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John Marchesinus’ Guide for Clergy

By Emma Laws, Cathedral Librarian

Towards the end of the 13th century, John Marchesinus, a Franciscan friar living near Modena in Italy, compiled an educational guide to understanding the Bible for the use of clergy. Mamotrectus super Bibliam, written in Latin about the Latin Bible (or Vulgate), begins with explanations of tricky words in the order they appear in the Bible from Genesis to the Apocalypse. Then follows helpful hints to understanding other religious texts, including the liturgy, hymns and sermons.


Prior to the advent of printing in the mid-15th century, manuscripts of the book were copied often. In 1470, Marchesinus’ book was printed for the first time and proved extremely popular. By 1521 there were already 34 editions of the book in circulation. Our copy, a recent donation from the Parochial Church Council of Combe St Nicholas, was printed in Venice in 1506. It contains some very minor annotations – signs at least that someone found it useful – and has an original, sturdy limp vellum laced case binding – perfect for carrying the book around in a pocket and consulting it when the need arose.

The book’s popularity declined in the 16th century, and it was pretty much forgotten with the Reformation. Though thousands of copies were printed, it isn’t surprising that, until recently, there were no copies of Mamotrectus in the Cathedral Library. After all, a book written in Latin, about a Bible translated into Latin, was hardly a useful tool for clergy in the new Protestant era of an English Bible and an English Book of Common Prayer.