Constanza de Castilla’s Libro de Devociones y oficios: Meditation, Prayers, and Liturgy in Santo Domingo el Real (Madrid, 15th c.)

Sergi Sancho Fibla, UCLouvain (ssfibla@gmail.com)

The aim of my intervention is to present the manuscript of the Biblioteca Nacional de España Ms. 7495 which contains meditations, prayers and paraliturgical texts compiled by Constanza de Castilla in the 15th century. I will also present the contents and possible uses of the volume in order to reflect on its relationship with the observant reform that took place in the Iberian Peninsula.

This paper is part of my project “Transferring Knowledge in the nunnery” in which I intend to study the different levels and practices of literacies in the convent of Santo Domingo el Real in Madrid between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. To this end, I have proposed to produce a multimedia digital edition of Constanza de Castilla’s Libro de Devociones y oficios, as well as the didactic uses that such a volume may have had in her community.

The author of BNE Ms. 7495 was identified in 1992 by Ana María Huélamo San José  (“La dominica Sor Constanza, autora religiosa del s. XV, in Revista de Literatura Medieval, V p. 127 -158) as Constanza de Castilla (end of XIV century – 1478), Dominican nun of the convent of Santo Domingo el Real in Madrid, granddaughter of King Pedro I and cousin of the Queen of Castile Catalina de Lancaster. Constanza, probably thanks to or because of the complex political climate her family was experiencing, entered the convent at a very young age and was soon appointed prioress. She ruled for some 50 years, retiring in 1465.

Among the changes that Constanza undertook (material, economic, administrative, internal life) what is of more interest to our purpose here is that she wrote or had copied the Libro de devociones y oficios, a compendium of prayers, meditations, devotional treatises and liturgical offices in which her authorship is made explicit. The volume, which was written by different hands and probably at different times, probably between 1451 and 1474 (there are different theories about the dating), contains some texts in Latin and others in Castilian. The measurements are those of an individual prayer book (close to those of a book of hours). However, it is a book that contains a series of texts of a clearly communal nature. Liturgical or paraliturgical texts whose execution is unknown: were some parts sung? Others were performed? Others were accompanied by music or even recited in procession?

The restitution of the uses of the manuscript is a complex issue, but it is a task that can bear very interesting fruits. I am particularly interested in the didactic possibilities that the volume offered. Whether as a guideline for meditation, as a basis for learning Latin, as a spiritual treatise, or as a method of observance of the inner life of the convent, it is a volume whose contents, analysed in detail, can give us many insights into ways of transmitting knowledge different from those traditionally considered in the history of education.

The paper I present for this conference will try to raise questions about these issues under the common denominator of the observant reform. To what extent can we consider Constanza de Castilla as a reformer (a question on which scholars disagree)? To what extent is the book aligned with this reforming will? Were its texts created ex novo? Were them an alteration of local practices? Or did she only write down earlier traditions? What contents of the volume are in line with the new spiritual trends of the end of the 15th century?

Libro de devociones y oficios. BNE, ms. 7495, ff. 19v-20r [© Biblioteca Nacional de España].
Libro de devociones y oficios. BNE, ms. 7495, ff. 33v-34r [© Biblioteca Nacional de España].

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