The Master of Catherine of Cleves was one of the most important and famous illuminators of medieval manuscripts, yet his identity is unknown. He is named after his undisputed masterpiece, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, which is kept at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York (Mss. 917 and 945). He also beautifully decorated several other manuscripts between ca. 1438 and 1460, all of which are considered masterpieces of the period. One of these manuscripts is owned by Utrecht University Library: the Pontifical of Saint Mary (Pontificale van Sinte Marie). The Pontifical is not only a beautifully decorated manuscript, it is also in other ways special – and controversial.
* A new, corrected text about the Pontifical is in preparation *
The word pontifical comes from the Latin pontifex, meaning ‘(high) priest’. The Pontifical was used by bishops and contained texts and directions for liturgical rites for which bishops were specifically responsible: preparing mass, conferring confirmation, ordaining members of the clergy (bishop, priest, deacon, sub-deacon) or of the lower orders (porter and altar boy), as well as nuns. In the second part of the book, the ceremonies are described for dedicating altars and churches, blessing ecclesiastical objects and robes, and lifting excommunications. The Pontifical of Saint Mary closes with the benedictiones, blessings given by the bishop, on folios 113-134.
The Pontifical of Saint Mary is the only surviving medieval Pontifical produced in the northern Netherlands. The manuscript is special for that reason alone. It is also famous for the illuminations by the Master of Catherine of Cleves. After the manuscript was first described around 1880, questions were raised regarding when, where and, above all, for whom the Pontifical was created and illuminated. Although it is known that the manuscript dates to around 1450, the identity of the one who commissioned it remains shrouded in mystery.
One of the most likely candidates is Rudolph van Diepholt, who was the bishop of Utrecht from 1423 to 1455. However, research by Sophia Rochmes (University of California, Santa Barbara) points to one of the five collegiate churches in Utrecht, the canons of which often did not see eye to eye with the bishop.
While it is known that the Pontifical was ultimately stored in Saint Mary’s Church (Mariakerk), one of these collegiate churches, it includes a textual reference to the evangelist and apostle John as the patron of the church, which suggests that Saint John’s Church (Sint-Janskerk) was the commissioner. In order to determine whether the bishop, Saint Mary’s Church or Saint John’s Church was the commissioner, an understanding of events in Utrecht in 1450 is needed.
Around 1100, there were five chapters in Utrecht, each with its own church: the cathedral (Dom) dedicated to Saint Martin, the minster (Oudmunster) (dedicated to Saint Salvator), Saint John’s Church (Janskerk), Saint Peter’s Church (Pieterskerk) and Saint Mary’s Church. Each church had between ten and twenty canons, whom the bishop supported in their role. The rules by which the canons lived were somewhat more relaxed than those by which monks lived. The chapters owned property and estates in and around Utrecht, ensuring they had a decent income. The dean was the spiritual leader of the chapter, responsible, for example, for convening meetings. The provost (proost) managed the property and land, and was also one of the nine archdeacons whom the bishop supported in managing the diocese. In practice, the provost was the most powerful canon.
Almost all of the northern Netherlands was in the diocese of the bishop of Utrecht, who also served as secular leader (comparable to a count) of the Sticht (which covered what are now the provinces of Utrecht, Overijssel, Drenthe and the city of Groningen). The choice of bishop was significant both politically and religiously. The chapters played a key role in this decision, as they voted for the bishop to be appointed, and afterwards sought confirmation from the pope. The canons also decided who their own dean and provost were, thus determining the majority of the nine archdeacons. As such, the chapters had great authority in the bishopric of Utrecht, and that regularly clashed with the bishop’s wishes.
In 1423, Bishop Frederick of Blankenheim died. Pressured by the city council, the chapters elected Rudolph van Diepholt to be bishop. The wilful dean of the cathedral at the time, Zweder van Culemborg, had also put himself forward as a candidate and successfully protested to pope Martinus V, who appointed him as the new bishop in 1425. The chapters saw no choice but to acknowledge Zweder and his enemies, led by the Proeys and Van Lichtenberg families, were driven out of the city.
