Manuscript 49: From Agnietenberg to Zwolle, a Journey Through Time and Technology


Last semester, I had the privilege of participating in the interdisciplinary seminar “Introduction to Medieval Manuscripts,” led by Emily Runde and a team of experts including Susan Boynton, Christopher Baswell, Alexis Hagedorn, and Jeffrey Wayno, in which we embarked on an immersive journey into the world of medieval manuscripts and documents. From codicology and paleography to diplomatics and liturgical manuscripts, each session was a revelation as we delved into Columbia’s rich collections, developing essential practical skills along the way.

For my final paper, I chose to study Burke manuscript UTS MS 49, a Middle Dutch book of hours from the third quarter of the 15th century. My interest was initially piqued by its short description in CLIO which ascribes the manuscript to Agnietenberg, the renowned monastery where Thomas a Kempis wrote his influential De Imitatione Christi. However, through a comprehensive examination utilizing various methods learned in class and building upon Lydia Wierda’s foundational scholarship,[1] physical evidence confirmed Wierda’s attribution of the prayer book to the Sarijs manuscript group, written and illuminated in the nearby city of Zwolle.


A white hand holds open an illuminated Book of Hours with colorful illustrations
UTS MS 49, fols. 32v-33r (at the Burke Library, Columbia University Libraries, New York)


Well into my research, I came across an interesting piece of information—a student had embarked on a similar project over four decades ago. In 1979, Caryn Joyce Frankel meticulously examined UTS MS 49 in Columbia’s seminar “Medieval Manuscripts” taught by Professor Jane Rosenthal. I stumbled upon Frankel’s paper while searching for UTS MS 49 in CLIO, where it popped up as the first record. Coincidentally, around the same time, I had reached out to Jeffrey Wayno, Collection Services Librarian at Burke Library, to inquire about the curatorial file on the manuscript.  He confirmed the existence of Frankel’s paper and provided me with photographs of her work. Comparing Frankel’s detailed and thorough analysis, which was composed using a typewriter and includes hand-drawn collation diagrams, underscored the timeless importance of hands-on examination in manuscript studies.


two different diagrams showing sources for Manuscript 49
Hand-drawn collation diagrams from Caryn Joyce’s Frankel seminar paper (left), and Collation diagrams created using VCE editor from my paper (right)


Yet, in 2023, my research significantly benefited from technological advancements that have reshaped the field since 1979. Digital imaging enabled me to compare photographs taken with my smartphone with digitized manuscripts from other institutions remotely. Software and online databases, such as VCE editor and Calendoscope, simplified collation modeling and liturgical calendar identification. A wealth of scholarly resources, including Lydia Wierda’s seminal work, became accessible with a simple online request. Via email, I could exchange ideas and seek guidance from experts instantly. Thus, while the importance of hands-on material analysis in manuscript studies cannot be overstated, it’s equally crucial to embrace the advancements and tools available in the field. Today, collaboration and interdisciplinary research are transforming our understanding of medieval manuscripts.

To learn more about MS 49 and its attribution: Join me on April 10, 2024, from 4pm-6pm, at the Burke Library Conference Room, as I present my some of my findings on UTS MS 49. This workshop is part of Professor Susan Boynton’s “Liturgical Manuscripts in Person” series, offering scholars the unique opportunity to discuss manuscripts physically present in the room. Additionally, Professor Boynton will share her insights on UTS MS 114, a late 15th-century Dutch antiphonary, recently examined by a team led by Alexis Hagadorn, head of conservation for Columbia’s libraries. To register for the event, please use this link. Space is limited.


About the author

Caroline Van Cauwenberge is a PhD candidate in Art History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, focusing on late medieval and renaissance art from northern Europe, especially the Low Countries.  

[1] Lydia Wierda, De Sarijs-handschriften: Laat-middeleeuwse handschriften uit de Ijsselstreek (Zwolle, 1995)


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