Johannes Matthei

From medieval

by Roger Andersson

Johannes Matthei (d. 1524), priest brother at the Birgittine abbey of Vadstena, Sweden, 1476–1524, confessor general 1499–1501, 1509?–1511, 1512–1514, a preacher and composer of sermons.

Johannes Matthei originated from Jönköping in the Swedish province of Småland. Almost nothing about his life before the 1470s is known. He is said to have been related to a vicar in the town of Gränna (SILFVERSTOLPE 1898, 92). In 1472 he was studying law at the University of Rostock (cf. HOFMEISTER 1889, 176; MALINIEMI 1942, 69; SCHÜCK 1959, 515). Already in 1471 he had been present at Rostock and heard the famous Alanus de Rupe preach on the power of the Rosary (CARLSSON 1947, 6; PERNLER 1996). From Rostock he also brought with him a book containing writings of Alanus de Rupe (Uppsala University Library, C 138). In November 1473 he began law studies at the University of Cologne (SCHÜCK 1959, 515) and eventually obtained the degree baccalaureus sacrorum canonum (DV 826).

After his studies, Johannes entered Vadstena Abbey on 31 July 1476 as one of the thirteen priest brothers (DV 826). Already from the start he seems to have enjoyed a good reputation in the convent. In the summer of 1487 he was sent together with >Clemens Petri to Vadstena Abbey’s daughter house, Gnadenberg (near Nürnberg in Germany), in order to participate in the general chapter of the Order (RISBERG 2003, 15 f.). They also went to Rome to work for the canonization of >Sancta Katherina, daughter of >Sancta Birgitta (DV 874). In September the following year (1488) they both returned to Vadstena after having successfully carried out their mission. They were received with a solemn procession in the Abbey church (DV 879). Johannes held the position of confessor general at Vadstena Abbey three times: 1) 1499–1501 (DV 947, 952); 2) 1509?–1511 (Silfverstolpe 1898, 93; GEJROT 1988, 378; DV 1010); and 3) 1512–1514 (DV 1018, 1028). The beginning of his second period of office cannot be definitely ascertained, but he is called vice confessor in 1509 (FMU 5392; C 425 [notice on the fly-leaf]). In October 1507 he was sent out to Rome for a mission concerning the house of Birgitta in Rome together with the famous >Petrus Magni (Peder Månsson) (DV 989). However, they never reached their destination. Instead, they were captured by the troops of the Danish king and kept imprisoned on Gotland and in Copenhagen, after which they were forced to return home (DV 996). Johannes Matthei is said to have functioned as evangelista in the abbey (SILFVERSTOLPE 1898, 92) and was also in charge of the book-bindery (MALINIEMI 1926, 150–51). He died on 12 November 1524 (DV 1095).


The reputation of Johannes Matthei will rest mainly on his sermons and on his translations of religious texts into Old Swedish. Two manuscripts with sermons, both de tempore and de sanctis, have been preserved (Uppsala, University Library, C 24 and C 274; of the former only parts are written by Johannes, according to MALINIEMI 1926, 142; see also ANDERSSON, forthc.). He also seems to have been interested in the art of preaching from a theoretical point of view, as well as in how the ideals for Birgittine preaching should be implemented in practice (>Sermones Birgittini). Apart from sermons Johannes Matthei is known to have composed two minor pieces in his capacity as confessor general: a letter in Old Swedish with admonitions to the sorores of Vadstena Abbey (ed. DAHLGREN 1875, 139–48) and an address (with the collaboration of >Clemens Petri) to the general chapter in Gnadenberg in 1487 (C 153, fols. 158r–166r). Johannes also made translations from Latin into Old Swedish. He is known to have translated the Dominican Alanus de Rupe’s two sermons on Ave Maria delivered at Rostock in 1471 (ed. GEETE 1923–1924, 523–88). According to GEETE he also translated the Psalterium beate Marie virginis by the same author, but this assumption has been questioned by CARLSSON (1947, 7, n. 3). Finally, there exists a translation by him of a legendary text on St. Stephen (ed. STEPHENS 1847, 399 f.). Beside the above mentioned editions a sermon (C 274, fols. 14v–15v) is edited in MALINIEMI 1942, 365–69.


  • ANDERSSON, R. 2008: ”Drömmen om den heliga kvinnan. Johannes Mattheis Katarinapredikan år 1521”, in Medeltidens mångfald. Studier i samhällsliv, kultur och kommunikation tillägnade Olle Ferm (Runica et Medievalia. Scripta Minora 16), Stockholm, 13-34.
  • CARLSSON, G. 1947: “Jungfru Marie psaltares brödraskap i Sverige. En studie i senmedeltida fromhetsliv och gillesväsen,” Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift 47, 1–49.
  • DAHLGREN, F.A. (ed.) 1875: Skrifter till läsning för klosterfolk (SFSS 20), Stockholm.

DV = Vadstenadiariet. Latinsk text med översättning och kommentar (Kungl. Samfundet för utgivande av handskrifter rörande Skandinaviens historia. Handlingar del 19), ed. C. Gejrot, Stockholm 1996.

  • GEETE, R. (ed.) 1923–1924: Jungfru Marie psaltare (SFSS 48), Stockholm.
  • GEJROT, C. (ed.) 1988: Diarium Vadstenense. The Memorial Book of Vadstena Abbey (Acta universitatis Stockhomiensis. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 33), Stockholm.
  • HOFMEISTER, A. (ed.) 1889: Die Matrikel der Universität Rostock I, Rostock.
  • FMU = Finlands medeltidsurkunder I–VIII (ed. R. Hausen), Helsingfors 1910–1935.
  • MALINIEMI, A. 1926: “Studier i Vadstena klosters bibliotek,” NTBB 13, 129–53.
  • MALINIEMI, A. 1942: De S. Henrico, episcopo et martyre. Die mittelalterliche Literatur über den Apostel Finnlands II (Finska kyrkohistoriska samfundets handlingar 45:2), Helsinki.
  • PERNLER, S.-E. 1996: ”Rosenkransfromhet i senmedeltidens Sverige,” in Maria i Sverige under tusen år, vol. 1, ed. S.-E. Brodd & A. Härdelin, Skellefteå, 557–82.
  • RISBERG, S. (ed.) 2003: Liber usuum fratrum monsterii Vadstenensis. The Customary of the Vadstena Brothers. A Critical Edition with an Introduction (Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis. Studia Latina Stockholmiensia 50), Stockholm.
  • SCHÜCK, H. 1959: Ecclesia Lincopensis. Studier om Linköpingskyrkan under medeltiden och Gustav Vasa (Acta universitatis Stockholmiensis. Stockholm Studies in History 4), Stockholm.
  • SILFVERSTOLPE, C. 1898: Klosterfolket i Vadstena. Personhistoriska anteckningar (Skrifter och handlingar utgifna genom Svenska Autografsällskapet IV), Stockholm.
  • STEPHENS, G. (ed.) 1847: Ett forn-svenskt legendarium. Första bandet (SFSS 7:1), Stockholm.