Medieval Memoria Online

5. Text carriers and texts


The Text carriers section of the MeMO database contains inventories and descriptions of

  • memorial registers, which are subdivided based on subject into
    • registers of graves, subdivided into
      • burial places with the names of those buried
      • registers of owners of graves
    • registers of memorial services
    • registers of gifts and foundations
    • registers of pittances and doles
    • registers of names not belonging to the aforementioned groups
  • narrative sources. The sources included are those that either had a function in the commemoration of the dead, or provide information on donation practices and memorial practices:
    • biographical sources:
      • gesta commemorating the lives and deeds of abbots and other ecclesiastical officials
      • descriptions of the lives of mainly conventuals
    • historical sources:
      • chronicles
      • annals of religious and ecclesiastical institutions

Included are text carriers that have survived (at least partially) and were used in medieval institutions that were established in the area that is now the Netherlands, as well as editions of text carriers that have been lost, or whose current location is unknown. Not included are lists and editions that have the outward appearance of a memorial register, but that have been compiled by the editor on the basis of various individual documents. A number of these types of lists (especially of conventuals) were published by the end of the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth century, but there are also lists known from previous centuries.

The starting point is the entire text carrier, because the complete body of texts can provide clues on the usage and functioning of the text carrier and its constituent parts. For this reason a table of contents has been included in the database for each text carrier. However, only the texts that had a memorial function have been described in detail.

Many text carriers have been changed over the course of the centuries, both physically and/or in terms of content throughout the period in which they were used, but also later, for instance due to conservation and restorations. These changes can be of serious consequence in tracing their usage and functions, and therefore if these changes are known, they have been described in the database.

5.1 Definitions and terminology

Memorial registers
In the Middle Ages there was no universal terminology for texts that were used in the commemoration of the dead. The documentation of memorial practices in institutions depended on the requirements and practices within each separate institution. Even for institutions that belonged to the same group, such as monasteries of the same order, there were not necessarily fixed rules concerning the administration of memoria. As a result, certain sources that have essentially the same contents and design can be known under different terms. Alternatively, one and the same term can indicate different types of memorial registers (fig. 1). Local and regional customs are also a factor. An overview with memorial celebrations in calendar form, for example, can be called a necrology, a calendarium or an anniversarium.

The literature about the sources uses either the term that was found in the manuscript, or terms that became popular only after the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the 1970s, Huyghebaert published a classification (in the series Typologie des sources) to create more unity in the terminology. The following classification is Huyghebaert's:

  • 1. The registers and other documents to commemorate the dead and the living:
    • the earliest memorial registers, dating from the Carolingian era, the Libri Vitae, also known as Libri memoriales or Libri confraternitas. These are liturgical sources that are intended to be used during Holy Mass.
  • 2. The registers in which only the dead are registered:
    • the lists of dead or mortuary rolls (rotuli) that were distributed among the associated communities, for example monasteries of the same order.
    • The necrologies, obituaries, anniversaries, lists of pittances, etc. that were produced from the ninth century onwards. These are usually set up as calendars, and can be distinguished as:
      • Necrologies, lists of names of the deceased that are noted down in a calendar or martyrology and that were intended to be read aloud on that particular day during the Divine Office, usually the primes. These sources have a liturgical character.
      • Obituaries, overviews that remind the community when obligations such as anniversaries and the distribution of alms for the poor, have to be fulfilled.
    • Registers of graves, overviews of who is buried where, produced for the purpose of the visits to the graves of the deceased following a memorial Mass.
    • Lastly Huyghebaert mentions the necrological annals, compilations of short texts and lists in which, for instance, benefactors or superiors of monasteries and monastic orders are commemorated.

This classification is based on how the sources functioned. It was later supplemented by Lemaître. As Huyghebaert indicated himself, the compilers of this classification were however unable to solve the problem that in many cases the registers are mixtures of the pure types in this classification. A register of memorial services can also contain donations and pittances, for example, or information on graves and burial places.

