Manuscripts of the ULB – the collection’s history

The collection of medieval manuscripts is much more significant than its small size of 100 items might suggest. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has recognized its importance by including it in their program for cataloguing medieval manuscripts in 1990.
Almost the entire collection of 19th and early 20th century manuscripts was lost in the Second World War, but nevertheless, we want to briefly summarize its history.

Part of the collection dates back to secularization:

In 1803 as a result of German mediatization, the prince-bishoprics of Muenster and Paderborn became Prussian, although the surrounding territory of Westphalia was not. The Westphalian part of the Sauerland, which was much richer in manuscripts than Muenster and Paderborn, became part of the county Hesse-Darmstadt. The Landgrave Louis X ordered the most beautiful and precious manuscripts and prints to be moved from the closed down monasteries in his new territory to his royal library in Darmstadt, where they can still be found today. Remaining manuscripts and prints were taken to Arnsberg, where the landgrave had established a new provincial library. In 1874, this library was moved to Muenster and merged with the former Bibliotheca Paulina (today’s University and State Library of Münster).

After 1803, more partial collections of books and manuscripts were transferred to the Bibliotheca Pauline. They mainly came from the Benedictine abbeys Liesborn and Werden and the Cistercian monastery of Marienfeld, but also, at a later time, they were brought in from the cathedral library of Muenster. The size of these acquisitions can no longer be determined today. Because the political affiliation of the prince-bishoprics frequently switched after 1803 between the Prussian state, France and the Grand Duchy of Berg (which was dependent on France), the monastery collections were transferred slowly, unsystematically and incompletely. However, it is known, that out of these collections acquired during secularization, 63 codices were put up for auction in 1823 by the government to improve the library’s budget. By ministerial order, 78 manuscripts were sold to the Prussian State Library in Berlin for 1200 Reichsthaler.

An important expansion of the manuscript collection occurred in 1874, when the "Erste Abteilung" of the regional authority library Arnsberg was moved to Muenster. This was the same library that Louis X of Hesse-Darmstadt had established and that had become part of the Prussian administration in 1816. Thus, 172 medieval text manuscripts reached the library, most of which came from the Dominican monastery in Soest. However, no codices containing illustrations were transferred.

The library added several more manuscripts with the addition of the Fürstenberg-Stammheim, which was first loaned to the library in 1907 and was later acquired in 1988. Among them are a Psalm commentary from Petrus Lombardus (Hs 892) and the lives of Saint Hugo and Saint Bruno (Hs 894). The former is decorated with high quality initial letters and probably stems from 13th century central Italy, and the latter comes from the Carthusian monastery Saint Barbara in Cologne and was written in 1522–23.

The actual number of manuscripts acquired after the publication of the catalogue by Staender up until 1945 can no longer be determined today. Not only were almost all the manuscripts lost in the Second World War, but so were the purchase documents. Merely 53 of the 480 medieval manuscripts survived the bombing of April 25th, 1945. Presumably, the library had approximately 1500 medieval codices and modern manuscripts in its possession at that time.


Haller, Bertram: Die Handschriftensammlung der Universitätsbibliothek – Bemerkungen zu Josef Staenders Handschriftenkatalog der "Bibliotheca Paulina" aus dem Jahre 1889
In: Westfälische Forschungen. - 36. 1986, p. 133 – 135

The wartime losses are documented in Josef Staender's old catalogue (working copy of librarian Heinz Jansen). The rescued manuscripts were marked with a note in the margin.

Staender, Josef: Chirographorum in Regia Bibliotheca Paulina Monasteriensis Catalogus. Breslau 1889
Location: Manuscript Reading Room ALL 0.4 MUS 25
Digitised book [de]

Since the mid-1950s, a goal-oriented purchase of manuscripts has been in place. The focus is on historic testimonies, cultural writings from the Low German Westphalian territories (for which the library functions as a regional library), and the Special Subject Collection / Specialised Information Service Dutch Culture (which was established in Muenster in 1951 and financially supported by the DFG). Among the newly acquired items are vernacular spiritual manuscripts, theological works in Latin, liturgical manuscripts (mostly from the diocese of Muenster or from other monasteries in close proximity), prayer books, books of hours, sermons, hagiographies, and a few miscellaneous codices.

Very few literary manuscripts originated in Westphalia. The library holds fragments of texts from the late Middle Ages written in low German. Examples are the knightly didactic poem "Der Winsbeke" from the first half of the 14th century, and a Low German confession, also from the 14th century.

You can find a description of all medieval manuscripts in a printed catalogue (date 1995):
Overgaauw, Eef: Die mittelalterlichen Handschriften der Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Münster. Wiesbaden, 1996.
Location: Manuscript Reading Room ALL 0.4 MUS 10 or online [de].

The call number Cod for the medieval manuscripts, which was started in 1996, was transferred in 2018 to the titles described in Overgaauw's publication with the call numbers Hs and Ms N.R. and documented in a concordance [de].