Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Frontispiece for the Rule of Saint Augustine and Constitutions of the Hospital of Notre Dame at Seclin
  • Creator: Anonymous master known as the Master of the Golden Fleece of Vienna and Copenhagen (Maître de la Toison d'or de Vienne et de Copenhague), active in Bruges and Lille 1470-1480 (possibly 1460)
  • Description:

    This image is the frontispiece for the Rule of Saint Augustine and the Constitutions of the Hospital of Notre Dame of Seclin. Founded in the mid-1200s by Marguerite II of Flanders, the Countess of Flanders and Hainaut, the hospital was established in the comital palace in Seclin and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was run by nuns who cared for patients until the final caregivers departed in 2013. Marguerite and her sister Jeanne before her ruled for over sixty years during periods of regional conflict, civic unrest and family discord. Scholars, including Erin Jordan, argue that the sisters' religious patronage was informed by a need to maintain order and build ties with disaffected groups.

    Marguerite stipulated that the hospital was to care for the poor and the sick, and its nurses were sisters who had taken vows in the Augustinian order—specifically "hospitaller sisters"—in number anywhere from six to twenty. Most medieval hospitals at this time adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine, committing to the holiness of the cloister but also to involvement in the daily life of society. Moreover, religious women were thought to be particularly good at calming the soul—thus providing both physical care and spiritual care. A hospital "master" was in charge of both religious and administrative affairs, and was aided by a prioress, elected from among the serving sisters. The position of prioress was established in the 1300s.

    The scene, painted nearly two centuries after the hospital's founding, commemorates the countess and emphasizes the institution's religious ties. In the front, on the left and the right of the choir, are six Augustinian nuns, dressed in their monastic habits. In the center, Marguerite is dressed like the nuns but also wears her comital crown. (Her depiction in the image, similar to the Augustinian sisters’, does not mean Marguerite joined the order. She was already a widow when she became countess, and widow’s clothes then often resembled nuns’ habits, to demonstrate humility, piety, and devotion.) She kneels before the risen Christ, who presents in his right hand a double crown and in his left the crown of thorns. Behind Christ and Marguerite are figures associated with the hospital. On the far left, is Saint Augustine, in white robes and the traditional bishop’s miter. The hospitaller sisters have a particular bond with St. Augustine. In the middle is the bishop of Tournai, one of the individuals who participated in the "board" governance of the hospital (visiteurs). The third man from the left is the "master" of the hospital, a cleric and administrator in charge of both the spiritual and daily affairs of the hospital. On the far right, outside the chapel setting, sit two men. The one farther from the viewer has a tonsure, as clerics would have. The one closer to the foreground wears a headpiece, but likely has some association with religious orders. Both clerical and lay brothers are accounted for in the Rule and served the hospital in different ways.

    The individuals are placed, fittingly, in the chapel at the hospital. The nuns sit in the choir; behind the five central figures is the altar, with a carved altarpiece (retable) showing the crucifixion of Christ and topped by two angels carrying instruments of the passion. Directly above is a depiction of the Virgin Mary (in blue) holding the Christ child. On the left, the Virgin and Child appear again, with John the Baptist presenting one of the hospitaller sisters to them. On the right is the risen Christ with Mary Magdalene (standing) in a noli me tangere scene, with a nun kneeling in prayer before Christ.

    The choir at this time was composed of a five-sided chevet, as shown in the image. Unusually, the chapel itself is oriented north-northeast and not (the traditional) east. The high, pointed arch windows are clear in the image; the chapel had nine. Not shown is the pointed arch with a double-roll headband, which separated the nave from the pictured choir. The depiction of the altarpiece and the apse mirrors descriptions in hospital records of a structure built between 1340 and 1360. As the frontispiece itself dates from the later half of the 1400s, it appears that the chapel changed little in the hundred years after its construction.

