Luther’s Handwriting

An exciting discovery at Emory, just in time for the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of Luther’s 95 Theses:

A three line inscription on the title page of a 1520 pamphlet from the Richard C. Kessler Reformation Collection was recently identified by the German Church Historian Ulrich Bubenheimer as being in the hand of Martin Luther himself!

The author of the pamphlet–a fictitious dialogue critical of Pope Leo X’s bull that threatened Martin Luther with excommunication–was previously unknown. However, Luther’s gift inscription to Wolfgang Wolprecht, Prior of the Augustinian monastery in Nuremberg, allows us to conclude that it was composed by Johannes Petzensteiner (1487-1554), a fellow Augustinian who had come to Wittenberg from Nuremberg to serve as lector.

The inscription reads idest p.[atris] lectoris / Betzensteynn / priori Volfgango Volprechto N[urenbergensi] (= This is Pater Lector Betzensteynn, for Prior Wolfgang Wolprecht of Nuremberg) and follows the printed line Excusum, impensis & opera Iohannis Coticulae. The Latin coticula means whetstone (German Wetzstein), which becomes Betzstein or Petztstein in some German dialects and thus came to serve as a pseudonym for Johannes Petzenstein, who was later one of Luther’s two travel companions (with Nikolaus Amsdorff) on his return to Wittenberg from the Diet of Worms.

We are delighted with this new discovery and with Prof. Bubenheimer’s verification. As Kessler Scholars Advisory Committee member Tim Wengert noted, “Over the course of his career, Prof. Bubenheimer has proved himself to be the premier expert in identifying Luther’s handwriting, having spent his entire career uncovering hitherto unknown inscriptions by Luther. In this particular case, his reconstruction is spot on and helps to show the way other fellow Augustinians supported Luther in the early stages of the Reformation.”

Images at the link.

HMML Exhibition

From Daniel Gullo, notice of an online exhibition from the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library: “Terra Incognita: Tracing Western Understanding of the Earth through Maps.”

In the 21st century, we have become accustomed to the ability to locate geographical information at the touch of a screen or a click of a mouse. Almost instantaneously we find physically accurate road maps, city maps and information about specific locations, and this can create a sense that all places are known through stored data. It is sometimes difficult to remember that such services have only become available in the last twenty years.

The maps in this exhibition may look foreign to you, and this sense of unfamiliarity is due largely to the changing understanding of the world over time and the attempt by early mapmakers to fill in missing data. This Terra incognita, or unknown land, was often filled with anomalous details such as California depicted as an island.

This collection of maps will give you a sense of how the conception of the world changed from the 13th to the early 19th century. Our understanding of the world continues to evolve, and the accurately detailed maps we know today may become the Terra incognita of the future.

Check it out.

Medieval Book Curses

I recall a notice at Dartmouth’s Baker Library on the way out of the stacks, a reproduction of a sign from the University of Salamanca threatening people with excommunication if they steal or damage the books in any way. This is what came up on an image search; it looks familiar to me:

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And now, courtesy my colleague Curt Lindquist, an Atlas Obscura article on the bad things that monks would promise to those who messed with their book production:

In the Middle Ages, creating a book could take years. A scribe would bend over his copy table, illuminated only by natural light—candles were too big a risk to the books—and spend hours each day forming letters, by hand, careful never to make an error. To be a copyist, wrote one scribe, was painful: “It extinguishes the light from the eyes, it bends the back, it crushes the viscera and the ribs, it brings forth pain to the kidneys, and weariness to the whole body.”

Given the extreme effort that went into creating books, scribes and book owners had a real incentive to protect their work. They used the only power they had: words. At the beginning or the end of books, scribes and book owners would write dramatic curses threatening thieves with pain and suffering if they were to steal or damage these treasures.

They did not hesitate to use the worst punishments they knew—excommunication from the church and horrible, painful death. Steal a book, and you might be cleft by a demon sword, forced to sacrifice your hands, have your eyes gouged out, or end in the “fires of hell and brimstone.”

“These curses were the only things that protected the books,” says Marc Drogin, author of Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses. “Luckily, it was in a time where people believed in them. If you ripped out a page, you were going to die in agony. You didn’t want to take the chance.”

More at the link.

On a similar (if slightly less apocalyptic) level, a friend of mine once printed up a number of bookplates reading “The wicked borroweth, and returneth not again” (Psalm 37.21) for placement in the prayer books of the church that he was priest of.

Book Review

Sehepunkte is on the verge of publishing another one of my reviews, of Stephen Justice, Adam Usk’s Secret (Penn, 2015). The link takes you to the preview site (UPDATE 11/20: it’s now officially published.) 

Something annoying happened in the course of writing this review. Two editions of Usk’s chronicle have been published, one by Edward Maunde Thompson in 1876, and another by Chris Given-Wilson in 1997. I ordered both of these through interlibrary loan and, once I returned them, thought that I should buy Given-Wilson’s for my collection. I discovered a copy for a very reasonable price being offered on Amazon by Big River Books of Powder Springs, Georgia. Once it arrived I discovered just why it was so cheap: it was stolen property! It had clearly been checked out of Burling Library at Grinnell College and not returned. The bookplate, card pocket, bar code were all there, with no indication that it had been deaccessioned. Grinnell confirmed that it was indeed theirs; Big River Books claimed that they bought it fair and square from a USPS undeliverable mail auction. But assuming that story is true, surely any reputable bookseller should have be able to perceive instantly what I perceived when I got the book. So my recommendation to you: avoid Big River Books!

(I returned it to Grinnell. Amazon – not BRB – reimbursed me for it.)

Here is a graphic from the cover of Thompson’s edition, of the badge that Usk adopted for himself: a naked man digging in a black field, in Justice’s words a “fallen Adam condemned to labor in a world that has faded to black.”

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