The classification of memorial registers in MeMO
For the descriptions of the memorial registers in the MeMO database a classification was made that is based on the contents of the registers:

Top: Fig. 2a. See MeMO text carrier ID 407
Bottom: Fig 2b. See MeMO memorial object ID 631

This classifications isn't based on function, but rather on contents (i.e. appearance). The starting point in the classification of the separate memorial registers has therefore always been the primary or prevailing outward appearance of the register. However, the records in the database do provide options of describing variation in the contents. This makes is clear to the user that, for example, a memorial register which was categorised as a register of memorial services, could also mention donations, see fig. 1. The records in the database do however provide options of describing variation in the contents. See 5.4 for the way manuscripts and texts are described.

Narrative sources
For the narrative sources the typology of Narrative Sources has been used, because this online database has served as a prominent source of information for the MeMO database. Narrative Sources itself is based on the Repertorium van verhalende historische bronnen uit de middeleeuwen by Marijke Carasso-Kok. In terms of terminology and set-up the Repertorium and the NaSo-database are both based on the typology of Genicot c.s. (Typologie des Sources). For a discussion of the problems concerning the classification of narrative sources, see: Vanderputten, 'Typology of Medieval Historiography' (2001).

Of the many different types of narrative sources, MeMO includes only those that offer information about the commemoration of the dead. This means that there are two main groups:

  • biographical sources:
    • gesta commemorating the lives and deeds of abbots and other ecclesiastical officials
    • biographies, primarily of conventuals, but also of lay persons
  • historical sources:

Of these source types all biographical sources are described, as they all have had or may have had a function in memoria. They contain biographical information about the described persons mentioning for example their virtues, their gifts and foundations, their activities in memorial practices, and counter gifts they received for their gifts or foundations. These texts mainly concern the lives of conventuals written in the houses of the Modern Devotion.

Not all historical sources contain information about the commemoration of the dead, so they had to go through a selection process. The database only contains descriptions of chronicles and annals with a very clear connection to memoria. Examples include information about foundations and donations (including the donation of privileges), about patrons, and about memorial practices and developments in these practices.

Chronicles also have a general remembrance/commemorative function. They may be written to commemorate the origins of a city, a military victory, etc. This is why the MeMO and NaSo databases are complementary tools for researchers who wish to examine memoria and remembrance in a broader context.

Overview of the used terminology
In MeMO the memorial registers are not organised in the way of Huyghebaert in his Typologie des sources. Nevertheless his terminology and definitions, as well as those of others occur frequently in the MeMO database and accompanying products, for instance in the titles or short descriptions of the registers. In the following overview the most common terminology and definitions can be found. A few remarks beforehand:

  • The many small variations within the terminology are not included. In most cases only the more easily recognisable Latin terms have been chosen.
  • Terms used in the manuscripts themselves, or used in the inventories of the holding institutions may not always (completely) match the contents of the texts.

Term Explanation

Book of death (doodboek) General term, not necessarily contemporary, for various types of memorial registers, see for example MeMO text carrier ID 138 and MeMO text carrier ID 337
Composites Manuscripts containing texts that were conjoined without necessarily sharing a theme or originating from the same institution. The texts in such a manuscript were usually bound together on the basis of the sizes of the separate parts (texts). There does not need to be any cohesion between the texts in a composite. This type of manuscript was often produced by order of a later owner. See MeMO text carrier ID 19
Convolutes See Composites
Liber memoriarum Contemporary term for any type of memorial register, used in the manuscript itself. MeMO text carrier ID 187, for instance, is a mixture of a register of graves containing the names of the buried persons, and a register with memorial services (fig. 1)
Memorial register
  • Modern collective noun for all types of memorial registers
  • Contemporary term for any type of memorial register, used in the manuscript itself. MeMO text carrier ID 193, for instance, is a list of names containing some biographical information in some cases, and in a few other cases information on memorial services to be performed.
  • Please note: The term memorial register was also used for other types of sources, such as surveys of revenues, but also for sources relating to administrative matters, see for example the memorial register of the city of Ghent,
Miscellany Manuscript containing multiple texts that show coherence in their themes or contents and/or that originated in the same institution. A miscellany may contain texts that all concern the commemoration of the dead. These manuscripts may have been copied as a whole in one go for the institution where they were used. The texts in the text carrier, for instance a list of graves or a donations register, may have subsequently been kept up to date for a longer period, but it may also have been extended with new texts. See MeMO text carrier ID 17
Register of a chapter (Liber officii capituli) Manuscript used during the meetings of the chapter of a monastery, containing one or more memorial registers, see MeMO text carrier ID 17
Text carrier A text carrier may contain one or more texts. If it contains multiple texts, it is important to know how these manuscripts were produced, because this can contribute to knowledge about the functioning of the separate texts. Text carriers containing multiple texts can be roughly subdivided into composites and miscellanies, see relevant entries (but there are all sorts of variations).
Verzamelhandschrift See Miscellany

