, female authorship and authority, and the visual culture of female communities. It will be of interest to art historians, scholars of women's and gender studies, historians of medieval religion, education, and theology, and literary scholars studying questions of female authorship and models of women's reading.

Excerpt

During the last quarter of the twelfth century, Herrad (d. after 1196), abbess of the Augustinian monastery at Hohenbourg in Alsace, oversaw the production of what was to become one of the most famous of illuminated manuscripts: the Hortus deliciarum or Garden of Delights. A work of compilation, the Hortus comprised a rich selection of texts and images, skillfully woven together into a coherent and carefully structured presentation of salvation history. More than eleven hundred textual extracts, drawn from Christian authors from the early Fathers through the late twelfth century, appeared within an organizational framework defined by the manuscript’s ambitious visual cycle. The result, a grand synthesis of word and image, is an extraordinary monument to the spiritual and intellectual culture of a female monastic community at the close of the twelfth century.

This magnificent manuscript, along with all the treasures of the Strasbourg library, was destroyed in the Prussian siege of August 1870. “One of the most ambitious and splendid manuscripts of the middle ages is irretrievably destroyed,” lamented Rosalie Green of the Princeton Index of Christian Art. Despite this loss, knowledge of the manuscript was preserved by some of the many scholars and antiquarians who had studied it before 1870. Their notes conjure up parchment resplendent with images, texts written in a neat and regular hand yet crowded with marginal and interlinear notations, and folios of every shape and size, their irregularity a reflection of the many long years and cycles of revision that work on the manuscript involved. While the dramatic circumstances of the Hortus destruction have ensured that it continues to be widely remembered, these notes and the tracings that survived the manuscript permit its continued, although obviously imperfect examination; gathered together by a team of scholars under the direction of Rosalie Green, they form the basis for a reconstruction of the Hortus, published by the Warburg Institute in 1979. This reconstruction has succeeded in presenting the essential structure and contents of the Hortus in such a way as to enable an integrated examina-

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