Zweder, however, soon made himself intolerable in the city and fled in 1426. Rudolph then marched into the city and was acknowledged as their landlord by the chapters, the knights and the citizens of Utrecht and the Sticht. Few canons continued to support Zweder.
In 1427, the pope imposed an interdict on Utrecht, as a result of which no liturgical rituals were allowed to be performed. Monks and several canons left the city, but the rest ignored the interdict. This created the Utrecht Schism. Under Rudolph, the church of Utrecht had effectively excluded itself from the Roman Catholic Church.
Zweder had powerful allies: his uncle, Jan II van Egmont, and the son of his uncle, Arnold van Egmont, as well as the duke of Guelders (Catherine of Cleves’ husband) and, within Utrecht, members of the Van Lockhorst family. As such, he was part of the Cod party, which supported the claims of Philip the Good – the duke of Burgundy – to the title of Count of Holland. Traditionally, the city of Utrecht had supported Philip’s opponents, the Hooks.
The Hook and Cod wars over the bishopric resulted in scores of casualties but no decisions. Rudolph made peace with Guelders and Burgundy, and support for the weak Zweder of Dordrecht crumbled. In 1432, the new Pope Eugene IV confirmed Rudolph as the lawful bishop. Zweder lodged a complaint with the ecumenical Council of Basel, who honoured his claim, even though his support now only consisted of twelve canons exiled from Utrecht. Zweder ultimately died in Basel in 1433. Following Zweder’s death, Rudolph was ordained by the bishops of Münster and Osnabrück.
In the previous years, the chapters had fought hard for their right to elect the bishop, even against opposition from the pope. As became clear after Zweder’s death, Rudolph was largely dependent on his support from the chapters and others in the city. The twelve canons who were exiled from Utrecht elected Walraven van Meurs (or Moers), the provost of the cathedral chapter, to be bishop. Walraven’s brothers were the bishop of Münster and the archbishop of Cologne. The claims for Walraven were supported by the Council of Basel, yet the pope excommunicated Walraven. In 1448, the new pope Nicholas V sent his legate Nicholas of Cusa to Utrecht to promote the Jubilee year 1450 and to grant indulgence (forgiveness for sins) to those going to Rome. Cusa decided that Rudolph was the lawful bishop and Walraven finally gave up his claim in January 1449.
However, that did not signify the end of Rudolph’s problems. In order to retain his position, he was dependent in Utrecht on the Hook party: the Proeys, Van Lichtenberg, Van Amerongen, en Brederode families. In addition, he had military support from the Montfoorts. However, a dispute arose between the latter and the Council of Utrecht. In 1447, Rudolph had no choice but to side with the council.
However, a dispute then arose between Rudolph and the city regarding taxes and Rudolph was snubbed by the cathedral dean Johannes Proeys. Rudolph fled the city and took refuge with Hendrik van Montfoort, with whom he made peace in October 1447. In February 1449, their troops occupied Utrecht and drove the Proeys and Van Amerongen families out of the city, with the bishop being shot in the leg during the confusion of battle. The Grauwert and Van Winssen families, who had first been exiled, now led the city council. However, later that year, Montfoort entered into an agreement with the Brederodes behind Rudolph’s back.
In June 1450, the bishop of Münster Hendrik van Meurs died, and Walraven van Meurs was put forward as a candidate for the succession by his brother Diederik, archbishop of Cologne. Rudolph worked hard for the claim of his relative Koenraad van Diepholt, provost of Osnabrück cathedral, which led to war in 1451. Rudolph demanded money for this from the chapters. Not surprisingly, that did not go over well.
The chapters successfully sabotaged Rudolph, even closing the churches to thwart him. The chapters were led in these activities by the cathedral provost Gijsbrecht van Brederode, who was elected to become bishop in 1455, following Rudolph’s death. However, he soon had to make way for David of Burgundy, the illegitimate child of Philip the Good.
In general, the chapters protected their rights against the bishop or pope and they also had close ties to political parties in the city. Many canons, and certainly provosts and deans, were from noble families or were part of the aristocracy of Utrecht.
