Italian Paleography


Newberry, VAULT Case MS 151
Saint Jerome’s Life and Letters
ca. 1480

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This Newberry Library manuscript dates to approximately 1480 and was composed in a humanist Italian script. With the rise of the cult of relics from the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries came an emerging devotional curiosity about saints and their lives. This text likely served a didactic purpose for a Christian Italian audience interested in hagiography. It is divided into two sections. The first part contains two letters about the life and death of Saint Jerome, one by Saint Augustine to Cyril of Jerusalem and the other reflecting Cyril’s response. The second half of the text contains two letters written by Saint Jerome to women. In the first, Saint Jerome writes to his confidant and close friend, Saint Paula. In the second letter, Saint Jerome instructs a noble Roman virgin about the importance of virginity and chastity. The choice to transcribe the letters Saint Jerome wrote to women instead of the ones in which he corresponded with men emphasizes the importance women held for Saint Jerome and his teachings. It is clear from the letters that Saint Jerome respected his female disciples and continuously interacted with them in an intimate manner throughout his life.

Saint Jerome was born in Dalmatia in 345 C.E. to a Christian family. The saint was a prolific translator of Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin and was the first to translate the Old Testament into Latin for a thriving Latinate culture. Although it is argued that Saint Jerome sometimes presents a misogynistic interpretation of women in his translations of the Old Testament, it is clear from examining his life and these letters that Saint Jerome valued his relationships with various noble women. In fact, Saint Jerome became the center of an ascetic circle that primarily included aristocratic women. Most of these women were Saint Jerome’s most loyal disciples and intellectual correspondents, establishing domestic convents devoted to Saint Jerome’s teachings. One woman in particular, Paula, not only formed her own domestic nunnery in Rome, but also followed Saint Jerome upon his “explusion” from Rome. Together, Saint Jerome and Paula established some of the earliest Latin monasteries in Bethlehem, one for men and one for women, devoted to the Virgin Mary.


Umanistica corsiva usuale, dal ductus piuttosto corsivo.
Da notare: le aste alte (b, d, h, l) dotate di attacco a uncino; la a corsiva (24r, r. 1: raguarderan(n)o); la e in due tratti (24r, r. 10: come); la g con occhiello chiuso che lega a destra (1r, r. 12: lagrime); l’uso della abbreviazione per essere non comune in volgare (24r, r. 11: e(sser)e); il legamento br derivato dalla mercantesca br (24r, r. 14: brieve).

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