ASTOLFI, Giovanni Felice.
RARE AMERICANUM AND JAPONICUM
Historia universale delle imagini miracolose della Gran Madre di Dio riverite in tutte le parti del Mondo.Venice, Fratelli Sessa, 1623
FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (xviii) 877 [i.e., 887] (i). Roman letter, little Italic. T-p with engraved architectural border of angels playing trumpets, female figures, putti and a vignette of the Virgin. T-p torn and repaired to blank verso without loss. Slight toning in places, light water stain and little worm trail to lower margin (repaired on a few ll.), 12 ll. in KK-LL oxidised but clearly legible, small tear from lower blank margin of T 2 , minor marginal spotting, marginal ink burn to 3O 5 affecting a letter of side note. A perfectly acceptable copy in vellum c.1900, yapp edges, C17 casemark to t-p and a handful of contemporary marginalia.
A very rare, fascinating work on worldwide popular cults of the Virgin Mary—one of the earliest systematic works on the subject—an Americanum and Japonicum unrecorded in major bibliographies. Felice Astolfi (f. 1603), of whom little is known, was the author of an important historical work (‘Dell’officina storica’) and of several on miracles, a very popular subject in Counter-Reformation print. ‘Historia universale’ explores miracles and the popular cult of the Virgin Mary in the Old and New World, and in the Orient, through hundreds of fascinating anecdotes painstakingly drawn from Jesuit letters, and geographical and travel accounts like Botero’s. The variable collation of the preliminaries reflects the troubled history of its printing in the Autumn of 1623; the present is an early issue, with a blank where later issues display an additional dedication or a shorter gathering. ‘Although [it] built on a long medieval tradition of devotional literature, the miracle stories took on
new significance in the context of the early modern religious debates about the immanence of God. Astolfi addressed one of the major theological concepts debated in the early modern period: what is the proper role and function of miracles?’ (D’Andrea, ‘Miracles’). His narrative is especially concerned with the intercessory power of Marian images and their cult, and the immanence of God in physical objects. It begins with a life of Mary followed by a list of the relics (her body and clothing), with details of those preserved in Venetian churches. The first nine parts discuss the foundation of the earliest Marian churches and monasteries, accounts of miracles, the power of sacred images, iconoclasm, the miracles and local cult of specific images. From part 10 onwards are approx. 40 pages of accounts devoted to the wider world: Africa, where the Virgin makes Christian slaves escape the Moors’ prison, miracles in Manomotapa, Ethiopia and Angola, Christian fights by land and sea against the Moors; India, where a man’s rosary saves his sick, unchristened son, a bloody cross appears over the unburied body of a converted native, Monaian castle is reconquered after a procession, and Our Lady of Bengala is worshipped; the Caribbean, with a vessel haunted by demons at sea and saved by the Madonna of Guadalupe; Japan, with miracles during earthquakes, the miraculous healing of the sick in Bungo, the cult of Our Lady of Japan and Our Lady of Chitaoca, the burning of the Bonzi’s idols, the Marian cult encouraged by the Queen of Tango, devotion in the city of Amangucci, exorcisms, four crosses appearing on a tree; Brazil, with the foundation of the church of Nostra Signora dell’Aiuto, the conversion of a cannibal, the destruction of relics at the hand of Protestant colonists; Mexico, with praise for the natives’ treatment of the sick and management of hospitals, a Marian apparition to the sick, the Virgin’s feeding a sick woman; Peru, with the Marian cult in the mines of Potosi and a miracle against a demon pretending to offer help to miners, the care of the sick, the apparition of the Virgin to a dying native, the sad fate of a girl lying in confession, a healing prayer taught to a native; and China, with apparitions of the Virgin in the sky. Very scarce, fascinating and unusual.