Utrecht and legal history

A week ago one of my first posts related a walk in the old city of Utrecht, my own home town. I wrote about the old court of justice that now houses the new exhibition center of the Utrecht archives. The town of Utrecht was the see of the medieval diocese of Utrecht, and Utrecht is also the name of the modern province in the heart of the Netherlands. However, the medieval diocese was far larger than the present province of Utrecht, and even larger than the modern archdiocese (since 1853), and over this diocese within the Holy Roman Empire a prince-bishop ruled. As a result the archives of the medieval diocese and collegiate chapters with possessions all over the Netherlands, now kept at the Utrecht Archives, are much larger and far more important to Dutch medieval history than one would guess at first. I mentioned also the medieval cathedral that was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1674. After restorations in the 20th century the remaining tower, the Domtoren, and the choir of the cathedral show again a lot of their architectural splendor.

The cloister next to the cathedral is a beloved quiet corner in town. It leads also to the former great hall of the cathedral chapter, now the aula of Utrecht University. In this room the Union of Utrecht was signed in 1579. On the fountain in the cloister is a sculpture mistaken by many people for  a monk. In fact it is meant as a tribute to Hugo Wstinc, a canon of the cathedral chapter from the fourteenth century. In 1342 Wstinc wrote a legal treatise called Statuta ecclesiae Trajectensis, in which he wrote about the rights and customs of the cathedral chapter, its position within the diocese and the complicated relations with the four other collegiate chapters in the city of Utrecht. Wstinc’s treatise was edited in 1895 by Samuel Muller Fz., the Utrecht archivist of legendary fame in the archival world. You can find his edition in a digital version at the website for the Deutsches Rechtswörterbuch of the University of Heidelberg. A Dutch edition of a Latin text on a server of a German university: when you walk into the former cathedral close at Utrecht you cross not just a medieval border, but also the former Roman limes. History is around here from every period since the Romans. The campaign Initatief Domplein brings together ideas to make more of this rich history visible.

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