I. The corpus

The larger corpus

This larger corpus was established based on quantitative criteria: it consists of religious vernacular works whose large number of extant copies testifies to their popularity in the Middle Ages.

Threshold figure — 80 extant manuscript copies.

Vernacular religious texts whose medieval circulation was such that they boast over 80 extant copies today can be traced in only five languages, namely (northern) French, English, German, Dutch and Italian. OPVS identified the 20-odd ‘successful’ texts written or translated into these four vernacular languages ; and focuses on four of them, letting aside the Italian.

The corpus in focus

This restricted corpus consists of those vernacular religious works which proved massively successful, and thus meet two distinct criteria:

a. having circulated in at least three of the linguistic areas under consideration

b. being extant today in over 80 manuscript copies in at least one language.

OPVS’ initial larger corpus yielded the following shortlist:

1. Henry Suso’s Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit [‘Little Book of Eternal Wisdom’] (over 100 mss) as well as vernacular translations of his Horologium Sapientiae [‘Clockwork of Wisdom’]

(Lists for over 100 German mss, 55 French mss, 26 English mss, 100 Dutch mss (middle Dutch translation of chapter 4, part II of the Büchlein : 70 mss ; middle Ducth translation of the third part of the Büchlein : 230 mss ; middle Dutch translation of the third part of the Horologium Sapientiae : 438 mss)) ;

2. translations of Jacobus de Varagine’s Legenda aurea [‘Golden Legend’]

(lists for 115 mss in Dutch, 80 mss in French, 9 German versions extant in 86 mss, 5 English versions extant in 117 mss) ;

3. translations of the Pseudo-Bonaventura’s Meditationes Vitae Christi [‘Meditations on the Life of Christ’] (Lists for c. 80 mss in English, 7 mss in French, 13 mss in German, 31 mss in Dutch) ;

4. translations of the Vitas Patrum [‘Life of the Fathers’]

(Lists for 115 mss in German, 14 mss in French, 6 mss in English, 40 mss in Dutch)

5. Friar Laurent, La Somme le roi ou Livre des vices et des vertus [‘The King’s Summa or Book of Vices and Virtues’] together with English, and Dutch translations of this work

(Lists for 105 mss in French, 100 mss in English, 10 mss in Dutch)

6. Guillaume of Digulleville (also ‘Guillaume Deguileville’), Le Pelerinage de vie humaine [‘The Pilgrimage of Human Life’] together with German, English and Dutch translations


II. Methods and objectives

Looking at the larger corpus

OPVS will

1. draw a comprehensive checklist of all religious vernacular ‘best-sellers’ for medieval Europe

2. list extant manuscript copies of these ‘best-sellers’.

The results of this survey will be fed into the Jonas database as collection goes along, and thus made widely and freely available online to academics and researchers.

Specific research on the corpus in focus

Extant manuscripts for all six works comprising the corpus in focus will be submitted to a comprehensive (bibliographical, philological, etc.) examination, so as to pinpoint as closely as possible their date and place of writing, together with any evidence of medieval ownership (either by individuals or religious institutions). After integrating this data, comparison will make it easier to identify the medieval mode(s) of circulation for each of these six works, as well as potential overlaps.

Ultimately, OPVS seeks to pinpoint the production centers as well as the circulation and readership of vernacular religious manuscripts. By profiling a host of medieval readers, by probing their religious practices as well as the very way they handle their devotional codices, OPVS will offer a more accurate picture of this major aspect of medieval book production, as well as assess the actual impact of vernacular religious literature on late medieval Western Europe.