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More heritage Exhibitions Digital exhibitions The Yesse convent

Yesse also had a foothold in the City

GPS N 53°12’55.4” E 6°34’06.3”

In 1589, the convent of Yesse purchased a house in the city of Groningen. The building was intended to serve as a refugium: a refuge in case of emergency, and a base camp for managing affairs in the city. Although Yesse did indeed face much suffering due to the religious-military troubles, it was not unusual at all to own a refugium. In the late 16th century, all Cistercian convents and monasteries in the surrounding regions owned such refugia in the city of Groningen. Aduard owned one on Munnekeholm, a part of which has been preserved. The Jerusalem abbey in Gerkesklooster had one on Schoolholm. The same was true for convents and monasteries of other orders. For example, refugia belonging to the monasteries of Selwerd, Warffum and Rottum were located on (Oude) Boteringestraat.

Detail of a map of Groningen from 1575. In the centre (small), the Herepoort on Zuiderdiep. One of the build-ings immediately to the north-west of the Herepoort would become the refugium of Yesse in 1589. UBG uklu 01-13-06
Detail of a map of Groningen from 1575. In the centre (small), the Herepoort on Zuiderdiep. One of the build-ings immediately to the north-west of the Herepoort would become the refugium of Yesse in 1589. UBG uklu 01-13-06

The refugium of Yesse was located on Herestraat.

More exactly, it was on the southern corner of the intersection of Bruine Ruiterstraat and Herestraat. Today, the monumental De Faun business centre (1935) is located there. Close to this site was the medieval city gate, the contours of which are now visible in the pavement. One Harmen Gijsens had a house constructed there around 1549. The former city moat and city wall once ran along the site, but these defensive works became redundant after the city’s southward expansion.

Yesse bought that house from Johannes Sickinghe in 1589.

At the time, the Sickinghes were one of Groningen’s prominent old Catholic families. As early as the 13th century, an Otto Sickinghe is mentioned and in the 14th century, Geert was the first of many Sickinghes to be mayor of Groningen. The family owned at least two residences in the city. In 1457, a house on (Oude) Boteringestraat was sold, and the house on Herestraat that was owned by this family was sold in 1589. The seller, Johannes Sickinghe (1576-1652), was already a rich man, even though he was still a minor. He had inherited the house from his father Feijo, who also owned property in the regions surrounding the city (e.g. the Warffumborg) and who accidentally shot himself to death in 1579. Johannes’ grandfather of the same name was presumably the first Sickinghe to live in that house. In 1594, five years after the transaction between Johannes and the convent of Yesse, Groningen would be the last stronghold of Spain in the North of the Netherlands to fall into Protestant hands. Johannes was Catholic and despite the fact that he signed the oath of allegiance to the Union of Utrecht, he remained Catholic. Twelve years later, he had converted to Protestantism.

Johannes Sickinghe also left behind book traces.

In the 17th century, the friendship album (album amicorum) was a popular genre. It could be regarded as the precursor of the poetry album. People would have their friends and relatives write personal notes in a conveniently sized, usually oblong booklet. In many cases, such notes consisted of a catch-phrase combined with a drawing (in some cases, coloured). The Groningen patrician Harmen Jarges (†1631) also compiled such an album. Dozens of people would write entries in his album. Most of the contributions were written between 1608 and 1621. Many were added on 20 October 1618, the day on which Harmen Jarges and Roeleffien Clant celebrated their wedding at the Asingaborg in Middelstum. There, the album had apparently been used as a reception book, and it thus displays a variety of Groningen family ties.

Roeleffien Clant’s contribution to her husband’s friendship album. UBG HS 214 K, fol. 35v
Roeleffien Clant’s contribution to her husband’s friendship album. UBG HS 214 K, fol. 35v

Consider the mother of Johannes Sickinghe: Bele Clant. Her brother Gerard had a daughter, Roeleffien, who is mentioned on fol. 35v of this album, with a drawing of the family crest. Johannes was thus a first cousin of Roeleffien, the bride of Harmen Jarges, who owned this album amicorum. That completes the circle. Nearly all of the contributions in this album are from families who had also remained Catholic after the Reduction of Groningen in 1594. It is obviously not a coincidence that the convent of Yesse would purchase its refugium from one of them. This album thus also displays the interconnectedness of the convent with the Catholic elite of Groningen.

