Manuscripts from the Mainz Charterhouse

The Bodleian Libraries are digitizing 94 medieval manuscripts from the former library of the Mainz Charterhouse in a project funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.

The Carthusian abbey in Mainz was founded in 1320, the first Charterhouse in the Rhineland area. Its library expanded rapidly over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and at its greatest extent it consisted of very roughly 1,500 volumes, not including the library of the lay brothers, or the liturgical manuscripts which were kept in the choir. The library was catalogued twice in considerable detail, first between 1466 and 1470 [Hs I 577] and again in about 1520 [Hs I 576]. The high number of surviving volumes and the existence of two catalogues makes this one of the best-documented of any medieval library collections.

Over 800 volumes from the Charterhouse are known to survive today, mostly from the library proper but including a smaller number of books from the choir library and the lay brothers’ library: these last unsurprisingly were in the vernacular (including MS. Laud Misc. 521). Most of the surviving manuscripts remained at the Charterhouse until its secularization and are now in the Mainz Stadtbibliothek. However some volumes were removed or sold from the abbey – the circumstances are not clear – in the 1630s during the Thirty Years’ War. A number of these manuscripts were acquired by English collectors and are now in the British Library (manuscripts acquired by Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel) and the Bodleian Library (manuscripts acquired by William Laud).

The first catalogue gives an outline of the library’s contents. The catalogue began with the Bible, followed by sacred history and saints’ lives (sections A-B). Section C-H were organized alphabetically by author and subject, from ‘Augustinus’ to ‘Vocabularius’. A large section (I, K, much of L) was devoted to sermons and preaching, reflecting the importance of these activities to Carthusian life. Section M contained mostly miscellaneous devotional writing. There followed legal manuscripts (N), mostly canon and civil law (MSS. MS. Laud Misc. 218, 483); medicine (O); finally volumes relating to the ‘arts’ of the medieval university curriculum (P), mostly philosophy and grammar, including classical texts (MS. Laud Misc. 650, Peter of Blois).

The Bodleian manuscripts became known to scholarship with the publication of Coxe’s catalogue of the Laudian manuscripts in 1858; important later work has been done on the collection by Richard Hunt, Sigrid Krämer and particular by Daniela Mairhofer, who produced a detailed descriptive catalogue, funded by the Thyssen Stiftung, in 2018.

The current digitization project will make this rich collection fully available, and will complete the digitization of the Bodleian’s most important collections of manuscripts from the German speaking lands. In addition to appearing on Digital Bodleian, the manuscripts will also be part of the reconstructed virtual library of the Mainz Charterhouse, hosted by Heidelberg University.

The project completed in February 2024.