Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation

University of Groningen Library

More heritage Exhibitions

Four Groningen Manuscripts

Karst Schuil and Marlies Draaisma

In the series Virtual exhibitions we present: 'Four Groningen manuscripts'. The exhibition is the result of the annual international summer school Things that Matter, and is curated by Karst Schuil and Marlies Draaisma as part of their Research Master Classical, Medieval and Early Modern Studies. The manuscripts that are being displayed are: Lectionarium and Antiphonarium from Selwerd, 2 Book of Hours from Thesinge and a Prayer Book fromThesinge.

What are Lectionaries and Books of Hours?

Both Lectionaries and Books of Hours contain religious texts. A Lectionary contains a collection of scripture readings and epistles from the Bible. It was a liturgical book, meant to be read on specific days or occasions. The Lectionary was meant to be read out loud during Mass, in the presence of a sizeable number of people. As such, Lectionaries were thicker and heavier, and not meant to be as portable as the smaller sized Books of Hours. The Lectionary from Groningen (HS 26), held at the University Library, does include an Antiphonarium as well – which contains the chants for the Divine Office with musical annotation.

Unlike Lectionaries, Books of Hours were created for private, individual worship. Developed in late medieval Europe, it quickly became a popular item for many lay persons. It still is one of the most common types of medieval manuscript; there are thousands of such books stored in museums and libraries today. Books of Hours are usually written in Latin, but there are also some that have been written in the vernacular European languages. The earlier Books of Hours were all created for wealthy patrons, but over time, increased affluence and the growth in cities and trade allowed for ordinary citizens to own their own Books of Hours as well. Almost all of them contain a calendar of liturgical feasts and a series of prayers in eight sections to be carried out during the 24 hours in a single day. This is what gave them the name Book of Hours.

The origins of Groningen books

All four books displayed here originated from the Groningen region, roughly between 1470 and 1530. They are handwritten, as was customary at that time (the earliest known date of a printer in the town of Groningen is from 1598). [1] Most books in this region were produced by monasteries. [2] The Benedictine monasteries in Selwerd and Thesinge – both locations close to the town of Groningen – were the most important. Both Selwerd and Thesinge produced works for their own use and for those outside the monastery. The bulk of the works meant for lay persons concerned books for private devotion such as Books of Hours, meticulously written in book script and decorated with ink and gold. Worth mentioning is the fact that the more elaborated books that can be ascribed to the Groningen region were – as far as we know – copied only by women. In Selwerd these women were also involved in the decorations. [3]

What makes a manuscript a Groningen manuscript?

How do we know these books came from the Groningen region? In most cases a colophon with the place and date of the manuscript’s production are omitted and other ways of localizing are needed. The manuscript’s decorative style is one such a way.

Most Groningen books have only a small amount of decorations and are usually without miniatures. [4] And indeed, if we study the manuscripts in our virtual exhibition, there are no full-page illustrations or figures depicted. In the same vein, historiated initials (an enlarged letter that contains an identifiable figure or scene) are rare. Groningen style large initials instead have lush leaf- and flower motifs with curled-up leaves, usually in bright colors of orange, green, ochre, blue and lilac – more often than not paired with gold –, whereas the smaller initials have curly white or dark lines drawn inside. Commonly found are decorations in the margins around the text. There are block-shaped decorations with golden borders and loose, (small) clusters of flowery shapes without a border. In most cases, a manuscript from Groningen features both in a variety of ways. The elements are almost always the same, however, with leaf-motifs, acorns, wavy lines and in-between this all; flowers in different colors, golden elements, ‘balls,’ and sometimes small rings in the background. [5] Another type of decoration are the pen-work flourishes that accompanied smaller initials and margins in red or blue ink. Notably, HS. Add. 266 does not feature pen-work flourishes yet seems to be in all other regards a ‘Groningen production’.

About the origins of the Books of Hours presented in this virtual collection little is known. We know that they are produced in Groningen, but what happened between their production and entry into the library of Groningen is unclear. The Book of Hours Add 360 bought in 1907 from a private collector by Coella Lindsay Ricketts and bought in 2003 by the friends of the University Library of Groningen as a gift. Add 274 surfaced in 1989 at an auction in London, where it was first thought to be Flemish in origin. The small Latin book, Add 266 was in possession of Sir Isaac Heard in the eighteenth century, and between 1822-1946 it was consecutively in possession of G. Bischop, P. van der Broeck and Menno Hertzberger, who all left their marks in the manuscript. It was bought in 1988 from an antiquarian in Fribourg (Switzerland). The only thing we know about the lectionary is that it became part of the University Collection somewhere between 1615 and 1870. Apparently, it is not mentioned in any of the catalogues from this period.

This virtual exhibition was made as part of the Summerschool Things That Matter 5.


[1] Jos. M.M. Hermans, Middeleeuwse Handschriften Uit Groningse Kloosters (Groningen: Athena's Boekhandel, 1988), 7.

[2] According to J. P. Gumbert in one of his lectures of 1989, as cited by Hermans, “Laatmiddeleeuwseboekcultuur in het Noorden,” 224.

[3] Hermans, Middeleeuwse Handschriften, 32.

[4] Jos M. M. Hermans, “Groningen en Noordoost-Nederland,” in: Kriezels, Aubergines en Takkenbossen: Randversiering in Noordnederlandse Handschriften Uit De Vijftiende Eeuw, eds. A.S. Korteweg and J Gerritsen (Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 1992), 140. Two studies of note are: Hermans, Middeleeuwse Handschriften from 1988 and A. S. Korteweg “Delftse, Noordhollandse En Groningse Randjes: Een Bijdrage Tot Een Atlas Van Randversiering in Noordnederlandse Verluchte Handschriften Der Vijftiende Eeuw,” in OpstellenOver De Koninklijke Bibliotheek En Andere Studies: Bundel Samengesteld Door Medewerkers Van Dr. C. Reedijk Ter Gelegenheid Van Zijn Aftreden Als Bibliothecaris Van De Koninklijke Bibliotheek Te ’s-Gravenhage (Hilversum: Verloren, 1986).

[5] Hermans, Middeleeuwse Handschriften, 39.

Last modified:30 January 2020 09.33 a.m.
printView this page in: Nederlands
Follow us onfacebook twitter instagram