Den Wech der Volmaectheyt (The Way to Perfection, 1634)

By Sarah Joan Moran and Martine van Elk

This Catholic text, printed in Antwerp in 1634, includes two inscriptions that point to female, conventual readership. Just inside the cover we find the inscription ‘Apostolinne,’ presumably indicating that the book belonged to the library (whether formal or informal) of a house of Apostoline sisters, a Low Countries congregation founded by Agnes Baliques in Antwerp in 1680. The last name ‘De Meij’ in a different hand at the top probably refers to another owner. On the title page, a certain ‘Sr Maria Barbara Marolen’ has signed her name. Sr stands for Soeur or Sister, identifying her as a nun, while Marolen is not her last name but rather points to a second and similar regional congregation, the Marollen or Maricolen, contractions of Mariam Colentes (“they who honor Mary”). The Maricolen, followers of the Carmelite tertiary rule, had been founded by Dendermonde Beguine Anna Puttemans and given diocesan approval in 1663. Both the Apostolines and Maricolen established communities in most of the larger Flemish cities.

The text itself, De wech der volmaectheyt, a translation of El camino de perfección (The Way to Perfection, written before 1567), is the work of Teresa of Avila, the mystic and Carmelite nun. Her book explains the value of her reform of the Carmelite order of nuns in the direction of greater austerity. This translation was written by Roland van Overstraten, S. J., who had also translated her autobiography in 1609. The cult and teachings of St. Teresa were stridently promoted in the Catholic Low Countries in the seventeenth century, and such Dutch translations of her works were likely common reading in female religious communities in particular. The Wech would of course have been particularly at home with a Maricolen reader, whose calling was that of a Carmelite tertiary.

Further Reading

Sarah Joan Moran, Unconventual Women in the Habsburg Low Countries, 1585-1794: The Visual Culture of the Court Beguinages (forthcoming, Amsterdam University Press, 2019).

Cordula van Wyhe, “The Idea Vitae Teresianae (1687): The Teresian Mystic Life and its Visual Representation in the Low Countries,” In Female Monasticism in Early Modern Europe: An Interdisciplinary View, edited by Cordula van Wyhe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

Source: book found at the book market in Deventer. Offered for sale by Antiquariaat de Salamander. Photos by Martine van Elk; taken with permission.

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