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New Acquisition: 15th Century Manuscript of Johannes de Imola’s Commentary on the Decretales of Gregory IX

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In a recent post on this blog, I announced the acquisition of an interesting 15th century manuscript of a work of canon law that recorded the Canons and Constitutions of the Archdiocese of Zaragoza, Spain. It was an exciting addition to the Law Library’s growing collection of medieval and early modern manuscript books. In this post, I want to announce another recent addition to the Law Library’s manuscripts collection that is also a work of canon law: an extremely rare manuscript of the Lectura of Johannes de Imola on the Decretales of Gregory IX.

Recently acquired 15th century manuscript of Johannes de Imola’s Lectura on the Decretales of Gregory IX. Photo by Geraldine Davila Gonzalez.

The Decretales of Gregory IX, upon which the Lectura comments, occupies a central place in the history of the canon law of the Catholic Church. Compiled by Raymond of Peñafort, a professor of canon law in Barcelona, Spain and Bologna, Italy, the Decretales also known as the Liber extravantium decretalium was a synthesis of the numerous and sometimes contradictory papal orders that were not brought together in the earlier authoritative work of canon law, Gratian’s Decretum of ca. 1150. Raymond of Peñafort completed his work in 1234 and it remained a principal source of law from that time until 1917, when the Catholic Church adopted a new code of canon law.

St. James seated on a throne, with four men before him at prayer. Photo by Geraldine Davila Gonzalez.

Johannes de Imola’s commentary on the Decretales of Gregory IX is one of many commentaries on that work that circulated in the late Middle Ages. Johannes de Imola was a doctor of “both laws,” an expression referring to the two branches of the learned law – civil law and canon law. He taught in a variety of universities in Italy, although principally in Padua and in Bologna where he originally obtained his doctorate in 1397. He died in Bologna in 1436. In his lifetime, he wrote a number of commentaries and produced collections of repetitiones (detailed studies of individual laws) and consilia (learned responses to requests for expert legal opinion). His commentary on Decretales of Gregory IX, like the work it commented on, is divided into five sections, each broken into two parts. Medieval manuscript cataloger Laura Light‘s description of this manuscript, which informs this post, notes that it contains commentary on the second part of the Decretales which covers judicial procedure. A note on folio 333 indicates that Johannes de Imola completed this part of the commentary on June 26, 1425. The manuscript is one of only three known manuscripts copies of the text, and although it appeared in early print editions, no modern critical edition of the text yet exits.

Photo by Geraldine Davila Gonzalez.

An illustrated manuscript on paper, the codex’s dimensions are 424 x 287 mm. It is in an 18th century mottled calf binding and is adorned with hundreds of painted initials, including 18 large illustrated initials; many marginal annotations; and simple doodled drawings throughout, indicating use by several generations of students. A large illustration appears on the first page of text, depicting the seated figure of St. James on a throne. At his feet are four men at prayer. He holds a book in one hand, and a walking staff in the other, surmounted by a pilgrim‘s cap. St. James is the patron saint of pilgrims. The figure of a pilgrim appears in the initial below.

Comments (3)

  1. Trying for the easy answer. Do you know if there is an available peer reviewed translation into English of this document?

    • Thanks for your question! Unfortunately, I have not located one. Early printed editions exist which include an edition produced in Venice in 1500 and one printed in Lyons in 1525 (both in Latin). But nothing modern yet in any language.

  2. Congratulations, Nathan. What a wonderful acquisition.
    Great for my own research and work.

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