Strasbourg 1348-1418

The rich and extensive literary productivity in and around the city of Strasbourg in the second half of the fourteenth century is best approached not by a chronological survey of a series of literary works, but by a topographical approach which considers the contribution of the different centres of literary creativity and book production in the city across the period as a whole. The chapter can be divided into two sections. The first will deal with the religious houses. The Dominican convent, associated at the beginning of the period with the famous but now rather aged figures of Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Seuse, and Johannes von Dambach, is thought to have entered a period of relative decline after c. 1360. It will be necessary to investigate whether that relative decline extended to the production and dissemination of manuscript books in the period. The Franciscan convent – and more to the point, the Franciscan studium generale (which is not the same thing) – is associated to some extent at least with Marquard von Lindau, whose works provide evidence of the remarkable range of literary texts available to an interested writer in the city at the time. The Carthusians are represented by Ludolf von Sachsen, whose monumental Vita Christi was disseminated from Strasbourg after his retirement to its charterhouse in the later 1360s. The Passion texts of the so-called Straßburger Augustinereremit and the bilingual oeuvre of Johannes Hiltalingen von Basel, the Meister des Lehrgesprächs, represent the contribution of the Augustinian hermits. The sizeable collection of (largely unstudied) contemporary manuscripts from the Dominican convent of St Nikolaus in undis offers the opportunity to survey the library of the only one of the substantial urban nunneries in the city from which a large corpus of manuscripts has survived. Most important of all in this period is the Grüner Wörth, founded as a lay monastery in 1367 and incorporated four years later into the Order of St John (the Knights Hospitaller). The founder, Rulman Merswin, and his associates, a group of laypeople who called themselves ‘the Friends of God’, are responsible for the creation of a distinctive and remarkable body of mystical literature in the German vernacular, the production of a number of presentational manuscripts containing these texts, and the establishment of what would quickly become one of the most important libraries for the collection and dissemination of the literature of medieval Germany in the entire German Sprachraum.

Strasbourg is significant in other respects as a centre of literary innovation in this period, which will be considered in the second section to this chapter. First, it formed an important hub for the reception of Dutch-language works in the Upper Rhine, notably the mystical treatises of Jan van Ruusbroec (the translation of which is associated with Tauler and Merswin). Second, it is representative of the birth of genuinely bilingual civic literary and intellectual culture. This is not just an issue of the association with the city of a number of ecclesiastical authors active more widely in south-west Germany and responsible for literary corpora consisting of both Latin and German works (like Marquard and Johannes Hiltalingen). It can also be seen in the production of the hugely important Latin-German vocabularies of Fritsche Klosener and Jakob Twinger von Königshofen, the first substantial glossaries of their kind; Twinger’s production of Latin and German versions of his chronicle of Strasbourg, the first of the veritable explosion of civic chronicles in late medieval Germany; and the evidence for the translation into German in Strasbourg of a number of large and difficult works, like the Elsässische Legenda Aurea and the prayerbook of Ursula Begerin. Third, its burgeoning urban mercantile class and patrician élite constituted a market which stimulated the systematic production of manuscripts designed for a lay audience, visible at the very end of this period in the so-called ‘Werkstatt von 1418’ in nearby Haguenau, the precursor to the famous workshop of Diebold Lauber. (We should not forget that shortly after our period ends, Strasbourg money played an influential role in the stimulation of the new technologies of printing.)