1390 epitaph: Monk with a sword

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1390 epitaph: Monk with a sword

Postby Roland Warzecha » 13 Jan 2011 14:55


This picture shows the epitaph of Cistercian monk Hartwig who was killed in 1390.
He held the office of the cloister reeve at Dargun monastery in what is now Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany.
This office was often assigned by the abbot to local knights. However, this was not always the case. Monks as reeves are also known from Doberan monastery from the mid-14th century onwards.

Both these monasteries, like many others, held not only the lower but also high jurisdiction within the immediate monastery area aswell as in the access yards (Grangien) and in many of the villages belonging to the monastery. These areas where explicitly exempt from secular jurisdiction. The surviving manuscripts from Doberan record at least one case of execution of a Rostock citizen who was convicted by a jury presided by the abbot. The 16th century inventory of Doberan lists torture instruments in the monastery's prison.

In my opinion it is not unlikely that the depiction of a sword on Brother Hartwig's epitaph is not just symbolic. While warlike bishops are well-known from history, this is an interesting example of a lower clergy man whose office would at times have required the use of a sword.

The main inscription reads:
A(nn)o do(mini) M° ccc° / xc i(n) die p(ro)thy (et) iaci(n) cti occis(us) fuit frat(er) / (ha)rtwic(us) ad / vo(ca)t(us) in darghu(n) labo(r)ios(us) fidel(is) benig(nus) ad o(mn)es

In the year of the Lord 1390 on the day Proti Jacincti (11 September) Brother Hartwig, advocate in Dargun, was murdered. He was laborious, believing and beneficient to all.

The inscription around his shoulders quotes from the Book of Job.

Katalog zur Ausstellung "Ich bin ein Gast auf Erden", Schwerin, Rostock, 1995;
Sven Wichert, Das Zisterzienserkloster Doberan im Mittelalter, Berlin, 2000)
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Re: 1390 epitaph: Monk with a sword

Postby Roland Warzecha » 16 Jan 2011 13:12

After some discussion, I did some more research regarding the question whether brother (frater) Hartwig was a monk or rather a lay brother and whether the sword was a symbol representing wordly power as opposed to spiritual power represented by the rosary, seen on the gravestone, too.

I am better informed about Doberan, Dargun's mother monastery.
Here burial in the cloister church was only granted to kings, queens and benefactors. Abbots were buried in the chapter house, monks in the cross-coat while lay-brothers (Konverse and Familiare) were interred in the monastery cemetry, according to the Liber Usuum (cap. XXVII).
I do not know about the exact location of Hartwig's gravestone, I just have the information that it is now in the Sankt-Marien-Kirche in Dargun (a ruin today), which was the monastery's church. Neither do I know if this is the original site of the gravestone.
If Hartwig was buried inside and not outside the church and if the same rules applied in Dargun, this would indicate that he was, in fact, not just a konverse but a monk. The term frater points into this direction, too. Lay brothers were referred to as confrater, alas, this was not always the case.

It is noteworthy that Doberan was one of very few monasteries that possessed high jurisdiction (Blutgerichtsbarkeit). A number of neighbouring monasteries were able to acquire the same rights, explicitly quoting the example of Doberan in the according grants (priuilegia Doberanensis ecclesie). They were completely exempt from secular jurisdiction. In a document from 1219 it says regarding Dargun:
Ipsi quoque fratres super homines suos et cetera bona nullum preter se ipsos habeant aducatum.

Doberan assigned the office of reeve to local knights before 1350. After that, the area in which the monastery executed high jurisdiction was expanded and included the immediate neighbourhood, too.
From then on, only members of the order held the office of reeve. However, they appear to have been lay-brothers (konverse), not monks.

Hartwig certainly was a member of the Cistercian order, though he might have been a lay-brother, not a monk.
But this would also imply that the sword and rosary were not meant to be symbols only:
Hartwig held the worldly power of a reeve but as a lay-brother had no religious authority.
He might, in fact, have been versed in the use of a sword.
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Re: 1390 epitaph: Monk with a sword

Postby bigdummy » 18 Jan 2011 15:42

I'm a bit confused about the precise leal relationship between the military orders (Teutonic Order, Livonian Order, Sword Brothers, Templars, Knights of St. John etc.) and the non-military orders like Cistercians, Fransiscans, Dominicans etc. Don't the military orders hhave some predecessors in Byzantine Greece which were somewhat more in a 'gray area' vis a vis arms and warfare?

In Medieval Central Europe, does the Pope grant special dispensation for the military orders to bear arms, or is that just part of the rule of the individual order, or is there some secular oversight of this from a king or from the Emperor?

Also do you suspect this particular monastery of being a place where judicial combat may have been conducted?

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