Rudolph’s episcopacy demonstrates that he was largely dependent on the side he chose when complications arose. Even though nominally he was the religious and secular leader of the Utrecht bishopric, in practice others were pulling the strings, including powerful men such as Philip the Good. It was in these turbulent times that the Pontifical was produced.
Based on the penwork, the script, and the activities of the Master of Catherine of Cleves, the Pontifical can be dated at ca. 1450. There is an important clue in the lower margin of folio 16r. The pope is standing on the balcony above an open golden door and a crowd of pilgrims is gathering. Pope Nicholas V proclaimed 1450 as a Jubilee year. During that year, many pilgrims travelled to Rome to enter through the holy door, which indicates that the manuscript was illuminated around 1450, sometime between 1448 (when Nicholas of Cusa arrived in the Netherlands) and 1452. It could not have been much later, otherwise the images would have been outdated.
In this period, the Master of Catherine of Cleves also collaborated on the Montfoort Hours (Getijdenboek van Montfoort) (Vienna, Austrian National Library, S.n. 12878; c.f. Pächt 1975, 24-36; Clark 2009). Most of the manuscript was decorated by Willem Vrelant, who registered as a citizen of Utrecht in 1449 (his family came from Vreeland near Utrecht). In 1454, he joined the Guild of Saint Luke in Bruges, of which he remained an active member for the rest of his life.
There are striking similarities between the decorations of the Montfoort Hours and the Pontifical of Saint Mary. For example, various flowers (folios 13r, 37r and 90r), a green parrot (16r, 90r) a bird with a branch (63v), the bishop (63v) and animals playing (90r) are depicted in exactly the same way in the Montfoort Hours (cf. Hulshof 1944, 232-233).
The Montfoort Hours include the tables of dominical letters (littera dominicalis), which start with the year 1450, which, together with knowledge of the activities of Willem Vrelant, indicates production in 1449 or 1450.
In light of the similarities between the two books, the Pontifical of Saint Mary must also have been decorated at this time. In 1449, Montfoort and Rudolph van Diepholt gained power in the city of Utrecht, and this is the context in which the two manuscripts were produced. That does not mean, however, that we can conclude who commissioned the Pontifical.
In its current state, the Pontifical has 134 pages. Seven pages were removed at some point in the past (following the current folios 11, 13, 15, 54, 58, 64 and 71). This probably happened while it was kept in Saint Mary’s Church, as is also indicated by graffiti on the fly-leaf. Graffiti is also found in the Zwolle Bible (Zwolse Bijbel) that was kept in Saint Mary's chapter, of which pages with miniatures were also cut out of the manuscript. However, this mainly occurred around 1700.
The owner of the book is indicated on the fly-leaf and folio 1r: Pontificale ecclesiae beatae Mariae Traiectensis, and on the last page is written: Finis Pontificalis ecclesiae beatae Mariae Traiectensis. Everything is written in the same 16th-century handwriting, who also added some notes and corrections in the main text. This demonstrates that the Pontifical was still used in Saint Mary’s Church at that time.
Although the Pontifical is not mentioned in the 1608 catalogue of the city library, it is mentioned in its successor, produced by Utrecht University Library in 1670 (I, p. 98): Pontificale ecclesiae B. Mariae trajectinae. No. 248a. This number refers to the library cabinet and shelf where it and other manuscripts were kept. The fly-leaf also includes the inscription Dit boek hoort in het kastje naast het hek aan de regter sijde als men hier is ... ('Dit book belongs in the closet near the fence to the right side when one is here ...'), written in the 17th century.
In 1562, Saint Mary's chapter lent a pontifical to Nicolaas de Castro, one of its canons, who became the bishop of Middelburg in 1561. It concerned quendam librum in membrana eleganti littera conscriptum et nuncupatum Pontificale (Van Campen 1968), or 'a certain manuscript of parchment written on in elegant letters, referred to as a pontifical'. This could well refer to the Pontifical of Saint Mary. It is even conceivable that the mark of ownership was written in the manuscript because it was lent out.
