Birgittine Manuscripts from Vadstena Revisited

March 3rd, 2017 by Karin Strinnholm Lagergren

The C- collection at Uppsala University library holds what remains of the abbey library in Vadstena, among them quite a number of notated liturgical manuscripts. A visit this week to the manuscript collection made me reflect on how the Vadstena books are structured in relation to books from other Birgittine abbeys.

I have examined several of these manuscripts before, searching for different things: specials feasts, melodies, Mass formulas, texts etc. What is striking is that liturgical books from other Birgittine abbeys I have looked at are very neatly ordered (Dendermonde, Uden, Altomünster, Syon Abbey). The liturgy is logic and easy to follow, the formulas more or less complete, the text and music easy to read, decorated initials are frequent. The Vadstena material on the other hand is much more difficult to follow, more incomplete, rubrics can be lacking, inconsistent also when comparing Vadstena books from the same period to each other. There is no consistency in how the books are ordered as in for example the books from Uden which can serve as ideal introductory material to the Birgittine sisters’ liturgy. Vadstena seems to have had a much more “individual approach” to their books, only writing down what is needed mixing text and music for Mass and Office, processions, and particular feasts. The writing can be difficult to decipher. The question is why this is so different from other Birgittine abbeys. Why did Vadstena not have the same need for consistency in their liturgical books? Did they not have a common approach in the scriptorium? Did Vadstena develop their liturgy and their book production within a cognitive framework that was so wellknown and well established given such facts that for example that this was the most powerful monastic institution in medieval Sweden? While other abbeys were founded in countries where they not had the chance of reaching the same legitimized status and had to “compete” with other more wellknown orders. Maybe in these cases the bookproduction in itself was a means of legitimizing the order’s existence in that specific region? We must not also forget individual initiatives: certain abbeys could have members being excellent scribes, while other abbeys maybe not were so lucky. Another important thing: not everything has been preserved to our days, but the show off pieces with beautiful illuminations and decorations are usually preserved while “less beautiful” material has been discarded. Were there no such show off antiphonaries, processionals or graduals in Vadstena?

Beginning of Marian Mass Salve sancta parens in C 501, 15th century, Uppsala University Library.

Karin Strinnholm Lagergren
Senior Lecturer at Linnaeus University
Senior lecturer in musicology and singer of medieval music. Research interest monastic chant, in particular Birgittines and Dominicans. In this blog I write, comment and reflect on my research project 'The Musical World of the Birgittine Order'. Expect loads of manuscript images, tricky chant problems and square notation!

Comments are closed.