Sacro Arsenale Ouero Prattica dell’Officio della Santa Inquisitione.

Genoa and Perugia, Stampa Camerale appresso Sebastiano Zecchini, 1653.


4to. pp. (viii) 432 (xxiv). Roman letter, with Italic. Fine engraving of St Dominic holding lilies and a papal tiara, standing over a book and prostrate figure; decorated initials and tailpieces. Light age browning, slight foxing, tiny marginal hole to last leaf. A very good, crisp, well-margined copy in contemporary Italian vellum, double-ruled borders gilt with dentelles, gilt rosettes to each corner, central panel with large gilt fleurons to corners and floral rhombus-shaped gilt centrepiece, a.e.g., gauffered edges. Spine in two compartments, large gilt fleuron to each, lacking ties. Early ink-splashed autograph ‘Sebas[tia]ni de Marinis S. Officij Advocati Fiscalis’ to fep, loose paper slip with early inscription, the odd early annotation, binding slightly loosening but sound.

Eliseo Masini’s scarce and influential vernacular manual for judges of the Roman Inquisition. Masini (d.1627) entered the Dominican order in Bologna in the 1580s. Appointed to the Sant’Uffizio in 1605, he was ‘judge of the faith’ in the city of Ancona, where he prosecuted people charged with crimes such as sorcery and bigamy, and was transferred to Genoa in 1610. In 1612, he supervised the publication of ‘Breve informatione del modo di trattare le cause del Santo Officio’, a vernacular manual for local inquisitors which circulated in several versions. This provided the model for the ‘Sacro Arsenale’, first published in 1621, which integrated traditional instructions for inquisitors with Masini’s own judicial experience. In the preface to this third edition, based on the revised version of 1625, Masini presents this ‘collection of regulations and forms’ as a practical manual to ensure that ‘justice be done at their every action’. The ten sections explain how to build and lead a trial against heretics, examining questions like the authority and dignity of judges, ways of gathering statements from witnesses and defendants and techniques to interrogate them (with special provisions for polygamy and witchcraft), regulations, the phrasing of sentences against living or deceased defendants, methods of torture, and excommunication. Section VII includes the augmentation to the second edition with material concerning the ‘difficult and very complex matter’ of witchcraft, including phrases for interrogations and notarial formulas. Drawn from a hitherto unpublished manuscript by an anonymous inquisitor, it reveals how, by the second quarter of the C17, the Roman Inquisition had begun to counter the harsher continental trend and normalise witch trials according to the same rules as governed trials for heresy. Thanks to its conceptual and linguistic clarity, the ‘Sacro Arsenale’ enjoyed an instant success and was regularly reprinted until the mid-C18.

This copy belonged to Sebastiano de Marinis, ‘advocatus fiscalis’ of the Sant’Uffizio, responsible for the formulation of accusations and interrogations, and for advising on the types and length of sentence.

Brunet V, 21; Graesse V, 209; Caillet 7203. Not in BM STC It.


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