It is unclear whether the Pontifical was also produced for Saint Mary's chapter. There are no indications of this in the manuscript itself. However, some scholars point to the unicorn which is depicted in the right-hand margin of folio 1r. Three unicorn horns (actually narwhal tusks) were among the most valuable treasures of Saint Mary’s Church and were allegedly a gift from Henry IV (Holy Roman Emperor from 1084-1106).
In the Middle Ages, unicorns were considered to be very shy animals that could only be caught by innocent virgins. As such, the unicorn symbolises the Virgin Saint Mary, the patron of Saint Mary’s Church. This could indicate that the Pontifical was created for Saint Mary’s Church. Yet, while it is plausible that the unicorn symbolises Saint Mary, it is not necessarily a reference to Saint Mary’s Church.
The unicorn is just above centre in the right-hand margin. Just below the centre of the left-hand margin a deer is depicted. In the ancient world and the Middle Ages, it was believed that deer kill snakes, so the deer symbolised Christ, the adversary of the snake (the devil).
Both Saint Mary and Christ are therefore symbolically depicted, on either side of someone reading, and as such can by no means be seen as implying a connection with Saint Mary’s Church. A peacock is depicted at the top of folio 99r, with two bands containing text. The left-hand text refers to Jesus as the Saviour (salvator) and the right-hand text to Mary in the form of the title of the hymn Salve regina (You are saluted, Queen). Jesus and Mary are mirrored here too. The peacock in the middle symbolises the rebirth (resurrection) of Jesus as well as Mary as the Queen of heaven (cf. Dittrich & Dittrich 2005, 348).
It is clear that the Pontifical was intended for a church in Utrecht, because the following is written on folio 27v by the section about the Pontifical oath: “Ego (N) traiectensis ecclesie vocatus episcopus”, or “I (name), the named bishop of the church of Utrecht”.
There are also three references to the archbishop of Cologne, although this is only in keeping with tradition, because in terms of the election of the bishop, the archbishop had not exercised any influence for quite some time.
There is also a specific reference in the benedictions on folio 128v. The Pontifical benediction of the dedication of a church includes the following passage, intercedente beato Iohanne apostolo et ewangelista vel patrona huius ecclesie et ceteris sanctis suis ('by mediation of John the apostle and evangelist or the patron of this church and His other saints'). Here the patron of the dedicated church is invoked, or the patron of the Mother Church, that of Saint John, the apostle and evangelist.
In Utrecht there is only one church with Saint John as its patron – Saint John’s Church, of the chapter of Saint John. This indicates that the Pontifical was created for this church, because otherwise John would not be hailed as patron.
In the edition of the benedictiones in the Pontifical (Alberts & Bouman, 1958), is argued that the Pontifical was created for Saint John’s Church. However, J. W. C. van Campen (1959) argues that the patron of that church was Saint John the Baptist. If that is the case, why is this benediction referring to Saint John the Evangelist included in an Utrecht pontifical?
Research into the seals of the provosts and deans of Saint John’s Church and its charters shows that as early as in the 13th century either both Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist or either of them were named as patron of Saint John’s Church. Hence, for exemple, Jan van Schiedam, pastor of the Alkmaar church, is called canon of the church of Saint John the Evangelist in Utrecht in 1456 (Palmboom 1995, 21-23).
It is therefore very likely that intercedente beato Iohanne apostolo et ewangelista does refer to Saint John’s Church, for which it would seem that the Pontifical was created.
The episcopal benedictions in the Pontifical of Saint Mary are largely based on the texts drawn up in 1280-1290 by Willem Durand, bishop of Mende in France, to which a few local benedictions have been added, which only appear in this and a few other manuscripts (Moeller 1968; 1973, 44-47).
The text of this Pontifical is almost identical to the benedictions in Utrecht University Library Ms. 366 (Carthusian cloister of Nieuwlicht, 15th century), and a manuscript from 1569 from the benedictine monastery of Oostbroek (De Bilt, near Utrecht), now Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, Ms. 13913 (Cat. 392), which appears to be a copy of the text of this Pontifical. These benedictions probably originated from the pontifical written for Utrecht by bishop Jan van Arkel (1342-1364), which was based on the text by Durand. Yet both manuscripts miss the section with intercedente beato Iohanne apostolo et ewangelista.
