Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Suso experiences temptations and suffering

  • Title: Heinrich Suso sees Eternal Wisdom as Christ and a goddess
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    Wreaths of roses were an element of medieval courtship, with the woman often giving one to her lover. Here in the text entitled Exemplar, Suso takes on the role of both male and female beloved, as he wears a wreath but also offers one. Below a number of men and women in clerical or lay dress look at numerous abbreviations of "Ihesus" floating in the air around them and reach out for them. One man below has already taken the name to heart, literally, as it appears on his chest in black as Suso's does. This image brings to mind the following passage from Suso's Life of the Servant: "She [Wisdom] was suspended high above him on a throne of clouds. She was lit up like the morning star and shone as the glittering sun. Her crown was eternity, her clothing blessedness, her words sweetness, and her embrace the satisfaction of all desire. She was distant and near, high and low, she was present and yet hidden."

    In the accompanying illustration, also from the Exemplar Suso is tormented by demons in a scene with multiple references to Christ's crucifixion. A small group of Dominican nuns offers aid in the form of a wet sponge. On the other side, the dog with a raised paw is likely a representation of the Dominican order (known as Domini canis to fight the wolves of heresy). Suso was a Dominican preacher and mystic who wrote multiple texts which were compiled together as the Exemplar. He provided spiritual advice to Dominican nuns, and evidence exists of his correspondence with Elsbeth Stagel from the monastery of Töss near Zürich. It is unclear what kind of influence she had on his writings, but he notes in his vita that she took down his experiences without his knowledge. As he was burning her papers, a divine message prompted him to use them instead for an account of his life.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Henry Suso, Mystic Mystical Marriage Personification Soul
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 15
  • Date: circa 1490
  • Related Work: Whole manuscript available at: http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/sbe/0710/1r
  • Current Location: Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 710 (Msc. 322), fol. 20r
  • Original Location: Constance, Monastery of St. Peter's, a women's house
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Paper; Ink; Paint; Gold
  • Donor: Laywoman and layman; The manuscript belonged to a married couple, Margaretha von Kappel and Heinrich Ehinger. Based on the alliance coat of arms. Margaretha likely gave it to the Dominican monastery of St. Peter in Konstanz along with two other manuscripts.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 30/20.5/
  • Inscription: Rubric: Hie sind sie kom(m)en über ein un(d) wend nu(n) alle ding han gemain [Here they agree and wish to have everything in common.]
  • Related Resources: Aelst, José van. "Visualizing the Spiritual: Images in the Life and Teachings of Henry Suso (c. 1295-1366", Speaking to the Eye: Sight and Insight through Text and Image (1150-1650). Edited by Thérèse De Hemptinne et al. Brepols, 2013. Pages 129-151;
    Hamburger, Jeffrey F. "Medieval Self-Fashioning: Authorship, Authority, and Autobiography in Seuse's Exemplar," Christ among the Medieval Dominicans. Edited by Kent Emery, Jr., and Joseph P. Wawrykow. University of Notre Dame Press, 1998. Pages 430-461;
    Lang, P. Odo, O.S.B. Katalog der Handschriften in der Stiftsbibliothek Einsiedeln, Zweiter Teil, Codex 501-1318. Schwabe Verlag, 2009. Pages 276-280. Available open access in e-codices: https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/description/sbe/0710/;
    Suso, Henry. The Exemplar, with Two German Sermons. Translated and edited by Frank Tobin. Classics of Western Spirituality. Paulist Press, 1989.