  Memorial registers

Classification of the memorial registers in the MeMO-database
Register of burial places
Register of gifts and foundations Registers with descriptions of various types of gifts and foundations, see fig. 3
Register of memorial services Registers containing information about which memorial services should be performed for whom and when. See: Register of memorial services included in a martyrology of the Carthusian Monastery Nieuwlicht
Register of names Register of names not belonging to the aforementioned groups, see fig. 4
Register of pittances and doles Registers with pittances and doles (usually) with mentions of the names of the donors, recipients, when and where the alms/gifts were to be handed out, and what they were to consist of, MeMO text carrier ID 372

  Memorial registers: other names

Used in the sources, in inventories and catalogues of archives and libraries, in the classification by Huyghebaert and Lemaître, etc.
Anniversarium See Necrology
Calendar See Necrology
Jaargetijdenboek See Necrology
Liber fundationum Register of foundations or donations
Martyrology Calendar with saints that were to be commemorated. In some cases martyrologies are also used to note the names of to be commemorated persons (who were not saints). See: Register of memorial services included in a martyrology of the Carthusian Monastery Nieuwlicht
Necrology Calendar which features a list (sorted per day), of the names of persons who were to be commemorated during Mass. A necrology mainly has a liturgical function. Over the course of time necrologies also came to include information about donations and/or locations of graves. The necrology traces its origins to martyrologies, which were used in the first Christian communities during services to recite the names of the martyrs and of saints in general. See the distinctions made by Huyghebaert discussed previously.
Obituary The obituary is a register in the form of a Roman calendar with the dates of anniversaries and other obligations to be fulfilled in a parish, monastery or chapter. See the distinctions made by Huyghebaert discussed previously.
Propijnboek See Register of pittances and doles
Register for the burning of candles (Belichtingsboek) Register with an overview of how many candles where to be lit for who, when and where (fig. 7)
Succession list (opvolgingslijst) A type of chronological register of names of worldly and ecclesiastical dignitaries of a particular office. See MeMO text carrier ID 35.

  Narrative sources

Sources which are described in the MeMO database
Annals (annalen) Overview of events which concerned a particular area, institution or family, etc. sorted by year.
Biographical descriptions of clergymen, religious men and women, and laypersons (Bruderbuch / Schwesterbuch) These manuscripts mainly concern the lives of male and female conventuals written in the houses of the Modern Devotion, in remembrance of their virtues and special deeds, their gifts to the convent, their activities in memoria practices, counter gifts they received for their foundation, etc. See MeMO text carrier ID 268. Note that in some cases biographies for female members of convents are also included in the manuscript with the biography of the rector. See MeMO text carrier ID 1.
Chronicle Chronicles are narrative overviews of one or more events in the history of for instance a particular area, monastery or family. Included are only chronicles concerning memoria, e.g. reporting on the founding of religious institutions, important gifts and memorial practices, see: Chronicle of the Convent of Barbara in Delft.
Gesta Gesta are overviews of actions of persons, for instance abbots of monasteries. MeMO text carrier ID 6.

Left: Fig. 3. See MeMO text carrier ID 427
Right: Fig. 4. See MeMO text carrier ID 78

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5.2 Criteria for the inclusion of text carriers

Top: Fig. 5. See MeMO text carrier ID 436
Bottom: Fig. 6. See MeMO text carrier ID 207

Point of departure
Included are narrative sources and memorial registers from the period until 1580 that had a function in the region of the present-day Netherlands.

Please note: Text carriers containing a narrative source concerning memoria in the Netherlands, but that have always functioned in institutions outside the Netherlands, are not included if text carriers exist with the same narrative source that have functioned within the Netherlands. For this reason several 'foreign' copies of the Chronicon Windeshemense have not been included.