    The elaborate border around the image uses four main colors and consists of foliage, grapes, flowers, and a monkey—an animal often associated with mischief but also a creature who seeks to imitate human behavior. Near the bottom of the page there is a picture of Saint Dominic, founder of the mendicant preaching order, the Dominicans, begun in France in 1215. The order had significant influence on the running of the hospital by the time the frontispiece was painted. In his iconography, Saint Dominic is accompanied by a dog, as he is here; while pregnant, his mother dreamed of a black and white dog holding a flaming torch with which it set the world on fire. The domini canes ("watch" dogs of the Lord) is a pun on the order’s name.

    It is likely that the Hospital of Notre Dame at Seclin itself commissioned the image to serve as the frontispiece for what would become the most important document in its history: its constitutions and the Rule of Saint Augustine. The image is attributed by Pascal Schandel to the artist known as the Master of the Golden Fleece of Vienna and Copenhagen (Maître de la Toison d'or de Vienne et de Copenhague), who derived his name from his illustrative work for Guillaume Fillastre the Younger's work the Story of the Golden Fleece, started in 1468 but left unfinished when its author, the bishop of Tournai and chancellor of the chivalric order of the Golden Fleece, died unexpectedly in 1473.

    Marguerite II of Flanders, eventual Countess regnant of Flanders (1244-78, having inherited the position from her sister Jeanne who inherited from their father Baldwin) endowed the hospital with a series of donations. She began with a seigneurial manse, essentially a feudal motte surrounded by a palisade, in the small town of Seclin outside Lille. Over the next few decades, Marguerite donated a total of 170 hectares, buildings, rights to rent, exemptions from certain taxes and duties, and payments and tithes groups in other cities normally made to her.

    Marguerite was not the only lay patron of religious establishments during the High Middle Ages, and the Notre Dame hospital in Seclin was not her only donation. At the start of the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III called for a more active Christian life to deal with issues of poverty, a call taken up by subsequent religious writers. While donation to religious establishments had occurred regularly throughout the medieval period, the call to action spurred a boom in donations to and foundations of religious charities by nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie. Women donated more than men: excessive generosity by female donors actually became a problem, with Marguerite’s own brother-in-law refusing to fulfill several of her sister’s donation bequests. Donors had a variety of incentives, including fear for their eternal souls, gratitude for a divine grace given, support for family members in the order, and expectations of care in their dotage. There were political reasons as well; for women, religious donation was an acceptable, even praiseworthy use of time and resources outside the home and gave the donor political clout and social repute.

    A variety of religious establishments were founded: hospitals, leprosaria, almshouses, beguinages, chapels, retirement homes, shelters, and the like. Mendicant orders and hospitals and "active" services of the church received far more donations than the cloistered monasteries, a reversal of earlier trends. Hospitals were by far the biggest recipients, and even when donations dropped off in the next century, almost two-thirds of bequests in last wills and testaments still went to hospitals. In addition, hospitals switched from a mixed staff of both religious and non-religious (those who had not taken religious vows) to primarily religious personnel (most often, Augustinian). Most hospitals were in cities, including the hospital in Lille, founded by Marguerite’s sister Jeanne. Seclin was an unusual choice for a hospital.

    Fortunately for Seclin (and Lille), this rise in donations to "active life" institutions coincided with economic growth in the Low Countries. Boosted by the drapery industry, cities like Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, Lille, and Douai exported their goods across Europe. Rulers like Jeanne and Marguerite furthered their economic power by granting this group of merchants and artisans certain rights and privileges. The upshot was that the rising bourgeoisie became donors as well, and increased funding for religious charity when needs grew.

  • Source: Belgian Art: Links and Tools (BALaT) [© KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), X045862. Photo by Hervé Pigeolet.
  • Rights: CC BY 4.0 KIK-IRPA, Brussels (Belgium), cliché X045862]
  • Subject (See Also): Augustinian Order Countesses Donor Portraits Hospitals Marguerite of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders Medicine Monasticism Nurses Patronage, Ecclesiastical Rulers Seclin- Nord- France- Hospital of Notre Dame Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1470-1480
  • Related Work: Zoom view of the frontispiece page, Seclin, Vieil Hôpital, manuscript of the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Hospital of Notre Dame in Seclin.
    Views of manuscript pages, Seclin, Vieil Hôpital, manuscript of the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Hospital of Notre Dame in Seclin.
    View of the choir, former chapel, Hospital of Notre Dame, Seclin. Photo by Remi Dejonghe from flickr.
    Plan, Hospital of Notre Dame, Seclin, 14-15 centuries. Révillion, Stéphane. L'Hopital Notre Dame de Seclin: Histoire d'une Fondation Hospitalière de Marguerite de Flandre. Seclin: Ville de Seclin, 1996. See page 21.
    Plan, Hospital of Notre Dame, Seclin, 14-20 centuries. L'hôpital Notre-Dame de Seclin, blog by Mylène Boulay.

