The Star of Salvation, an unknown Franciscan devotional dialogue in Italian with a lost sister copy in Croatia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 4/52


Stella di Salute, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (introductory rubric with the name of the author and date of composition)

John Frederick Lewis’ wonderful collection of two hundred Western Medieval codices, dozens of non-European manuscripts, and thousands of cuttings and single leaves is justly famous. This outstanding ensemble has been housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia since it was gifted to the institution by John Frederick’s widow, Anne Baker Lewis, in 1933. Four years later, the two hundred codices were the subject of a summary catalogue authored by Edwin Wolf.[1] And yet the Free Library is home to more than fifty additional manuscripts, which were somewhat confusingly given “Lewis E” shelfmarks of 201 and above, that made their way to the Rare Book Department on the third floor of Parkway Central Library by other means. Because they were not published in the 1937 catalogue, these manuscripts are generally less well-known. Some, including the subject of today’s post, were in fact acquired earlier; in this case, through the William Pepper Fund seven years prior to the Lewis donation, in 1926.

This book, Lewis E 205, consists of an unpublished Italian devotional treatise, composed in question-and-answer form, entitled the Stella di Salute (Star of Salvation). The author, as stated in the introductory rubric (fol. 1r), is a Franciscan friar from the province of the Marche by the name of Santi de Bon Cor (unless this was a convenient pen name!). The text was composed, according to the rubric, on the twenty-fifth day of February, 1450. It is unclear whether the present copy is contemporary or slightly later in date; its script and style of decoration appear to be from the mid-fifteenth century. The book is written in an elegant, Southern Textualis or Rotunda script. The colophon on fol. 205v states that the scribe’s name was Faustino, unfortunately a rather common first name in fifteenth-century Italy.


Lewis E 205, fol. 250v (colophon with the name of the scribe, Faustino)

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Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (detail of inhabited initial S with a haloed bishop)

The text begins with an illuminated first page containing a historiated initial S depicting a haloed bishop, though it is unclear who this might be intended to represent. A manuscript with the same text and with a similar number of folios, but apparently with more lavish decoration, is listed in Hans Folnesics’ survey of illuminated manuscripts in Dalmatia.[2] In Folsesics’ corpus, which was published in 1917, the sister manuscript is described as being housed in the library of the State Italian College of Zadar (Gimnasio superiore di Zara), at a time when Zadar was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, of course, Zadar is in the Republic of Croatia, but throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period it was closely linked to the Eastern coast of Italy and the Marche region via the Adriatic. Interestingly, the Zadar manuscript’s opening miniature is described as being quite a bit more complex, showing the Franciscan author embracing the bow of a ship named “gentil navicella,” upon which the figure of a woman stands, holding a rosary and pointing upwards to the Redeemer. If any readers are aware of the present-day location of this related manuscript, please do let us know!


[1] Edwin Wolf, A. S. W. Rosenbach, and Richard W. Ellis, A descriptive catalogue of the John Frederick Lewis collection of European manuscripts in the Free library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Free Library of Philadelphia, 1937).

[2] Hans Folsenics, Die illuminierten Handschriften in Dalmatien (Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1917), p. 50

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