Godfrey Henschen

Godfrey Henschen (also Henskens or Godefridus Henschenius in Latin), 21 June 1601 11 September 1681, was a Jesuit hagiographer, one of the first Bollandists,[1] from the Spanish Netherlands.

Gottfried Henschen, S.J. (engraving by Philibert Bouttats, 1680)


Henschen was born at Venray, Limburg, in the Low countries.[2] He was the son of Henry Henschen, a cloth merchant, and Sibylla Pauwels. He studied the humanities at the Jesuit college of Bois-le-Duc (today the town of 's-Hertogenbosch) and entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Mechlin on 22 October 1619. He taught successively Greek, poetry and rhetoric at Bergues, Bailleul, Ypres, and Ghent. He was ordained a priest on 16 April 1634, sent to the professed house at Antwerp the following year, and admitted to the profession of the four Jesuit vows on 12 May 1636.


Henschen had been a pupil of Jean Bolland. From the time of his arrival in the city he was associated as a collaborator with Bolland, who was then preparing the first volumes of the Acta Sanctorum. Bolland had asked for an assistant, a request supported by the abbot of Liessies Abbey, Antoine de Wynghe. In 1635 Henschen was assigned to start work on the February saints, while Bolland gave himself to the preparing the material for January. It was Henschen who, by his commentary on the Acts of St. Amand, suggested to Bolland the course to follow, and gave to the work undertaken by his mentor its definitive form. Henschen compared the different manuscripts regarding a particular saint, resolved obscure passages, and placed the saint in the context of his/her times and contemporaries.[3] After fourteen years of work, the two volumes for January were printed in Antwerp in 1643 and greeted with enthusiasm by scholars.[4]

Work on the January volume was done in two garrets where Bolland kept his papers and books. As climbing the steep steps began to prove difficult, he asked for and obtained the use of a vacant room on the second floor, which later became the Bollandist Museum.[4] The three volumes for February were released in 1658,[5] and was equally well received.[4]

Trip to Rome

In July 1660, at Bolland's direction, Henschen and Daniel van Papenbroek journeyed to Rome by way of Germany and the Tyrol, collecting ancient documents for their studies along the way. They stayed in Rome for nine months and returned by way of France[6] They received a warm welcome and much assistance from Lucas Holstenius, head of the Vatican Library, who placed at their disposal all the hagiographical manuscripts in the Roman libraries. The five or six copyists placed at their disposal were kept constantly busy during their time in Rome in transcribing manuscripts according to their directions, and this occupation was continued by them a long time after the Bollandists departure. Holstenius died during their stay at Rome, and his successor, Peter Allatius, who had his own pretensions of publishing, proved less amicable.[3] After a stay of about nine months they returned by way of Paris, where they spent over three months transcribing and collating, besides enlisting the services of several copyists.[2] They also came back with new subscriptions to the Acta Sanctorum. After Bolland's death in 1665, he and Papenbroek began to lead the project. They were joined in 1670 by John Ravesteyn, who after five years left to take up parish work.

Later life

Henschen was the first librarian of the Museum Bollandianum at Antwerp. In March 1668, he and Papenbroek set out on a second journey, but Henschen fell in Luxembourg. After that Papenbroek took over much of scientific aspects of the work.[3] Henschen continued to work on the Acta Sanctorum up to the time of his death.

In total Henschen collaborated on the volumes for January, February, March, and April, and on the first six volumes for May, that is on seventeen volumes of the Acta Sanctorum. Several of his posthumous commentaries appeared in the succeeding volumes.

He died at Antwerp, aged 80, in 1681.


  1. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Godfrey Henschen" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. De Smedt, Charles. "The Bollandists." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 2 May 2020 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. Palmieri O.S.A., Aurelio. "The Bollandists", The Catholic Historical Review, vol. III, no.3, October 1923, Catholic University of America Press, 1924, p. 344
  4. Delahaye, Hippolyte S.J., The Work of the Bollandists, Princeton University Press 1922
  5. "Jean Bolland, founder of the Bollandists", The Jesuits of the Province of Southern Belgium and Luxembourg
  6. "The Kalendars of the Church", The Christian Remembrancer, Vol. XL ( July–December ), J. & C. Mozley, London, 1865


  • Daniel van Papenbroek, De vitâ, operibus, et virtutibus God. Henschenii in Acta Sanctorum, VII, May
  • Joannes Joseph Habets, Godfried Henschenius medestichter der Acta Sanctorum (Maastricht, 1868).
  • Delehaye, Hippolyte. The work of the Bollandists through three centuries (1615–1915), Brussels, Society of Bollandists, 1959

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Godfrey Henschen". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.