Embodied reading as political action in the "Hortus Deliciarum”
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The Hortus Deliciarum was an educational manuscript created between about 1168 and about 1182 for the Augustinian canonesses of the Alsatian monastery at Hohenbourg. The original manuscript was destroyed in the 1870 bombing of the Strasbourg Municipal Library. About two thirds of its contents have come down through nineteenth-century copies. Scholars agree that the abbess Relinde and her successor, Herrad, designed the manuscript collaboratively and that Herrad continued the project after Relinde’s death. Scholars have noticed iconographic and stylistic commonalities between the Hortus images and the mosaic programs of Norman Sicilian sites such as the Cappella Palatina and Monreale cathedral. The visual kinship is undeniable, but attempts to explain it have been unsatisfying; the common theory suggests the abbesses relied on a model book from the Sicilian mosaic workshops. In this study I argue that the abbesses intentionally incorporated Norman visual and literary material into their work because it was politically charged as a signifier of papal support during the conflict between Alexander III and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. I present Norman material in the Hortus heretofore undetected and additional evidence for engagement between Hohenbourg and the Regno—the Norman kingdom comprising Sicily and southern Italy. Ultimately, the Hortus attests to Hohenbourg’s engagement with global politics and contact with the Norman kingdom. While I contend the manuscript was the result of Relinde’s and Herrad’s first-hand encounters with the material culture of the Regno through travel, I argue its emphasis on Norman culture enabled a virtual journey for Hohenbourg canonesses of lower rank who did not enjoy such agency: the adoption of Norman culture at Hohenbourg invited the canonesses to travel virtually through the Regno by means of its images and texts. The end point of this embodied reading through the Hortus was the heavenly Jerusalem, the true and desired goal of all pilgrimage. As I show, through the efforts of the Norman rulers, the Regno had become conflated with the Holy Land in western Christian minds by the twelfth century. The canonesses thus reach Jerusalem via a surrogate Holy Land ruled by the papacy’s defenders, the Normans of the Mediterranean.