Johannes Sickinghe’s contribution to the friendship album of Harmen Jarges. UBG, HS 214 L, fol. 63v
Johannes Sickinghe’s contribution to the friendship album of Harmen Jarges. UBG, HS 214 L, fol. 63v

Johannes Sickinghe contributed to Jarges’ album by praising knowledge.

On leaf 63v, he wrote the following motto alongside his name: Animi sapientia cultrix or Wisdom cultivates the spirit. But are we dealing with the same Johannes who sold the residence to Yesse in 1589? In the University of Groningen Library, we have another plea for education ascribed to Johannes Sickinghe. This was a speech held on the occasion of leaving the Latin school—comparable to the valedictory address that is customary at universities in North America. The text was published in 1619 in Groningen by the university printer, Hans Sas. It is an ode to knowledge and education as a crucial means of personal development. The title suggests a humanist vision of education. The content supports this suggestion. J-hannes emphasizes language and morality as the two pillars of personal development through schooling. He also bases his plea on arguments and examples from Greco-Roman literature—another characteristic of humanist education.

Title page of the speech by Johannes Sickinghe. UBG, uklu ‘JO G 1 (1). As evidenced at the end (dixi ... anno MDCXIX ), the text was both delivered and printed in 1619, in the Aula (maximo auditorio) of the Latin school which was located in the former monastery of the Friars Minor between Broerstraat and Zwanestraat, on the exact site where the University Library now stands.
Title page of the speech by Johannes Sickinghe. UBG, uklu ‘JO G 1 (1). As evidenced at the end (dixi ... anno MDCXIX ), the text was both delivered and printed in 1619, in the Aula (maximo auditorio) of the Latin school which was located in the former monastery of the Friars Minor between Broerstraat and Zwanestraat, on the exact site where the University Library now stands.

It turns out that two Johannes Sickinghes were at play.

The author of the speech refers to himself as “a young man of seventeen years” (septendecim annorum adolescenti, on p. 4) and uses his age as an excuse for errors (p. 5: huic aetati, cuius quasi proprium est labi et errare, i.e. “slips and errors are part and parcel of my age”). He was thus born in 1602, and he could not have been the Johannes Sickinghe who sold the house to the convent of Yesse in 1589. Johannes Junior, it turns out, was the son of Harmen Sickinghe and a young cousin of Johannes Senior. So which of these two wrote his name and motto in Jarges’ friendship album? That inscription is undated, but it was likely to have been written around 1617. Junior would have been 15 years old at that time, and Senior 41 years old. Either of them could have been the author, but four other names also appear on the same page. They apparently wrote in the album at the very same occasion. It was therefore probably Johannes Junior who wrote that particular inscription, as he was of the same generation as the other four.

Johannes Junior thus spoke highly of education.

The full title of his address was as follows: “School speech demonstrating the great power of training and education, both for good and for evil, and the gratitude that we owe to the trusted architects of character and studies.” As stated before, this title suggests that the author was a child of the humanist education in the Netherlands. The foundation of that education had been laid a century before by Erasmus of Rotterdam who, in turn, had been inspired by his hero Rudolph Agricola from Baflo and his student Alexander Hegius, who had been Erasmus’ teacher in Deventer. It is thus no surprise that, around the time of Sickinghe’s speech, the newly founded Groningen Academy (1614) celebrated Agricola as one of its founders.

The non-italicized words in Johannes’ speech are a quotation from Horace.
The non-italicized words in Johannes’ speech are a quotation from Horace.

A classic quotation from the speech symbolizes Johannes’ vision.

In any case, he cites many authors from Greco-Roman antiquity to support or illustrate his standpoints—as befits a good humanist. About halfway through the speech, he quotes two verses from a letter of the Roman poet Horace: “No man is so wild that he cannot be tamed, if he would but patiently lend his ear to education.” In other words, Horace states here what Johannes’ motto also states: education (cultura) cultivates (cultrix) human beings. Coincidentally, the University of Groningen also found these two verses so valuable that it had them applied to a wall in its Academy Building. Unfortunately, these words have now been obscured from view by modern furnishings. Hopefully, this is not symbolic.

Sources

With special thanks to Redmer Alma for his genealogical information on Johannes Sickinghe Junior.

Last modified:29 June 2021 09.04 a.m.
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