“But there was one book the Johns Hopkins doctoral candidate didn’t think she’d have the opportunity to study: a 15th-century Roman Catholic processional containing music and instructions for worship. This unique manuscript had been sold in the mid-1900s, trading hands between private collectors and out of reach for scholars of early modern religion like Mednyánszky. Until, miraculously, it wasn’t.
“It popped up in a private collection at Sotheby’s in London last year,” says Mednyánszky, a scholar in the Department of the History of Art. She recognized it immediately from its description because the book has a unique provenance: It was a gift from a monk to his sister, a nun who resided in Lichtenthal Abbey in southwest Germany. An inscription in the book dated the manuscript to 1460. Mednyánszky says she paid little attention to the book’s sale at the time, assuming it would be purchased by another collector.
But last spring, while auditing a class taught by Johns Hopkins Professor Earle Havens, Mednyánszky listened with interest while Havens described a rare book the university had recently acquired. He retrieved it from the stacks in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and presented it to the class. It was pocket-sized but several inches thick and bound in brown animal hide with elaborate floral tooling. Inside, it contained medieval musical notation and, there in the book’s colophon, a handwritten dedication from Brother Wilhelm Kecheller to his sister Dorothea. It was the book from Lichtenthal Abbey.”