ALPHONSUS DE SPINA Fortalicium fidei contra iudeos saracenos aliosque christiane fidei inimicos.

Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 25 Feb. 1494


Quarto, ff. (x) 289 (i). Gothic letter, two columns. Calligraphic pen flourished initials in red at head of chapters, one large decorated initial ‘U’ in blue and red opening Liber I. Occasional marginalia in Latin and Hebrew. Age yellowing, light age browning in places, small stain to lower outer edge of ff. lxxxvi-clii, marginal tear to f. cxix not affecting text. A good, well margined copy in contemporary pigskin over wooden boards, upper cover double blind ruled to a panel design, second border with flower stamps at corners and inside the compartments, third with plant-scroll decoration, central panel with double blind ruled hourglass and fleurons, blind-tooled fleurons at end of spine bands; similar panel design on lower cover, but with central section blind ruled in a diaper pattern with flower stamps at corners and bouquets at centres. Title inked on upper cover. Spine with raised bands ruled in blind, blind ruled cross design and flower stamps in compartments. Two metal clasps with finely decorated anchor plates, lower clasp missing.

Handsome copy in a good contemporary binding of this Christian polemic by the Castilian friar Alphonsus de Spina (ob. – 1491). This is the second complete version of this work published by the German goldsmith and publisher Anton Koberger, who established the first printing house in Nuremberg in 1470.

An itinerant preacher and member of the Franciscan Order, de Spina became superior of the House of Studies of the Friars Minor at Salamanca, confessor of King Henry IV of Castile and, in 1491, Bishop of Thermopylae (Greece). The Fortalicium fidei (also spelled ‘fortalitium’) is his most famous work, which he elaborated as a collection of arguments to be used to oppose detractors of Catholicism. It is divided in five books; the first is dedicated to praising the Christian faith, while the others are directed against its enemies: heretics, Jews, Saracens (Muslims) and demons. The title literally translates into ‘Fortress of faith’, and this is a military metaphor that describes the author’s objective: that is, to defend faith as if it was a fortress with five towers (corresponding to the five books), and to provide Christian warriors with an appropriate armor (‘armatura’, Liber I, Incipit) with which to conduct their battle.

Although de Spina mentions historical heresies, he concentrates on those of contemporary Castille (XV century). Especially, he condemns the so called ‘conversos’, namely Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism, accusing them to be heretics that continued practicing their former religion in secret. For the first time in a Spanish work, the author recommends the establishment of an Inquisition, which was in fact created in 1478. Due to the violent attacks of the author particularly against Judaism in the third book, the Fortalitium, has been defined as ‘a catechism of hatred towards the Jews’ by the historian Haim Beinart. In this respect, ‘the 1494 edition printed in Nuremberg appeared only a few years before the expulsion of the Jews from that town in 1499, and this edition was presumably part of a deliberate campaign to foster anti-Jewish sentiment in the town and its region’ (Briegleb). Interestingly, among the Latin marginalia that can be found in this volume’s pages, a few words in Hebrew appear, but the letters seem traced with scarce confidence: perhaps by a student who was learning Hebrew.

ISTC ia00543000; GW 1578; BMC II 438; HC 875*; Goff A543; IG 110; Bod-inc A-225. Meyuhas Ginio, Alisa, The conversos and the magic arts in Alonso de Espina’s Fortalitium Fidei, Mediterranean Historical Review 5/2 (1990); Beinart, Haim, Conversos on Trial: The Inquisition in Ciudad Real (Jerusalem 1981). Briegleb, Hans Karl. Die Ausweisung der Juden von Nürnberg im Jahre 1499: Geschichtlicher Rückblick. Leipzig: Klinkhardt, 1868.
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