The episcopal benedictions for dedicating a church (with the reference intercedente beato Iohanne apostolo et ewangelista) are not found in the Durand Pontifical. It is unclear whether these were also included in the pontifical compiled by Jan van Arkel. There was certainly no connection between Jan van Arkel and the chapter of Saint John’s Church. It cannot be ruled out that the text intercedente beato Iohanne constitutes a mistake by the copyist, but if that is the case he must have used a copy belonging to another church dedicated to Saint John’s, for example Saint John’s Church in Den Bosch. For lack of evidence to support this, the assumption remains that the commissioner for the Pontifical of Saint Mary was the chapter of Saint John’s Church. But this then begs the question: why and for whom?
We now have two clues: firstly, beato Iohanne apostolo et ewangelista, referring to Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist as the patron, which indicates the chapter of Saint John’s Church as the commissioner of the Pontifical of Saint Mary, and secondly, the fact that the Pontifical belonged to the Saint Mary chapter in the 17th century and probably also in the 16th century.
It was common for chapter churches to own a pontifical if the bishop celebrated mass there. As the Utrecht chapters were very rich, acquiring luxurious manuscripts was not unusual. The dean of Saint Mary's chapter, Hermannus Droem (d. 1476) ordered the six-part Zwolle Bible (Ms. 31) and a seven-part bible made in South Holland (now Rome, Casanatense Library, Mss 4212-4218), both of which cost a fortune.
The iconography (the manner of depiction) supports the argument that the Pontifical was not ordered by a bishop, but rather by a leader of one of the chapters.
Research by Sophia Rochmes (2009) points out a surprising aspect of the images of the bishop in the Pontifical. The bishop is depicted in fifteen initials:
The bishop is depicted in full regalia, mitre included, in all but two of the initials. Where the bishop is depicted preparing mass and dedicating liturgical robes this is not the case, but it is clear that it is the bishop nonetheless.
In all fifteen cases, even the ordination of the bishop, there is a figure standing just behind the bishop, in many cases holding his staff for him. It is clear from the clothing of this figure that he is the archdeacon. The bishop thus has to share his space in the initial with the archdeacon. Rochmes argues that this is not a coincidence, as this is not a personal pontifical that belongs to a specific bishop and centres around him alone. The pontifical produced in France for David of Burgundy, the ultimate successor of Rudolph van Diepholt, is an example of a pontifical for which this is the case (now Haarlem, Tylers Museum, Ms. 77). According to Rochmes, the Pontifical of Saint Mary emphasises that the bishop is part of the hierarchy of the church. Emphasis is thus placed on the role rather than the person, depicting the rites, robes and objects associated with this role. Liturgical objects are included in the margin, from the ostiarius’ key and altar bell (13v) to the bishop’s staff and mitre (35v and 49r).
The above analysis of the iconography in the Pontifical is based on the manuscript in its current state. The seven missing pages were also likely to have been decorated – probably even more elaborately. Nonetheless, the clues in the manuscript in its current state clearly indicate that a chapter commissioned it. The Pontifical may have been intended for the bishop if he performed liturgical rites in the collegiate church. Perhaps it was intended as a gift for Rudolph van Diepholt once he became the undisputed bishop of Utrecht in 1449. But if that is the case, it is unclear whether he ever received it, because he fell out with the canons so soon afterwards.
Whatever the case, the message was clear: a bishop serves the church and needs the support of the archdeacon to perform his role. In Utrecht most of the archdeacons were the provosts of the chapters. And Rudolph discovered many a time that his position was precarious without their support.
In the above is argued that the chapter of Saint John commissioned the Pontifical. As the emphasis is on the relationship between the bishop and the archdeacon, and as the archdeacon was the provost, the next question is: who was the provost of Saint John's Church in ca. 1450?
