Clus, Benedictine Abbey

The small Clus Abbey originated, as its name suggests, in the cell of a hermit, a “Klause”. Bishop Berthold I of Hildesheim consecrated this abbey in 1124, and the first monks came from the famous Imperial Abbey of Corvey on the Weser. They brought with them their oldest and most valuable manuscript: the Evangeliar (Cod. Guelf. 84.3 Aug. 2º), written in the 10th century. With its carefully-prepared script and beautiful Franko-Saxon initials, it ranks among the outstanding pieces from the Corvey scriptorium. When the Protestant abbot of Clus, Johannes Rittierodt, fled from the turmoil of the Thirty Years War to Braunschweig, he gave the precious codex, along with the Clusian Chronicle of the monk Heinrich Bodo (Cod. Guelf. 19.13 Aug. 4º) to Duke August von Braunschweig-Lüneburg.

It is not known which books and how many others the small and initially insignificant abbey possessed – catalogues have not survived, and several fires destroyed the codices. From the Liturgia alone numerous fragments have survived through time in bindings made at the Clus bookbinders. Almost exactly from 1400 entire manuscripts were received with works of British and Irish authors such as John of Wales (Johannes Guallensis), Thomas de Hibernia, and Nicolaus Trevet.

Not until 1430, when abbey reformer Johannes Dederoth became abbot, did Clus come out of history’s shadow. Not long after, Dederoth became concurrently abbot of Bursfeld, thus founder of the reformed Bursfeld Benedictine community that was approved at the Council of Basel in 1446. By 1517 the league comprised about 90 abbeys in north and west Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark, as well as what is today Belgium and Luxembourg. Although the league gave the abbey of Bursfeld its name, Clus formed a genuine point of departure for the new reform in the conscience of its contemporaries. With the renewal of regular abbey life came also economic recovery and the decided expansion of the abbey library. Numerous books in the possession of the monks were either written in Clus, bought, or acquired as gifts. The eagerly-working Clus bookbinder Johannes von Brakel provided more than a hundred books with new bindings. This process lasted well into the era of printing, until about 1540. Thus the total inventory of books at the abbey in the 16th century can have been at most some 250-300 volumes housed on lecterns in two library rooms. Most of these remain; according to the latest research, there are some 160 titles known so far: 121 Clus manuscripts (106 of which are in the Herzog August Bibliothek), one mixed volume, and 91 printed volumes. These include mainly theological, monastic, and liturgical texts, and correspond largely with the image, known from scholarship, of the typical reading and study interests of reformed Benedictine monks.

This treasury of books in particular went missing due to a ducal assembly of the dispersal: in 1619 Duke Friedrich Ulrich von Braunscweig-Lüneburg (1591-1634) mandated that the Clus Abbey books be given over to the State University of Braunschweig in Helmstedt, Clus having served in the meantime as a Protestant rest home. However, a further 51 books remained behind in Clus, and from that number scattered pieces in Gandersheim, Berlin, and London can claim Clus provenance today. Thus Clus is the source of one of the most extensive abbey libraries of Lower Saxony still preserved. The study and development of this library allows new insights and understanding into Benedictine abbey life in the late Middle Ages.

  • Bertram Lesser

Further Reading

Hermann Herbst, Das Benediktinerkloster Klus bei Gandersheim und die Bursfelder Reform, Leipzig, Berlin 1932 (Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte des Mittelalters und der Renaissance 50)

Paschasia Stumpf, Article “Clus”, in: Die Benediktinerklöster in Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein und Bremen, ed. by Ulrich Faust, St. Ottilien 1979 (Germania Benedictina 6), p. 109–131

Hans Goetting, Das Benediktiner(innen)kloster Brunshausen, das Benediktinerinnenkloster St. Marien vor Gandersheim, das Benediktinerkloster Clus, das Franziskanerkloster Gandersheim, Berlin – New York 1984 (Germania sacra Neue Folge 8: Die Bistümer der Kirchenprovinz Mainz, Das Bistum Hildesheim 2), p. 167–301

Bertram Lesser, Johannes von Brakel: Buchbinder und Schreiber im Benediktinerkloster Clus, in: Wolfenbütteler Notizen zur Buchgeschichte 38 (2013), p. 77–121

Bertram Lesser, Die Benediktiner von Clus und ihre Bücher. Exemplarische Analyse und Rekonstruktion der Konventsbibliothek, in: (Hrsg.): Zentrum oder Peripherie? Kulturtransfer in Hildesheim und im Raum Niedersachsen (12.–15. Jahrhundert), ed. by Monika E. Müller and Jens Reiche, Wiesbaden 2017 (Wolfenbütteler Mittelalter-Studien 32), p. 165–228