Included are:

  • Manuscripts which are strictly speaking not registers of gifts (but for instance registers of revenues), but which do contain many entries which are actually gifts. MeMO text carrier ID 165
  • Cartularies with lists of names of commemorated persons, in which the copied charters are referenced. MeMO text carrier ID 142
  • Memorial registers consisting of lists of names that have not (yet) been confirmed to have had a function in the commemoration of the dead. See 5.4. MeMO text carrier ID 160
  • Manuscripts with narrative sources and memorial registers with dates like 'last quarter of the sixteenth century', because these may still fall within the research period range of the MeMO project. See MeMO text carrier ID 20
  • Manuscripts with one or more memorial registers dated before 1580, which have only survived in manuscripts which date from after 1580, see MeMO text carrier ID 344. In one case a text carrier has been included that dates from after 1580, but which contains a more extensive version of the text regarding events prior to 1580. MeMO text carrier ID 287 is a late seventeenth century manuscript containing amongst others a copy of the Chronicle of the Abbots of Aduard. This version offers the most reliable text concerning the years 1528-1578.
  • Text carriers or texts which only exist as an edition now, because the original manuscipts have been lost, see MeMO text carrier ID 291

Not included are:

  • Short overviews of for instance deceased family members in books of hours, prayer books and in missals. These have not yet been sufficiently inventoried, which means that a thorough overview cannot be given in MeMO.
  • Memorial registers which were probably created based on compiled archival sources. To name an example, several lists of names in the historiographical manuscripts of Buchelius (Monumenta, Inscriptiones, etc.) have not been included because these lists probably belong to this category.
  • Hagiographies, because the MeMO database is intended for the commemoration of normal, sinful souls. The biographies of borderline cases like Geert Grote have been included, see MeMO text carrier ID 243.
  • Text carriers that are dated circa or after 1580, if there is a similar narrative source that is also transmitted in an older text carrier. Information on such later text carriers is described under Filiation in the database.

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5.3 Sources used in the compilation of this database

For the inventories and descriptions the MeMO project has made use of the sources mentioned below (in random order):

Memorial registers

  • Inventory by Signum (1991-1993)
  • Werkgroep Memorieboeken (2004-2006)
  • Research by the MeMO staff of the actual manuscripts
  • Research by the MeMO staff of digitised manuscripts with additions from the participating archives
  • Publications

Narrative sources

The point of departure for the description of the memorial registers and narrative sources is the entire text carrier, because the whole body of texts in the text carrier can also provide clues on the usage and functioning of the text carrier and its constituent parts. For this reason the entire manuscript has been described, and a table of contents has been created in which all of the manuscript's texts have been included. Apart from this overall description, there is also a more extensive and detailed description of the texts that had a memorial function.

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5.4 Points of special interest

Possible problems when researching text carriers and texts
In the MeMO datebase the titles given to text carriers depend on how they are described by their present-day holding institutions, and may therefore vary greatly. Text carriers of the same types may carry different kinds of titles. Some titles include only a number or a code, while others may carry a more descriptive title, or a name that is mentioned in the text carrier itself. The descriptions of the inventories of the archives also vary greatly. Archive inventories may include names or terms that do not conform to the terminology used in this database. A text carrier which is described as a chronicle in the inventory of an archive, may be called an overview of biographies of conventuals in the MeMO database (see for instance MeMO text carrier ID 2). A register described as a list of annuities, may be called a register of pittances in the database.

For the naming of the text carriers, the MeMO database uses the names given in the inventories and catalogues of the holding institutions as much as possible. In addition the database may also give the name of the manuscript in the original language. Also included are the name of the holding institution and the location of discovery. A description is included if the information is still not informative enough.

Possible problems when researching memorial registers
Lists which consist solely of names are not always immediately recognizable as memorial registers. The MeMO database deliberately includes a wide variety of lists of names. For example, there are member lists of fraternities, because these may also have functioned as lists of deceased brothers and sisters. Some of these lists require additional research into their use. Others are immediately recognizable as lists with a memorial function. Succession lists, for instance, show a chronological succession throughout the centuries of representatives of a particular office, or of heirs of families.

