Laurentius Romanus

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by Claes Gejrot

Laurentius Romanus (Lars Romare) (d. 1431), a lay brother working for Vadstena Abbey, was the author of a text about the canonization of Sancta Birgitta.

Biography

A few biographical facts are known to us. First of all, it can be gathered from Lars’s own text that he must have been present at the ceremonies in Rome in October 1391 (quibus…personaliter interfui, KARLSSON 1901, 3). We also know that Lars returned to Rome in May 1394 and that four years later (on 3 April 1398) he was appointed as one of the four lay brothers serving outside Vadstena Abbey who were allowed to wear a red cross on their mantles (GEJROT 1996, n. 82:2 and 94:2). He then seems to have served the abbey during the rest of his life in various functions. Thus, we find him responsible for food distribution in 1402 (preuisor vel dispensator commestibilium claustri, DS 2930), and in a position as Abbey steward in 1406 (claustri provisor, DS 783). When he died on 15 September 1431 he was overseeing the house by the sisters’ workshops (prefuit curie circa officinas sororum, GEJROT 1996, n. 427).

The name Romanus or Romare (both the Latin and the Swedish forms are used in the sources) can of course be taken as a name given to someone who visited Rome, which is especially likely to have been the case here. It may, however, also be worth noticing that the name is found as an inherited family name at this time: the German-Swedish family Römer (Romare) is known in Swedish sources from 1361 (SUNDQUIST 1957, 156-57).

Processus et modus canonizationis sanctissimae viduae Birgittae per papam Bonifatium IX anno 1391

This work of Lars Romare (”How the most holy widow Birgitta was canonized by Pope Boniface IX in 1391”) is a first-hand description of the events that took place in Rome during St. Birgitta’s canonization in Rome in October 1391.

Incipit

Benedictio et claritas et sapientia et gratiarum actio, honor, virtus et fortitudo Deo nostro

Explicit

multa et magna miracula, quae, ut breues simus, hic praetereuntur. Finis.

Size

12 standard pages.

Edition

KARLSSON, K.H. 1901: “Lars Romares berättelse om den heliga Birgittas kanonisering,” Samlaren 1901, 1-15.

Summary of contents

The text is said to be Lars’s own version of the events. The first part describes how Swedish delegates were asked by Pope Urbanus VI to come to Rome for the Jubilee Year in 1390, since the pope wished to finish the canonization process of St. Birgitta. On their arrival in Rome at Christmas the same year, the Swedish delegation, led by the Confessor General of Vadstena, Magnus Petri, learned that Pope Urbanus had died, and they feared that they had come in vain. But the newly elected pope, Boniface IX, decided to pursue the issue and commissioned three cardinals to examine the case. The commission was ready in August 1391, and after an official hearing at a cardinal’s house, the pope asked Magnus Petri to procure everything that was needed for the festivities.

In the second part, Lars describes the activities that took place during five consecutive days, from Thursday to Monday 5-9 October. Thursday: The pope summons the cardinals and issues bulls of indulgence. Friday: Church bells ringing in all of Rome, St. Peter’s Church and the papal palace were visited by large crowds. Saturday: In magnificent splendour (pontificalibus indutus splendore haud secus ac instar radiorum solis nitens triregnali tiara in capite decoratus) the pope celebrates Mass in the papal palace in the presence of a great number of people, among them many ecclesiastical and worldly leaders. The pope expresses his wish to be a guest of Magnus Petri and St. Birgitta the next day. Preparations are made for this occasion. In the evening, vespers are celebrated by the pope in St. Peter’s Church, and thousands of candles are lit. Sunday: Assisted by cardinals, the pope celebrates St. Birgitta’s Mass in St. Peter’s Church. A monk reads a sermon (contio) about St. Birgitta, which is highly appreciated, and after this the pope formally inscribes her name in the Book of Saints. After the ceremonies, a splendid and luxurious dinner party is arranged in the house of Cardinal Philip of France. Monday: Some cardinals and many other prominent persons go to the monastery of St. Laurentius in Panisperna, where they inspect the remains of St. Birgitta’s body. Some relics are distributed, and remaining bones are put in a new box.

The narration is partly very detailed, stating for instance the amount of candles purchased and enumerating the various dishes at festive meals. Throughout the text, the author makes us aware of the fact that he himself was present during the festivities. The description of the dinner on Sunday in the cardinal’s house is even introduced with the following words:

Verum ego Laurencius Romanus condictus, qui ipse personaliter praesens eram, explicare tamen et describere nequeo omnia, quae in hoc convivio apposita fuerunt, nisi mihi summaria tantum narratione consulam (But I, Laurentius Romanus, who was personally present, am still unable to unfold and describe all that was put on the table at this banquet, without considering the narrative too summary).