    Master of the Golden Fleece of Vienna and Copenhagen, Frontispiece from the Histoire de la toison d'or by Guillaume Filastre the Younger, ca. 1468-73, Bibliothèque municipale de Dijon, Ms.2948.
  • Current Location: Vieil Hôpital, Seclin, Hospital Archives, manuscript
  • Original Location: Lille
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Ink; Paints; Gold leaf
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 20/14.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources:

    Biller, Peter, and Joseph Ziegler. Religion and Medicine in the Middle Ages. York Medieval Press, 2001.

    Bowers, Barbara S. The Medieval Hospital and Medical Practice. Ashgate, 2007.

    Brenner, Elma. "The Medical Role of Monasteries in the Latin West, c. 1050-1300." The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West, 2: The High and Late Middle Ages. Edited by Alison I. Beach and Isabelle Cochelin. Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pages 865-881.

    Calis, Maxime, editor. Guide de Visite: Hôpital Notre Dame de Seclin. Office of Tourism of Seclin and Surroundings. No date. Available open access: https://www.calameo.com/read/000097908c9cd250a8008

    Davis, Adam Jeffrey. The Medieval Economy of Salvation: Charity, Commerce, and the Rise of the Hospital. Cornell University Press, 2019.

    Hamburger, Jeffrey F., Susan Marti, and Dietlinde Hamburger. Crown and Veil: Female Monasticism from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Centuries. Columbia University Press, 2008.

    Hans-Collas, Ilona and Pascal Schandel. "Le Maître de la Toison d'or de Vienne et de Copenhague." Manuscrits Enluminés des Anciens Pays-Bas Méridionaux, I: Manuscrits de Louis de Bruges. Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2009. Pages 157-163.

    Hans-Collas, Ilona. "Le Maître de la Toison d'or de Vienne et de Copenhague." Miniatures Flamandes : 1404-1482. Edited by Bernard Bousmanne and Thierry Delcourt. Bibliothèque nationale de France and Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, 2011. Pages 378-384.

    Jordan, Erin L. Women, Power and Religious Patronage in the Middle Ages. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

    Règle de saint Augustin et Constitutions de l'hôpital Notre-Dame de Seclin. Manuscript catalog record in the BALaT database (Belgian Art Links and Tools). Open access link: https://balat.kikirpa.be/obj/40006680/img/X045862

    Révillion, Stéphane. "L’Architecture Hospitalière en Milieu Rural dans le Nord de la France du XIIIe au XVIe Siècle: l’Exemple de l’Hôpital Notre-Dame de Seclin." Archéologie et Architectures Hospitalières, de l’Antiquité Tardive à l’Aube des Temps Modernes. Edited by François-Olivier Touati. La Boutique de l'histoire, 2004). Pages 151-168.

    Révillion, Stéphane. L'Hopital Notre Dame de Seclin: Histoire d'une Fondation Hospitalière de Marguerite de Flandre. Ville de Seclin, 1996. Available on ResearchGate.

    Ritchey, Sara Margaret. Acts of Care: Recovering Women in Late Medieval Health. Cornell University Press, 2021. Available open access: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctv10crcrp

    Sautman, Francesca Canade. “Constructing Political Rule, Transforming Gender Scripts: Revisiting the Thirteenth-Century Rule of Joan and Margaret, Countesses of Flanders.” In Construction, Transformation, and Subversion: Re/Presenting Medieval Gender. Edited by Alison More and Elizabeth L’Estrange. Ashgate Press, 2011. Pages 49-65.