Lübeck's Dance of Death

The Canon(1)

See comments below.

The canon

De canonnik
Help got du werdighe hylge drevoldicheyt:
Wo rechte we my myn herte deyt
En quam ik nve in so groete noed.
Ik dencke wer dyt sy de naturlike doed
Dar vp hebbe ik noch nicht vele dancken ghesad
Myne prouene hebbe ik ok noch nicht lange ghehath
Se is wol veerteynhundert gulden wert
Ock hebbe ik dar wol drehundert dockaten na vortert
Myt dem dat ik vorschenckede in den hof to rome
Er ik wart gheheten eyn canonnick in vnsem dome
Tovoren wart ick tho kollen in dem rechte eyn baccalarius
Dar na tho lubeck eyn rike vicarius.
Hadde ik myn dinck recht darna gevlegen
Ik hadde noch twe vette prouene ghekregen.
Dar to eyne gracien myt guder probenden
Dyt stund altohope to mynen henden
Nu byn ik erst to state ghekomen
Vnde vor eynen prelaten vp ghenomen
Bysschop to werden dat mochte my ock noch wol bescheen:
Wolde de doet noch lenger hebben myt my ouerseen
Des besten des ik my nu hir vth berade
Is dat ik gode bydde vmme syne gnade
Dat he dorch syne gruntlosen mylden barmherticheyt
My io nu wyl geuen syne ewighen salicheit.

Death with arrow

De doet
Her domhere proficiat bona dies:
Wan du vorgetten wordest van my dat were wat nyes
To kollen in dem studium dar en hebbe ick dy nicht ghesocht
Men hir hefstu nu dyn leuent to eynem ende ghebrocht
Van dynen vetten prouen dar sechstu vele af
Se helpen dy nu nicht eyn hauerkaf:
Willich armoed were dyner selen nu beter artzedie:
Wan al dat quatzen vnde ok de freterye
Dar van du dynen licham hefst gheholden so vet
Vnde de sele gans sere in vare gheseth
Myt symonia. hovart vnde ghiricheit
Vnde welken anderen sunden dar vele van ghescreuen steit
Dyt wert nicht ghesecht to dy alleyne
Men alle de anderen papen ik ok dar mede meyne
He sy prouest. deken. vicarius efte officiante
Cappellan. soccentor. koster. efte eyn ander slafante:
Wo gy myt den armen clerken plegen to appelleren
Myt vorsate dat se al er gelt scholden vorteren
Al is dyt gheistlyk recht id wroget doch de conciencien
God wil hir van suluen afspreken de rechten sentencien
Men vindet mannighe ynnighe presters van eynem reynen leuen
Voruullet myt dogeden van den is dyt nicht gheschreuen

Canon Death to the Canon We're getting a lot of concrete information about the canon:(1)

Mine provene hebbe ik ôk noch nicht lange gehat,
Se is wol vêrteinhundert gulden wêrt,
Ok hebbe ik dâr wol drehundert dockaten na vortêrt
Mit dem, dat ik vorschenkede in dem hof to Rome,
Er ik wart geheten ein canonnik in unsem dome.
Tovoren wart ik to Kollen in dem rechte ein baccalarius,
Dârna to Lubek ein rike vicarius.
Hadde ik mîn dink recht dârna gevlegen,
Ik hadde noch twe vette provene gekregen,
Dârto eine gracien mit guder probenden,
Dit stunt altohope to minen henden.
Nu bin ik êrst to state gekomen
Unde vor einen prelaten upgenomen.
Bischop to werden dat mochte mi ôk noch wol beschên,
Wolde de dôt noch lenger hebben mit mi oversên.
I have not had my benefice(2) for long
it's probably worth 1,400 guilders.
I have also paid 300 ducats [for the post],
besides what I gave at the court in Rome,
before I was called a canon in our cathedral.
Before that, in Cologne I became a student(3) in law,
thereupon [I became] a rich vicarius(4) in Lübeck.
Had I then done right,
I would have received two more fat, benefices,
and furthermore a sideline with good prebends.(5)
All this stood to my disposal.
Now I have just obtained rank
and have become a prelate.(6)
Bishop to become - that might also happen to me,
would Death still longer fail to see me.

So our very ambitious canon has just bought(!) his posts, he has studied law in Cologne and had planned to become a bishop.

It has long been suggested that the text should describe a real-life person. Therefore Hartmut Freytag has investigated the facts a bit closer and has written the article »Meint der Lübecker Totentanz von 1489 (1496) einen historischen Domherrn?« in Zeitschrift des Vereins für Lübeckische Geschichte und Altertumskunde 68 (1988), pp 215-224.

In the period between 1450 and 1489 a total of 7 Lübeckians graduated from law school at the university in Cologne. A few of these can be shown not to be our canon - but for the rest there is not enough data. Therefore the theory can neither be confirmed nor disproved.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Canon . . .: a priest attached to a cathedral. The canons are so called because they lead a rule bound life, "vita canonica".
Benefice . . .: A church office endowed with fixed capital assets that provide a living.
Baccalarius / student . . .: See the note on the other page about the 7 free arts.
Vicarius . . .: Substitute for the canon.
Prebends . . .: A stipend allotted from the revenues of a cathedral or a collegiate church to a canon or a member of the chapter (thank you, Mr Webster).
Prelate . . .: Clergyman of high rank.

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