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New Acquisition: 15th-Century Manuscript of the Canons and Constitutions of the Archdiocese of Zaragoza

One of last year’s noteworthy additions to the Law Library’s rare book collection was a 15th-century manuscript of the canons and constitutions of the archdiocese of the province of Zaragoza, Spain.

First full page of text of Synodal Constitutions of Pedro Lopez de Luna. Photo by Kelly McKenna

This item’s acquisition expands the Law Library’s collection of manuscripts, a collection that has been growing in recent years. It includes more than 60 manuscript books dating from before 1600 AD, and an additional 200 manuscript books from the 17th-19th centuries, representing a variety of languages and jurisdictions. Manuscripts in the collection include works of Roman law, customary law, Jewish and Islamic law, and, as is the case with this acquisition, the canon law of the Catholic Church.

Photo by Kelly McKenna

The following draws from a description of the manuscript by medieval manuscript cataloger Emily Runde. Compiled sometime between the years 1425 and 1450, the manuscript contains the constitutions – or ecclesiastical enactments – of provincial councils of the Archdiocese of Zaragoza and diocesan synods of the diocese of Tarazona, Spain. In seven distinct books, it presents the constitutions that these bodies enacted throughout the 14th century, beginning in 1319 with a set of constitutions issued by Pedro López de Luna, archbishop of Zaragoza (1318-1345). The latest material chronologically is eight letters of Alfonso V of Aragon (1416-1458) confirming the liberties and immunities of the Church, which were read at the ecumenical Council of Tortosa in 1429, and the enactments that emerged from that council. The manuscript is unedited, and contains material that is not known from other archives. Particularly important in this regard are the synodal constitutions of Tarazona from the 14th century that appear in this document.

The structure of the manuscript suggests that its compilers were trying to achieve thorough coverage of the regulations that emerged from these regional and local governing bodies of the Church and especially those that applied to the diocese of Tarazona. The work appears, therefore, to have been produced by clergy in Tarazona. Every diocesan church was required to have a copy of Tarazona’s synodal constitutions, and therefore it may have been produced for the use of a church in that diocese or for the cathedral archives of Tarazona.

Photo by Kelly McKenna

The manuscript shows signs of having been heavily used in the 15th century with annotations providing guidance about where content on similar topics appears throughout the volume, expansion of tables of contents and subject indexes, and cross references throughout the text.

Secondary Sources:

Fanning, William. “Synod,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, New York, 1912.

Yates, Donald. “The Cathedral Library of Tarazona: Its Medieval Manuscripts and Benefactors.” The Journal of Library History, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Summer, 1982), pp. 268-277.


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