A delightful inheritance: female agency and the Disputatio tradition in the Hortus deliciarum
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The Hortus deliciarum (ca. 1170-ca. 1194, destroyed 1870) was an encyclopedic salvation history created for the canonesses at the Augustinian convent of Hohenburg by their abbess Herrad. Despite the strong role of images in the canonesses’ reception of the manuscript, the Hortus illuminations have thus far not merited a critical consideration. In this thesis, I analyze major individual illuminations in the Hortus as well as the manuscript’s entire structure, and I suggest that Herrad designed the Hortus around contemporary apocalyptic ideas, such as those of Joachim of Fiore, while also illustrating the importance of debate and discussion to the body Christian. The overall composition of the Hortus showed the canonesses that God has chosen to share his knowledge with them. In significant individual images, Herrad expressed that they were to exercise this divine knowledge through debate of theological principles. In the Hortus, debate was shown as originating with Christianity’s Jewish desert predecessors, and the canonesses were encouraged to consider themselves as heirs of this intellectual tradition. Debate appeared as endemic to Christianity and essential to the continued life and prosperity of the Church. In stressing the importance of intellectual activity, while also implying that the canonesses were part of the intellectual elect, the Hortus exerted power that transgressed the library walls and affected the ways the Hohenbourg canonesses performed their faith and understood their responsibility as Christians.