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Herrad of Landsberg

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A twelfth-century abbess, author of the "Hortus Deliciarum"; born about 1130, at the castle of Landsberg, the seat of a noble Alsatian family ; died 1195. At an early age she entered the convent of Odilenberg, or Hohenburg, which crowns one of the most beautiful of the Vosges mountains, about fifteen miles from Strasburg. Here she succeeded to the dignity of Abbess in 1167, and continued in that office until her death. As early as 1165 Herrad had begun within the cloister walls the work "Hortus Deliciarum", or "Garden of Delights", by which she is best known. The text is a compendium of all the sciences studied at that time, including theology. The work, as one would expect from what we know of the literary activity of the twelfth century, does not exhibit a high degree of originality. It shows, however, a wide range of reading and when we remember that it was intended for the use of the novices of Odilenberg, we are enabled to glean from it a correct idea of the state of education in the cloister schools of that age. Its chief claim to distinction is the illustrations, three hundred and thirty-six in number, which adorn the text. Many of these are symbolical representations of theological, philosophical, and literary themes, some are historical, some represent scenes from the actual experience of the artist, and one is a collection of portraits of her sisters in religion. The technique of some of them has been very much admired and in almost every instance they show an artistic imagination which is rare in Herrad's contemporaries. The poetry which accompanies the excerpts from the writers of antiquity and from pagan authors is not the least of Herrad's titles to fame. It has, of course, the defects peculiar to the twelfth century, faults of quantity, words and constructions not sanctioned by classical usage, and peculiar turns of phrase which would hardly pass muster in a school of Latin poetry at the present time. However, the sentiment is sincere, the lines are musical, and above all admirably adapted to the purpose for which they were intended, namely, the service of God by song. Herrad, indeed, tells us that she considers her community to he a congregation gathered together to serve God by singing the divine praises. The fate of Herrad's manuscript is well-known. After having been preserved for centuries at her own monastery it passed about the time of the French Revolution into the municipal library of Strasburg. There the miniatures were copied by Engelhardt in 1818. The text was copied and published by Straub and Keller, 1879-1899. Thus, although the original perished in the burning of the Library of Strasburg during the siege of 1870, we can still form an estimate of the artistic and literary value of Herrad's work.

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