The centrepiece of this fifteenth-century manuscript is the Confessionale of Bartholomaeus de Chaimis, a popular Franciscan confessional text of which this manuscript is the oldest known copy, having been completed in Milan in February of 1468. Its date, probable place of origin, and its opening lines on f. 10 indicate that it may have been copied from Bartholomaeus’s original text or otherwise produced under his direct or indirect supervision. Confessional manuals had long provided guidance and instruction to the confessors who heard confession and prescribed appropriate forms of penance for a wide variety of sins. By 1215, the Church had mandated that all Christians were to confess their sins to a priest at least once each year, and confession was a powerful tool for regulating the beliefs and behaviours of medieval communities. Confessional manuals served as important reference materials for the confessors who filled these religious and regulatory roles.

This particular manuscript belonged to a Franciscan confessor, and the texts which accompany the Confessionale Bartholomei nclude Latin works on confession and marriage by St. Antonius of Florence (1389 – 1459) and early Italian works by Jacopo of Todi (c. 1230 – 1306), both significant Franciscan authors. The Franciscans, founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209, were a mendicant order, that is, an order whose members undertook a vow of poverty and led an itinerant lifestyle dependent on charity and devoted to preaching, especially in urban centres. The manuscript’s small size and its assortment of texts likely reflect its use by an itinerant Franciscan preaching in an urban setting. Its focus on commerce and economic conduct speak to the increasingly mercantile and commercialized character of the urban centres of fifteenth-century Italy, and its list of occupation-specific sins provides an indication of some of the unscrupulous practices merchants were prone to employ.

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