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The Garden of Delights

Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century

By Fiona J. Griffiths

Publication Year: 2007

In The Garden of Delights, Fiona J. Griffiths offers the first major study of the Hortus deliciarum, a magnificently illuminated manuscript of theology, biblical history, and canon law written both by and explicitly for women at the end of the twelfth century. In so doing she provides a brilliantly persuasive new reading of female monastic culture. Through careful analysis of the contents, structure, and organization of the Hortus, Griffiths argues for women's profound engagement with the spiritual and intellectual vitality of the period on a level previously thought unimaginable, overturning the assumption that women were largely excluded from the "renaissance" and "reform" of this period. As a work of scholarship that drew from a wide range of sources, both monastic and scholastic, the Hortus provides a witness to the richness of women's reading practices within the cloister, demonstrating that it was possible, even late into the twelfth century, for communities of religious women to pursue an educational program that rivaled that available to men. At the same time, the manuscript's reformist agenda reveals how women engaged the pressing spiritual questions of the day, even going so far as to criticize priests and other churchmen who fell short of their reformist ideals.

Through her wide-ranging examination of the texts and images of the Hortus, their sources, composition, and function, Griffiths offers an integrated understanding of the whole manuscript, one which highlights women's Latin learning and orthodox spirituality. The Garden of Delights contributes to some of the most urgent questions concerning medieval religious women, the interplay of gender, spirituality, and intellectual engagement, to discussions concerning women scribes and writers, women readers, female authorship and authority, and the visual culture of female communities. It will be of interest to art historians, scholars of women's and gender studies, historians of medieval religion, education, and theology, and literary scholars studying questions of female authorship and models of women's reading.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. 1-23

During the last quarter of the twelfth century, Herrad (d. after 1196), abbess of the Augustinian monastery at Hohenbourg in Alsace, oversaw the production of what was to become one of the most famous of illuminated manuscripts: the Hortus deliciarum or Garden of Delights. ...

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Chapter 1. Reform and the Cura Monialium at Hohenbourg

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pp. 24-48

In 1153, Frederick Barbarossa, the newly elected king and soon-to-be emperor of Germany, paid a single visit to the ancient monastery at Hohenbourg, high in the Vosges mountains of Alsace not far from Strasbourg. As with so much of medieval history, Barbarossa’s visit is recorded only by chance in a diploma that he issued during his stay; no light is shed...

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Chapter 2. The Hortus Deliciarum: A Book for Reform and Renaissance

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pp. 49-81

The Hortus deliciarum marked a critical stage in the progress of reform at Hohenbourg. Some twenty years had elapsed since the first flush of reform enthusiasm had begun to transform the community from a neglected outpost—locked in struggles both with its own chaplains and most likely also with the neighboring monasteries...

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Chapter 3. A Bee In The Garden of the Lord

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pp. 82-107

As we saw in the last chapter, Herrad wrote only a handful of the texts that are included in the Hortus. Indeed, her authorship can be declared with certainty for no more than two, both of which she explicitly claims to have written: the first, Salve cohors virginum (HD no. 1), the poem with which the manuscript opens and which she addressed to the...

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Chapter 4. From Nectar To Honeycomb: Constructing The Hortus

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pp. 108-133

In his discussion of honey making as an analogy to composition, Seneca leaves unanswered the question of what the bee actually did to transform nectar into honey: the process of mellification remains, ultimately, a mystery. In the same way, although Herrad describes herself as a bee and the Hortus as a honeycomb in her prologue, she does not make explicit...

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Chapter 5. The Tree of Knowledge

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pp. 134-163

In the prose prologue that introduced the texts of the Hortus deliciarum (HD no. 2), Herrad provided her readers with two distinct metaphors for the manuscript. The first is the title that she had given the work and with which she explicitly commends it to the women of Hohenbourg—the Garden of Delights. ...

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Chapter 6. The Pleasure Garden of Learning: Reading The Hortus

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pp. 164-193

The obvious question is why Herrad had embarked on the Hortus project to begin with and, even more curious, how she intended the manuscript to be used. The circumstances at Hohenbourg in the latter half of the twelfth century, the community’s recent reform, and its ongoing struggles...

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Chapter 7. Reforming Women In The Garden of Delights

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pp. 194-212

Toward the end of the Hortus, Herrad included an image that was as unique in its vivid and gruesome detail as it is revealing of the spiritual concerns that motivated her work on the manuscript as a whole. This image, the full-page depiction of hell...

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Conclusion: A Book for Women?

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pp. 213-223

The Hortus deliciarum is one of the few medieval Latin books known to have been written both by and explicitly for religious women. As such, it is a rare witness to the spiritual priorities and intellectual interests of a female monastic community at the close of the twelfth century. ...

Appendix: Latin Texts and Translations

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pp. 225-253


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pp. 255-256


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pp. 257-325


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pp. 327-368


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pp. 369-378


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pp. 379-381

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202113
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812239607

Page Count: 412
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 759158220
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Garden of Delights

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women in Christianity -- Germany -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Herrad, of Landsberg, Abbess of Hohenburg, ca. 1130-1195. Hortus deliciarum.
  • Monastic and religious life of women -- Germany -- History -- Middle Ages, 600-1500.
  • Germany -- Church history -- 843-1517.
  • Christian women -- Religious life -- Germany -- History -- 12th century.
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