The Swedish point-of-view is also obvious in the text, typically often relating praise for Magnus Petri and his efforts. It is most likely that the text, perhaps originally written in Swedish (see Medieval reception and transmission), was intended to be read by a Swedish audience and among Birgittines.

By its length and by the amount of details given, Lars’s text differs from the two other, shorter contemporary descriptions of the events in Rome that we know about. The relation in the Diarium Vadstenense (GEJROT 1996, n. 58-68) is very brief in comparison but anyway mentions most of the important points. The same goes for the narration written by a high-ranking ecclesiastical, the Patriarch Peter Amelius, who was present during the ceremonies (SRS 3:2, 241-44). Sometimes the time schedule is different, as for instance in the question when Birgitta’s name was added in the Book of Saints (L: Sunday, DV and PA: Saturday); detailed numbers stated may also differ, as in the amount of candles lit in St. Peter’s Church in the night between Saturday and Sunday (L: 5.000, DV 30.000, the candles are not mentioned by PA). However, there are generally few specific contradictions in the texts, which actually rather would seem to complement each other from their varying points of view.

Medieval reception and transmission

We have no knowledge of remaining medieval manuscripts containing Lars’s narration. The text has been transmitted to us in an early eighteenth-century volume in the Vatican Archives (“Collectanea de diuersis materijs ecclesiasticis”, 173, Misc, Arm. XI, fols. 270-282). A post scriptum (KARLSSON 1901, 15) shows that the Latin text is a translation made by a Birgittine priest, Joan. Mich. Van der Ketten. The basis for this translation seems to have been a text in Netherlandish. Van der Ketten says in the post scriptum that the text was translated “ex Belgico in Latinum idioma”; he had found the manuscript in the Birgittine monastery of Marienbaum in the Netherlands (“ex antiquo manuscripto monasterii Mariae Arboris ordinis nostri”).

Another version of this text, made at approximately the same time, (München, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. lat. 27048, pp. 30-52) was found after the publication of KARLSSON’s edition; see HÖJER 1905, 113 (note).

We do not know in what language Laurentius Romanus originally wrote his story. His function as a lay brother suggests Swedish, but his being used in several missions to Rome might hint at some knowledge of Latin.

Since we do not know the exact wording of Lars’s original text, it is difficult to decide if his narration was used as a source by later writers. There are some indications that later texts have used Lars in describing the events in Rome (cf. COLLIJN 1919, 108 and SRS 3:2, 241, introduction). BORGEHAMMAR 2006 argues that the narration might have been used as a source for a couple of lectiones in a Birgitta legend (In die Canonizacionis beate Birgitte legenda) found in a Vadstena manuscript from the second half of the fifteenth century.

We do not know when Lars wrote (or dictated) his text. However, an introductory passage (see KARLSSON 1901, 3) might indicate that quite some time had elapsed since the events took place:

hoc declarabo, quantum ad minus de hoc mihi cognitum est, meaeque memoriae obuersatur (I will show the events, at least what I know about and what I can remember).

Bibliography

  • BORGEHAMMAR, S. 2006: “En legend till firandet av Birgittas kanonisationsdag,” in Dicit Scriptura, Studier i C-samlingen tillägnade Monica Hedlund, Stockholm.
  • COLLIJN, I. 1919: “Birgitta-litteratur,” in Biblioteksbladet (Tredje årgången 1918), Stockholm.
  • GEJROT, C. 1988: Diarium Vadstenense. The Memorial Book of Vadstena Abbey. A Critical Edition with an Introduction (Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 33), Stockholm.
  • GEJROT, C. 1996: Vadstenadiariet. Latinsk text med översättning och kommentar (Kungl. Samfundet för utgivande av handskrifter rörande Skandinaviens historia. Handlingar del 19), Stockholm.
  • GEJROT, C. 2003: “Kvinnan i grått ¬– Birgitta i Vadstenabrödernas bok,” in Birgitta av Vadstena Pilgrim och profet 1303–1373, ed. P. Beskow & A. Landen, Stockholm, 189-200.
  • HÖJER, T. 1905: Studier i Vadstena klosters och birgittinordens historia intill midten af 1400-talet, Uppsala.

Karlsson, K.H. 1901: “Lars Romares berättelse om den heliga Birgittas kanonisering,” Samlaren 1901, 1-15.

  • SUNDQUIST, N.B. 1957: Deutsche und niederländische Personenbeinamen in Schweden bis 1420, Stockholm, 156-57.