Two valuable volumes from a Benedictine Monastery in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Gastbeitrag von Radosław Franczak

In the Kingdom of Prussia, the dissolution of monasteries took place at the beginning of the XIX century. During this time, Greater Poland was under Prussian rule in partitioned Poland, and in the thirties of the XIX century many Polish monasteries were closed. After secularization some early printed books and incunabula from monasteries in Greater Poland came to the Royal and the Academic Libraries in Berlin. Part of the mentioned books that are still in the Berlin State Library (former Royal Library) had belonged to the following monasteries: Benedictines (Lubiń), Cistercians (Bledzew, Wągrowiec, Przemęt), Dominicans (Poznań), Franciscans (Gniezno, Poznań, Woźniki) and Bernardines (Kobylin).

About 350 volumes were sent to Berlin from one of the oldest monasteries on Polish territory, Benedictine Monastery in Lubiń, in 1838. Among these there are books of great importance. Two of them, which are in the Berlin State Library, shall be described in more detail.

The first contains a print authored by Denis the Carthusian, published by Johann Soter and Melchior von Neuß in Cologne in 1533 (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, 4° Bg 2233). The binding consist of brown leather and wastepaper which is from a very rare Directorium for the Diocese of Gniezno from the year 1535 printed by Florian Ungler in Cracow. On both covers there are two spaced frames, separated by strips. On the upper cover the outer frame contains a roll with scenes from the Old and New Testament: crucifixion of Jesus, resurrection of Jesus, tree of life and bronze serpent (ill. 1).  In the second frame there is a roll with heads and characters (ill. 2). Next in the center panel the date “1528” is pressed on a roll together with depictions of: original sin, crucifixion of Jesus and bronze serpent (ill. 3). The strips are decorated by tools with triple leaf and lily flower. On the lower cover these same rolls are used, but in a different sequence: the outer frame contains the roll with heads and characters; the inner frame, the roll with date “1528” and scenes from the Old and New Testament; the roll with scenes from the Holy Bible is pressed in the center.

Rolls used by Bookbinder ML, copy from Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, 4° Bg 2233 ; redraw by Michał Muraszko

The tools used on the binding allow to recognize the workshop as “Bookbinder ML”. In the middle of the 1530s and into the 1540s, a bookbinder was working probably in Poznań who is named after a roll with the initials ML. Very often in the bindings he used wastepaper from Cracow publishers, which means that he had extensive contacts to this old capital of Poland.

Inside the book there are to be found interesting Polish glosses. They were written by the prior to Lubiń Monastery, Thomas from Zbrudzewo, who died in the year 1567. He probably came from a peasant family and was a well-educated monk. Thomas from Zbrudzewo is known as one of the first translators of the Bible into the Polish language. Admittedly, he never published his translation.


The second absorbing volume is Opusculorum Theologicorum Tomus Primus of Saint Bonaventure, published by Hieronymus Scotus in Venice in the year 1572 (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, 4° Be 308-1). The binding is made from brown leather and cardboard. The decoration of the covers was tooled in gold.

Hinterer Einband von 4° Be 308-1. - Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK - Lizenz: CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0

Hinterer Einband von 4° Be 308-1. – Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK – Lizenz: CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0

On both covers there is one frame with a baluster ornament, and a second frame of single lines with few pairs of half circles, turned inwards and partly overlapping. Flowers decorate the second frame and the half circles, while the inner corners of the center panel are decorated with triangular mauresque. In the center of the upper cover there is a large mauresque, and above and below there is placed the title of the print. On the lower cover the decoration of the center is different: there is pressed a supralibros with Polish arms “Ogończyk”, mitre and crosier. Above and below the supralibros there are placed the initials “L K” and the date “1575”.

Admittedly, the place where the binding of this volume was made is not known, but the date on the lower cover suggests that it was in the year 1575. The decoration was made by an anonymous bookbinder in a specific style known in Poland as “Aldus-Grolier style”, which is represented by a frame with half circles. The name of this style was taken from bindings for the French bibliophile Jean Grolier and bindings from workshops related with the Italian publisher Aldus Manutius.

On the title page there are painted arms “Ogończyk” with the same initials “L K”, and a few notes are to be found inside.

Titelblatt von 4° Be 308-1. - Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK - Lizenz: CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0

Titelblatt von 4° Be 308-1. – Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK – Lizenz: CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0

These inscriptions and ownership marks provide information that the present volume belonged to Lucas Kościelecki (1539-1597), abbot of Lubiń Monastery and bishop of Poznań. After his death this book came to Stanislaus from Krzywiń, canon of Poznań, who was a patron of Kościelecki. In 1626 the volume passed into the possession of Lubiń Monastery.

These two volumes are very interesting examples from monastery libraries of Greater Poland in terms of binding, owners, glosses and printing. They are only a small part of the grand collection of books from Polish monasteries, which is still waiting to be deeply explored.


Herr Radosław Franczak, Adam-Mickiewicz-Universität Poznań, war im Rahmen des Stipendienprogramms der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz im Jahr 2018 als Stipendiat an der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Forschungsprojekt: „The Library of Benedictine Monastery in Lubiń“

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