“Leide gern und sei gedultig.” Images of Spiritual Reform by and for Fifteenth-Century Nuns

Jane L. Carroll*, Dartmouth College, Jane.L.Carroll@Dartmouth.edu

At the end of the fourteenth century, the General of the Dominican Order was alarmed at the lack of observance among the religious communities under his control. Especially appalling were the arrangements favored by the Dominican nuns who resided in comfort, disregarding the goals of discipline and piety that were the core of the Dominican Order. The reform’s model convent was St. Katherine’s in Nuremberg. Although it twice had violently resisted reform, in 1428 the sisters there rededicated themselves to faithful devotion and practical work, including copying and illustrating of manuscripts.

My essay will examine an illuminated manuscript that was produced at St. Katherine’s during this reform, the Schwesternbuch von Töß by Elsbeth Stagel (Stadtbibliothek, Nuremberg, Cent V, 10a). The Töß stories, like all Schwesternbücher, recount the visions of mystical thirteenth-century Dominican sisters. The reformed sisters copied and decorated the Nuremberg Töß manuscript around 1454, creating the only known Schwesternbuch to be illustrated (twenty-three historiated initials). In general, the images in Töß reflect a language of persuasion whose chosen elements contemporized the mysticism of a past generation and remade Töß into a didactic tool advertising the rewards of faith. Its scenes reflect Hans Belting’s assertion that in the Late Medieval world, the theological and the emotional existed side by side. I will show that both elements can be conveyed through a female vocabulary.

The Nuremberg volume represents an unparalleled attempt to develop a visual imagery that pairs the didactic and polemical aims of the Schwesternbuch with the practical vision and devotional piety forming the core of the Dominican reform. In addition, Cent V. 10a provides us with an important example of an extensive illustration cycle created by females, for a female audience and concerning female religious subject matter. Finally, the volume allows us a glimpse into a late fifteenth-century female discourse on proper devotion