The answer is Dirck van Wassenaar. He became the canon of the cathedral in 1416 and was provost of the chapter of Saint John (and therefore the archdeacon of the bishop) from 1422 until his death in 1465. In 1438, he also became provost of West Friesland (the northern part of Noord-Holland), and as such the second archdeacon appointed from the cathedral. During the Utrecht Schism, Philip the Good put forward his councillor and chaplain Fortigarius de Placentia from Bruges for this very position. Dirck would not have liked this action by Philip the Good.
Dirck was the son of Philip (d. 1427), lord of Wassenaar and viscount of Leyden. Dirck’s brother Hendrik van Wassenaar (d. 1447) also had a son called Philip, who became cathedral canon in March 1449. In June 1450 this Philip became the new provost of West Friesland (cf. the lists in Drakenborch 1744; Janse 2001, 216, 226). Dirck’s ornate tomb can still be visited in Saint John's Church, where it is stated that he was also a prothonotarius papae – a notary serving the papal chancellery.
Dirck van Wassenaar was an influential man. While his relation to Rudolph van Diepholt is unclear, his family were from the Hook party, despite Dirck’s brother Hendrik demonstrating his support for Philip the Good. In 1449, Rudolph was helped by the Montfoorts, who were also friendly with Philip the Good in this period. Rudolph change of allies would not would not have been appreciated by the Hook party, which had supported him for so long.
The chapters were insistent that they could continue to enjoy their rights and privileges. The Pontifical is probably one of the ways in which to impress this upon Rudolph, or whichever bishop used it. This would suggest that Dirck had taken the initiative for it. Yet, this reasoning is supported exclusively by the argumentation based on the text intercedente beato Iohanne. Nonetheless, it is very likely that the Pontifical was ordered by one of the chapter lords, rather then the bishop himself, even if it was intended for him.
The Master of Catherine of Cleves not only decorated the Pontifical of Saint Mary with 'functional' images, he also included 'drolleries' in the margins - fanciful decorations not always associated with the text. The drolleries are on the pages with historiated initials. It was already demonstrated that the image of the pope and the pilgrims was clearly contemporary, as it referred to the Jubilee year of 1450.
Other images are clearly related to the text or display symbolism appropriate to such a liturgical book, such as singing monks (folio 14r), a beehive with bees symbolising the immaculate conception (14v), two stonecutters at work (63v) and an angel making music (37r). Whether the owl being cornered by birds (10r), the porcupine and the ape with the hoop (17r) and the two fighting cockerels (98r) are relevant symbols, is unclear. Further research into the symbolism may be able to shed light on this.
Another possible clue to when the Pontifical was produced can be found in one of the decorations in the margin. It concerns three figures in the lower margin of 113r. The figure on the left is faint and damaged. The figure in the middle has curly blonde hair and is holding a small bowl. The figure on the right is wearing glasses and holding a charter with three stamps.
Written on the charter in tiny letters is the sentence Allen die genen die dezen zellen sien of horen lesen doen wij verstaen ('All those who will see this or hear it read aloud we proclaim') (Bijvanck & Hoogewerf 1922-25, 32). This phrase was often included in charters or proclamations, such as in Utrecht were given out by the city council (bailiff and sheriffs) or one of the chapters. The man with glasses and curly black hair – not wearing a canon’s tonsure - and the coats of arms on the two stamps suggest that it is a city council charter or proclamation.
Friedrich Gorissen (1967, 16 and 66) states that the coats of arms are those of the Morel (?) and Lockhorst (or Lochorst) families. The latter are connected with other manuscripts by the Master of Catherine of Cleves, but largely lost their influence in Utrecht following the departure of Zweder van Culemborg.
However, the coat of arms on the left cannot be connected with the More(e)l family or any other family. The coat of arms on the right hardly bears a resemblance to the bulging, slanted cross of the Lockhorst family coat of arms. It has two thin lines crossing each other with small squares at the end. This bears no resemblance to any of the usual coats of arms of families from Utrecht or the surrounding area.
