One of the choir books of Lorch Monastery, early 16th century

Three surviving gems of a precious art formThe choir booksof Lorch

At the beginning of the 16th century, five choir books were created in and for Lorch Monastery, of which three have survived. They enchant visitors with their detailed miniatures. The precious volumes were made possible by a donation from the Duke of Württemberg and his bride, Sabina of Bavaria.

One of the Lorch choir books with illustrations by the illuminist Bertschi

The books are decorated with detailed illustrations.

Many specialists, one workshop

The three large volumes were created in only two years: 1511 and 1512. Many specialists participated in the creation of the choir books. Five scribes worked on writing the 1,784 pages. Leonhard Wagner, a famous note painter and calligrapher from Augsburg, was responsible for painting the notes. Nikolaus Bertschi, an illuminist from Augsburg, and his colleagues created the richly colored paintings for the initials, or first letters, and the margin drawings.

Duke Ulrich von Württemberg, circa 1540, woodcut by Hans Brosamer

Ulrich was the main donor of the choir books.

The benefactors made it possible

The choir books of Lorch didn't just have one wealthy benefactor. Many people who lived near the monastery, including priests and laity, joined together. Their coats of arms can be found in the books. However, the primary donor was the sovereign, Duke Ulrich von Württemberg. Together with his wife, Sabina of Bavaria, he can be found kneeling and wearing ceremonial clothes in a prominent place on the first page of one of the volumes. The occasion for the donation was the couple's wedding in 1511.

How were the choir books used?

The three volumes contain the songs for service over the course of the liturgical year. Two volumes collected hymns and antiphonies for the hourly prayers of the monks from morning to late at night. The third volume contains the texts of the mass. From the structure of the service, it is clear that Lorch was part of the Reform movement of the Benedictine monastery of Melk. The notes and text are written in a large format, allowing them to be seen by all of the singers who stood in a half circle in front of the choir lectern.

The choir books are stored at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart (Württemberg State Library). Visitors can get a glimpse of the loveliest pages in the monastery church. Here, they can page through richly colored copies of the choir books and learn about their creation.

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