Introduction: What We Thought, What We Know Now, and What Remains Unknown

What We Thought (and What We Did)

Little was known about Western MS 97 at the outset of our seminar. Librarians at Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library had hypothesized, based on paleographical and other stylistic evidence, that the book dated from the first quarter of the 14th century, but they made no claims toward the manuscript's geographical origin. The Latin language of the manuscript and absence of any vernacular marginalia offered no clues toward its birthplace.

The seminar's first task, then, was to compile the contents of the manuscript--341 folios in all--in a spreadsheet, in hopes that unusual chants or feasts might point us in the right direction. All the members of Susan Boynton's seminar worked together on this monumental task, which involved recording each incipit in Western MS 97 and ascertaining its place in the Temporale or Sanctorale.

Though such work may seem mundane, it is absolutely essential for a preliminary investigation into the history of a liturgical manuscript. After all, one must look to find. And indeed, most of the clues discussed on the following pages of this exhibit were first encountered on our initial perusal of the text.

What We Now Know

It quickly became evident that the liturgy contained in Western MS 97 matched that of the Dominican Order, which was founded in the mid-13th century in France. Clues provided by a number of saints penned into the margins also led us to reconfigure our initial hypothesis about when the manuscript was copied. We now believe that the manuscript was created between 1276 and 1298. Third, the presence of certain saints in the manuscript's margins (first noticed by John Glasenapp) indicated to us that it was housed in Strasbourg by the 15th century. Because women's religious houses greatly outnumbered men's in Strasbourg in the late middle ages, we think it likely the gradual belonged to a convent.

What Remains Unknown

Although we now have a strong hypothesis for when Western MS 97 was copied, we are still unsure where it was produced, or precisely when it arrived in Strasbourg. Our current conjecture is that it was produced in the same region. We hope that a close paleographical comparison with contemporary comparanda will help us pin down the specific whereabouts of the manuscript's original makers. This exhibit will be updated to reflect any future discoveries (5/15).

Introduction: What We Thought, What We Know Now, and What Remains Unknown