A faint face can be made out in the large red stamp in the middle. It is unclear whether the stamps are abstract images, which do not refer to a specific family, or whether this is in fact the intention and it has simply not yet been possible to discover which. For the time being, it can be argued that the images symbolise the power of the city council, with whom Rudolph had a turbulent relationship.
Or perhaps they are simply drolleries that do not have a specific meaning, or the meaning is too subtle or context-specific to make discovery possible.
The Pontifical is clearly a status symbol. Most of the Master of Catherine of Cleves’ commissioners were aristocrats. The Pontifical is unmistakeably his style, particularly the beautiful historiated initials centred around the bishop and archdeacon, and the beautiful margin decorations. He also created the figurative penwork in the margins, such as the unicorn and deer on folio 1r and the start of a face on 90r (Gerritsen-Geywitz 2003a, 97).
It is notable that of all of the fifteen known manuscripts illuminated by the Master of Catherine of Cleves, this Pontifical is one of only two on which he worked alone, as concluded by a key study by Anne Korteweg (2009, 44-73). She claims that the Master worked alone (and later with an associate), and thus not with other miniaturists in a studio.
He started work once the writer and penworker had completed their work and left room for miniatures and historiated initials. As far as the handwriting is concerned, no other manuscript has (as yet) been found that was clearly written by the same writer. According to Gisela Gerritsen-Geywitz (2003a, 100-101), the simple penwork in and around the lombard initials (simple initials) is only known elsewhere in a Middle Dutch book of hours produced for the Utrecht bishopric (Bruges, City Library, Ms. 323; cf. Parmentier 1945).
The Pontifical of Saint Mary holds a unique position in the known oeuvre of the Master of Catherine of Cleves. All other manuscripts on which the Master worked, whether alone or in collaboration, are books of hours, history bibles or bibles. It is also unusual that the Master worked alone on the decorations for this Pontifical.
While the identity of the Pontifical’s commissioner is unclear, perhaps due to the seven missing pages, it is likely that the Pontifical was produced in Utrecht in 1449 or 1450. The iconography demonstrates that one of the chapters commissioned it. The phrase intercedente beato Iohanne apostolo et ewangelista refers to the patron church of the commissioner: the chapter of Saint John’s Church, and thus also the provost, the influential Dirck van Wassenaar.
However, this argument is not supported by iconography clearly symbolising Saint John, such as the eagle, the drinking goblet and Saint John in a barrel of boiling oil, as is included in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (folio 310v). Yet there is also a lack of clear references to any of the other chapters, Saint Mary's chapter included. The Pontifical is not specifically written for a single bishop, canon or chapter. Instead it is an impersonal manuscript, which emphasises the relationship between the bishop and his archdeacons.
On the assumption that the Pontifical was kept for a long time in Saint John’s Church, it is possible to explain how it ended up in Saint Mary’s Church. Following the Iconoclastic Fury (Beeldenstorm) in 1580, Saint John’s Church sold its remaining book collection to the other chapters. At this time, Utrecht city council had already decided to locate the city library in Saint John’s Church, which was the predecessor of Utrecht University Library.
If the Pontifical was still in Saint John’s Church at that time and was sold to Saint Mary's chapter, then we have a complete picture. Nonetheless, it is more likely that the Pontifical was already in Saint Mary's Church in 1562, in view of the reference to the pontifical being lent out by the chapter in 1562. So the true story remains a mystery.
Research into the Pontifical of Saint Mary is not complete. Areas for further research include indentifying other manuscripts with handwriting and penwork similar to that in the Pontifical. Although the content of the benedictions have been reprinted, the rest of the Pontifical’s text (and corrections) have not. Further analysis of both is required in order to reveal more about the origins of the text.
The iconography, including the coats of arms on the charter on folio 113r remains a intruiging. Our knowledge of the history of Utrecht in this period – surrounding Rudolph van Diepholt, the city council, the aristocracy and the chapters – remains patchy. Further research is also needed into the book collections of the chapters and their role as commissioners. While many aspects of the Pontifical will always remain vague, the Pontifical of Saint Mary still has, without a doubt, many secrets to divulge.