Johannes Suenonis

From Medieval

by Roger Andersson

Johannes Suenonis (d. 1390), canon and teacher at the cathedral school in Strängnäs, Sweden, 1373–1387, priest brother at the Birgittine abbey of Vadstena, Sweden, 1387–1390, prominent preacher and composer of sermons who mediated influences from the University of Prague to Vadstena Abbey.


Johannes Suenonis was probably born in the 1330s but is first mentioned in 1363 as a clerk (clericus) in the diocese of Strängnäs (HÄRDELIN 1998, 96). In 1373 he matriculated at the University of Prague and later the same year at Bologna (THÖRNQVIST 1929, 263 f.). In 1373 he is also mentioned for the first time as curate of the parish of Österhaninge and as a canon of Strängnäs Cathedral, offices which he seems to have held until 1387. In Bologna and Prague he copied important texts on canon law (MALMSTRÖM 1974). Nothing is known about when Johannes finished his studies abroad or if he received a degree there; we only know that he visited the Pope in Avignon in 1375 (COLLMAR 1977). On 25 August 1387 he entered Vadstena Abbey (DV 45). Despite his position as a canon in the secular Church he was only received as one of the four deacons there. He must nevertheless be considered to have been a member of the convent of priests (the terminological problem is discussed in NYBERG 1991); this is made evident by his activity as a preacher, a duty which was only incumbent on the thirteen priest brothers (cf. further >Sermones Birgittini). On 28 September 1390 he undertook a journey to Rome in order to work for the canonization of >Sancta Birgitta (DV 50) but never reached his destination. He died en route, in Thorn (Torún) in Poland (DV 51).


As regards his literary activity we meet Johannes Suenonis in the capacity of copyist, compiler and author. His characteristic handwriting is to be found in about a dozen manuscripts containing copies of sermons and of theological, liturgical and juridical texts (MALINIEMI 1926, 145 ff.; cf. MHUU 7 [Registrum nominum et rerum], p. 147). His hand also occurs in the copy-book of the Abbey, Stockholm, National Archives, MS A 20 (STÅHL 2003, 47). Already in 1383, i.e. several years before he entered the abbey of Vadstena, he copied a sermon collection, now C 309 in the University Library of Uppsala, from the Vadstena codex C 376. However, Johannes did not merely copy the texts, but rearranged them and added new ones. Though the texts resemble sermons they are not strictly speaking such, since reference to the liturgical context is usually lacking. It has therefore been argued that Johannes intended to use the codex when as canon in Strängnäs he was in charge of the education of priests in the cathedral school (HÄRDELIN 1998, 105 ff.). Some of the texts can be traced to foreign preachers such as Guilbertus de Tornaco, but most remain unidentified (MHUU 4, 65 f.).

In C 333 of Uppsala University Library the preaching practice of Johannes Suenonis can be studied in greater detail. A number of sermons are dated (1388–1390), and given that they were preached in the same order as they were written down it is possible to reconstruct on what days Johannes preached during these years. The fact that a number of sermons have the rubric collacio leads HÄRDELIN to assume that they were intended for an educational purpose in the male convent, i.e. as an element in the training of preachers. They certainly were not intended for popular preaching since they contain a rather demanding spiritual theology which includes treatment of philosophical issues. Spiritually they seem to reflect the Augustinian mystical tradition of the twelfth century, a tradition that was to be brought to life again two centuries later (HÄRDELIN 1998). A sermon on the biblical account of the wedding at Cana has been treated by HÄRDELIN (1998, 356 ff.). HEDLUND 2000 (139) discusses briefly the way he ends his sermons.


  • COLLMAR, M. 1977: Strängnäs stifts herdaminne. Del 1. Medeltiden, Nyköping.
  • 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.
  • HEDLUND, M. 2000: “Quod nobis concedat eller: Hur man slutar en predikan,” in Språkets speglingar. Festskrift till Birger Bergh, ed. A. Jönsson & A. Piltz, Lund, 137–45.
  • HÄRDELIN, A. 1998: “Johannes Suenonis senior – lärdomsförmedlande kanik och klosterbroder,” Kult, kultur och kontemplation. Studier i svenskt medeltida kyrkoliv (Opuscula selecta 2), Skellefteå, 95–120.
  • MALINIEMI, A. 1926: “Studier i Vadstena klosters bibliotek,” NTBB 13, 129–53.
  • MALMSTRÖM, Å. 1974: “Svenska skrivarmödor i 1370-talets Prag. Några anteckningar till ett par vadstenahandskrifter,” NTBB 61, 113–27.
  • MHUU = Mittelalterliche Handschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Uppsala. Katalog über die C-Sammlung 1–8 (Acta Bibliothecae R. Universitatis Upsaliensis 26:1–8), ed. M. Andersson-Schmitt, H. Hallberg & M. Hedlund, Uppsala 1988–1995.
  • NYBERG, T. 1991: “Den tidigaste personalpolitiken i Vadstena prästkonvent,” Birgittinsk festgåva. Studier om Heliga Birgitta och Birgittinorden, Uppsala, 215–37.
  • SILFVERSTOLPE, C. 1898: Klosterfolket i Vadstena. Personhistoriska anteckningar (Skrifter och handlingar utgifna genom Svenska Autografsällskapet 4), Stockholm.
  • STÅHL. P. 2003: “Vadstena klosters stora kopiebok. En presentation av handskriften A 20 i Riksarkivet,” Kyrka, helgon och vanliga döda (Årsbok för Riksarkivet och Landsarkiven 2003), Stockholm, 35–64.
  • THÖRNQVIST, C. 1929: “Svenska studenter i Prag under medeltiden,” Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift 29, 235–98.