Possible problems when researching narrative sources
For the description of the narrative sources priority has been given to pur sang memoria-texts, especially chronicles of monasteries and biographies. Chronicles with a greater range (such as world chronicles) most likely possessed some memorial elements as well, but for now these chronicles have not been included.

In some cases literature and websites which take the texts rather than the entire text carriers as their point of departure have been used for the description of the narrative sources. This has the following consequences for the descriptions of the narrative sources in the MeMO database:

  • Information about any texts other than the narrative source which may be present in the text carrier may be missing, because they were not discussed in the literature.
  • Specific details about the text carrier, such as page and folio numbers, and the contents and set-up of the entire manuscript may be missing or incomplete in the MeMO database, because many publications do not discuss entire manuscripts.

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5.5 Overview of the digitized text carriers

All of the memorial registers that have been digitised as of 1 April 2014 are listed in an overview. This overview will be updated whenever necessary. Links to the descriptions of the archives and the libraries can be found in the MeMO database, in the records of the Text carriers, see under Holding institution, Link to online description. These are usually also the links to the scans of the text carriers. If such is not the case, a separate link to the scans is included under Other documentation.

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5.6 Literature and websites


  • Bollmann, A.M., Frauenleben und Frauenliteratur in der Devotiomoderna. Volkssprachige Schwesternbücher in literarhistorischer Perspektive (Groningen 2004).
  • Carasso-Kok, Marijke, Repertorium van verhalende historische bronnen uit de middeleeuwen: Heiligenlevens, Annalen, Kronieken En Andere in Nederland Geschreven Verhalende Bronnen ('s-Gravenhage 1981).
  • Genicot, Leopold, La Typologie des sources du moyen age occidental, gen. ed. (Turnhout, 1972).
  • Goudriaan, Koen, 'Geert Grote: A Founder fading into Oblivion?', in: Rolf de Weijert, Kim Ragetli, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld and Jeannette van Arenthals (eds), Living Memoria. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Memorial Culture in Honour of Truus van Bueren, Middeleeuwse Studies en Bronnen, CXXXVII (Hilversum 2011) 165-177.
  • Gumbert, J.P., 'Codicologische eenheden - opzet voor een terminologie', Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen. Mededelingen van de Afdeling Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, deel 67 nr. 2.
  • Huyghebaert, N., Les documents nécrologiques (Turnhout 1972) (Typologie des sources du moyen âge occidental, 4).
  • Lemaître, Jean-Loup, Répertoire des documents nécrologiques français, (Paris 1980, Recueil des historiens de la France, Obituaires, volume VII).
  • Schilp, Thomas, 'Memoria in der Dunkelheit der Nacht. Lichtinszenierung mittelalterlicher Kirchen zum Totengedenken', in: Rolf de Weijert, Kim Ragetli, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld and Jeannette van Arenthals (eds), Living Memoria. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Memorial Culture in Honour of Truus van Bueren, Middeleeuwse Studies en Bronnen, CXXXVII (Hilversum 2011) 221-233.
  • Trio, Paul, 'Obituaries or Anniversary Books: Handle with Care! The Example of the Ypres Confraternities', in: Rolf de Weijert, Kim Ragetli, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld and Jeannette van Arenthals (eds), Living Memoria. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Memorial Culture in Honour of Truus van Bueren, Middeleeuwse Studies en Bronnen, CXXXVII (Hilversum 2011) 179-193.
  • Vanderputten, Steven, 'Typology of Medieval Historiography Reconsidered: a Social Re-interpretation of Monastic Annals, Chronicles and Gesta', in: Historical Social Research - Historische Sozialforschung 26 (2001) 141-178.
  • Weijert, Rolf de, 'Gift-Giving Practices in the Utrecht Charter House. Donating to be Remembered?', in: Rolf de Weijert, Kim Ragetli, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld and Jeannette van Arenthals (eds), Living Memoria. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Memorial Culture in Honour of Truus van Bueren, Middeleeuwse Studies en Bronnen, CXXXVII (Hilversum 2011) 147-164.


See chapter seven for a general overview of the literature and websites used in these introductory texts.

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