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Matthew Champion

The remarkable Fasciculus temporum (‘Bundle of Times’) was a fifteenth-century bestseller: thirty-five editions in Latin, German, French and Dutch appeared before 1500, following its initial manuscript circulation. Its author, Werner Rolewinck (1425–1502), a Carthusian from the reformed house of Saint Barbara in Cologne, was a prolific writer of exegetical, historical, legal and theological works. His most influential and popular work, the Fasciculus is a horizontal timeline which runs from the creation of the world, through the six ages of man, surrounded by paragraphs on events, persons and places of historical importance. It contains a variety of material gathered from medieval sources, forming a line of transmission from early Christian histories into the Renaissance. From creation, the line traces the genealogy of Christ from Adam. Following the events of Christ’s passion, the line charts the course of Christ’s vicars on earth, the popes, concluding in the late-fifteenth century. Editions of the Fasciculus were printed across northern Europe, beginning in Rolewinck’s native Cologne and spreading south to Italy and Spain. How did these editions differ and why? Who read the text? How was it received across Europe? What can it tell us about perceptions of time in Renaissance Europe?

My visiting fellowship at the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of the Renaissance allowed me to consider these questions, combining research carried out before the fellowship in libraries and archives in Northern France, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic, with new work on the Fasciculus in English collections, and the important collection of copies in the Newberry Library, Chicago. The findings of this new research will be presented as part of my University of London doctoral dissertation The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries, and in an article-length study ‘Reading the Fasciculus Temporum across Early-Modern Europe’.

The copies of the Fasciculus temporum examined in Chicago and the UK during my fellowship represent a cross-section of the earliest editions of the text. Although the exact reading publics of each copy can be difficult to determine, several of the copies were owned by religious houses or clerics, confirming the general trends in original readership identified across Europe. This readership opens up questions about the meanings of historical understanding for fifteenth-century readers. For Rolewinck, reading history was a contemplative task, designed to effect a contemplative ascent beyond time to survey history from a quasi-eternal vantage point. For the printers of the various editions, this devotional attitude to time was marketable, finding expression in a variety of printing techniques including introductory woodcuts, small emblematic illustrations, and full-page devotional images. One copy of the Fasciculus in Cambridge pushes this devotional attitude to time further in an illumination which shows a devout reader, probably a canon regular, reading in front of an altar, while above, Christ and two saints look down into time from eternity. A devout attention to history triggers a vision of eternity. Similarly, in a late-fifteenth-century list of recommended reading printed in Florence in 1494, Marco dal Monte Santa Maria recommends the Fasciculus as one of the Libri necesarii alla salute humana corporale, temporale, spirituale et eterna.

This devotion to time associated with the Fasciculus is not surprising given the circulation of the text within reformed monastic communities across Europe, particularly those houses associated with the devotio moderna and the Windesheim congregation in the Low Countries. Not only were reading communities in these houses devoted to meditative reading, my research suggests that they developed a range of spiritual practices focusing on historical time. Manuscripts from this milieu held at the Newberry Library help contextualise the Fasciculus in the fifteenth-century Low Countries, particularly in Flanders and Brabant. The Newberry’s holdings also provided a chance to compare the Fasciculus to a text which may have helped shape the text’s layout and genealogical focus: Peter of Poitier’s twelfth-century Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi.

Readers of the Fasciculus mirrored the text’s approach and format – its cumulative gathering together of material from a variety of sources and layering of events around a single line of time – by providing their own commentaries, additional material, and continuations of the text well into the seventeenth century. Patterns can be discerned within these additions. Monastic readers made notes on the foundations of religious orders, an interest which also prompted printers to make changes to the layout of later editions of the text. Some readers used the text to make calendrical and chronological calculations, an approach to time framed by precise measurement, and linked to the interest in the calendar in the late-fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Others were fascinated by the local history of their region: readers around Olomouc, for example, noted the histories of the conversion of the peoples of central and eastern Europe. In the wake of the Lutheran Reformation, Catholic readers noted the heresies of Hus and Wyclif, and added notes on Luther. In response to the military campaigns of the Turks in Europe, several readers made additions and notes on Islam. The most enigmatic notes come from a copy in the Newberry Library of the 1481 Venice edition of the Fasciculus, made in Hebrew on sections of the text relating the Jews.

In reading the Fasciculus temporum, then, early-modern Europeans were making history their own, thinking about and constructing their identities as Christians in relation to religious transformation and difference, and shaping their temporal horizons towards an eternity where their knowledge of history would approach God’s divine vision of time. There is much more work to be done on these processes of reading, but I am most grateful to the University of Warwick, the Newberry Library and the Mellon Foundation for giving me the opportunity to examine the Fasciculus and consider its role in shaping time and history in early-modern Europe.