Academic journal article Magistra

The Weckerlin Family's Commitment to a Monastic Vow: Medieval Bookmaking in Nineteenth-Century Alsace

Academic journal article Magistra

The Weckerlin Family's Commitment to a Monastic Vow: Medieval Bookmaking in Nineteenth-Century Alsace

Article excerpt

Nineteenth-century medievalism demonstrated a desire for the medieval past, recreating, romanticizing, and even mythologizing the courtly and chivalric ethos of the medieval world, as well as imitating the artistic achievements in medieval architecture and the decorative arts.1 Of particular interest was the process of medieval bookmaking, an engagement documented across England, France, and Germany.2 An Alsatian glass painter by the name of Victor Martin Weckerlin (1825-1909), who was a Roman Catholic seminarian and bibliophile, left his study of theology in Strasbourg and established a glass workshop in his parents' home in Guebwiller. Throughout Alsace, he developed a regional reputation as a designer and painter of stained glass for churches and monastic communities, but he was also known for his extensive library of incunabula, hand-made books, and manuals on how to make medieval books.3 His particular interest in the decorative arts is further attested by at least three hand-lettered and illuminated religious books: a legendary (or a collection of saints' lives) celebrating the eremitic tradition; a book containing the life of the Virgin Mary; and a missal.4 His nineteenth-century imitations of medieval devotional books speak to an engagement with the medieval past, even as they illustrate a deep knowledge of medieval theology and art.5 The whereabouts of the missal and the life of Mary are unknown, but the legendary focused on the eremitic tradition is now housed at the Benedictine monastery of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. The focus for the remainder of this essay will be this collection of saints' lives, which is an excellent example of a type of imitative decorative arts being practiced in the later nineteenth-century.

We intend to recover the story of this devotional book and its production as a deluxe work of medieval art. That is, we will also place it in its artistic milieu and consider the multiple influences that led to its production. We will, moreover, provide details about its ownership, first by a female religious of the Weckerlin family and second by a Midwestern community of Benedictine nuns. Collectively, the following book history offers a methodology for the study of medieval manuscripts and of manuscripts made in a medieval style that are housed in North and South American monastic libraries. Many treasures, such as the Weckerlin manuscript, provide a means to study a religious house's history, its benefactors, and its textual gifts. More than a few such books remain to be examined and offer an untapped opportunity for medievalists and religious studies scholars to share knowledge about the transmission of texts from the Old World to the New.

Victor Weckerlin's interest in becoming a Roman Catholic priest likely fueled his engagement in making and decorating the three manuscripts, but it appears the legendary was a bespoke production for a particular family event: Weckerlin gifted the manuscript to his niece Caroline Weckerlin, seemingly upon her entrance into the Abbaye de Saint Eustase in Flavigny-surMoselle in Lorraine, France. The book would have taken some time to complete, but it is unknown if it was executed before or during Caroline's novitiate or after her final vows. On the second flyleaf are two inscriptions that provide details about its owners. The earliest appears at the bottom in brown ink, written in the artist's own hand: "Donné á ma chère niece Caroline Weckerlin le 5 Janvier 1887, Victor Weckerlin." Victor also included a monogram of his initials, an intertwined V and W (Figure 1).6 Caroline, who adopted the name Marie Jeanne at her vows in 1887, would have been nearly 24, and Victor about 52.

The second donor inscription, in Caroline's hand, appears at the top of this same flyleaf, in brown ink, "Respectful homage of profound gratitude presented to the Reverend Mother Aloysia from a[n] exiled [sic] from France, S Mary Jane Weckerlin O.ST.B." Added in pencil to this inscription by another hand is "1904," the supposed date of the gift from Caroline to the prioress of Mount St. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.