The feast of Saint Luke
By Kristof Selleslach, archivist at the Museum Plantin-Moretus
For the Plantin Press the name day of Luke the Evangelist (18 October) was a very special Christian holiday. The printing presses were stopped for the entire day. The printers and typesetters were required to attend the solemn mass in honour of the patron saint at the cathedral. The proofreaders organized a banquet for which they had been saving up during the year.
The Guild of Saint Luke
Printing books is an art. That is why, after the introduction of typography, the Antwerp book printers became members of the already existing guild of the artists, the Saint Luke Guild. Employees of independent printers were not welcome in the guild however. But they considered Luke the Evangelist as their patron too. The name day of the Evangelist (18 October) was the annual feast day for the printing presses. On this day there was no printing, only celebrating.
On this special feast day, all the employees of the Plantin Press attended a solemn mass in honour of their patron saint at the Cathedral of Our Lady. Everyone was required to be there. Only the ill were exempt. Company rules punished absence with a fine of 6 stivers. Quite a lot of money actually, because it amounted to one third of a day’s wages. The fine was halved for latecomers who joined the mass after the reading of the gospel. The same fine of 3 stivers was also applied for absence at the funeral of a deceased colleague. The complaints books reveal that absence at a Saint Luke mass was no exception at all, as well as absences at the obligatory requiem- and funeral services for deceased colleagues. Moreover, employees sometimes turned up in a state of drunkenness.
The proofreaders perceived the annual holiday on the name day of Saint Luke as an excellent opportunity. In 1664, the correctors of the Plantin Press founded a brotherhood. They gave it a resounding Latin name: ‘Concordia inter correctores typographiae Plantinianae’ (Unity between the proofreaders of the Plantin Press). In beautiful calligraphic writing they noted the aim and the statutes of their organization (for a transcription of the statutes, click here).
Every year, around the name day of Saint Luke, the brotherhood was to organize a two-day banquet at the home of one of its members. The regulations of the Concordia cited two main reasons for organizing this annual feast: relaxing the tired minds with merry amusement and stimulate friendship and unity between the proofreaders by way of a teambuilding activity. It was clearly also set up as a mingled affair. The proofreaders of the Officina Plantiniana were all male, without exception. But they were explicitly invited to bring their wife to the festivities. Unmarried members were allowed to bring their mother or sister. The regulations didn’t say a word about fathers and/or brothers. In other words, male family members were implicitly excluded.
By taking turns it was decided who was to be ‘oeconomus’, or host, and consequently had to open up his house as well as organize the banquet. Only on condition of a unanimous vote it was possible to organize the event in a tavern. If a member did not have an adequate house, there was always the possibility of organizing the feast in another member’s house. This option was the preferred one. Apparently the correctors valued their annual feast being organized in a homely atmosphere. The host also had to prepare the meal in his own kitchen or have it prepared there. In other words, no takeaway. The ‘oeconomus’ was asked to make a list of possible dishes, and present it to the other members beforehand. This way, he was informed about the preferred dishes and the vetoed ones of his future table-companions. Also, this form of social control prevented the price of the meal going through the roof.
To make the banquet financially feasible, the proofreaders weekly donated 1 stiver in a special pot. Unmarried members who came to the banquet without a female guest were still required to contribute 1 stiver, but as a compensation, they were exempt from being host. Furthermore, new members were asked to pay a one-off membership cost of 12 stivers, to have their name added to the statutes. 12 stivers was one day’s pay for a beginning proofreader. An experienced proofreader at the Officina Plantiniana could earn up to 28 stivers a day.
The brotherhood’s funds were solely used to finance the annual banquet. The ‘oeconomus’ was obliged to present a precise account of all the expenses. Small expenses such as spice and butter were not part of this account. For these, the host received a fixed expense allowance of 3 florins (60 stivers) from the cash register. Napkins and the cooking appliances in the kitchen were also included in this fixed allowance.
The banquet traditionally started with a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Afterwards, one of the proofreaders read out loud psalm 130 (De Profundis). With this psalm the proofreaders prayed for their deceased colleagues. The brotherhood had four founding members, and one of them was a priest. According to membership lists, ‘Concordia’ was active for at least one century. In 1764, precisely one hundred years after its foundation, Petrus Maximilianus Reyns, a priest, became the youngest as well as the last new member of ‘Concordia’. During the eighteenth century, the Plantin Press engaged more and more priests as proofreaders, and this was reflected in the member’s list of the brotherhood. Parallel with the decline of the Officina Plantiniana, the brotherhood died a quiet death at the end of the eighteenth century.