The Newberry Library and the University of Notre Dame acquire rare fourteenth-century book





Chicago's Newberry Library and the University of Notre Dame recently jointly acquired an unusual early fourteenth-century codex originating in southern France that contains a collection of 38 scholastic texts, only two of which have been edited in modern critical editions and the rest of which have never been printed. All those that have been identified to date are Franciscan. The most noteworthy author included is Peter John Olivi, represented by two elements of his Principia in sacram scripturam, a text subsequently condemned by the Inquisition.

Olivi, born near Béziers and trained at the University of Paris, was a leader of the Spiritual Franciscans, whose absolute belief in apostolic poverty led Olivi’s writings to be condemned a year after his death in 1298. In 1299, a Chapter General of the Franciscan Order ordered his writings to be burned.

“More than 100 manuscripts containing his works are reported to have been destroyed, and consequently surviving manuscripts are exceedingly rare,” said Paul Saenger, the Newberry Library’s George A. Poole III Curator of Rare Books and Collection Development Librarian. “This is the sole known codex originating from Languedoc, where Olivi taught at the University of Montpellier and at Nîmes. Ultimately, however, the value to scholarship of this manuscript may lie in its unidentified and unedited content.

The codex complements the Newberry Library’s rich collections of Hebrew, Greek and Latin bibles, which is the most comprehensive assemblage of manuscript and printed biblical texts in the Midwest. This copy appears to have been preserved in a Dominican library.

“Because the Dominicans often administered the Inquisition, it was necessary for them to have copies of condemned texts so that they could refute them,” Saenger explained.

Since 1995, the Newberry Library has partnered with Midwestern universities and colleges to purchase more than 25 rare medieval manuscripts and printed books that otherwise would not be available to local scholars and residents. The Newberry Library created the joint-ownership program in order to bring more original source material to the Midwest.

The materials typically spend eight months of the year at the Newberry and up to four months of the year with the participating institution. In addition to Notre Dame, seven other universities or colleges in the region participate in the program, including DePaul University; Loyola University Chicago; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; University of Minnesota; Spertus College; Tulane University; and Western Michigan University.

Other examples of joint acquisitions include:

- A processional from Portugal, ca. 1300 (Newberry Library and Western Michigan University);

- A 15th century code of regulations for monks attributed to Saint Jerome (Newberry Library and DePaul University);

- A bilingual English-Hebrew psalter printed in Utrecht in the 17th century (Newberry Library and Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies); and

- A Burgundian roll dating from about 1467 containing a major genealogical diagram (Newberry Library and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).


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