Skip to main content

Fifteenth Century Printed Books at Bryn Mawr (BMC)

Overview of collection of 15th century printed book collection (incunabula).

Bibles

The collection holds ten editions of the Bible: eight in Latin and two in German. The most interesting of these Bibles is the German Bible printed in Nuremburg by Johann Sensenschmidt and Andreas Frisner around 1476.  The text of the Bible is based on the Mentel Bible that was first printed in Strassbourg in 1466, and was the first German translation of the Vulgate to be printed. The book also offers readers a more personal lens into contemporary history beyond the history of printing. In 1525, the book came into the possession of Oswald Erhammer (1484–1561), an Austrian nobleman, who used it as a family Bible, noting in the margins local customs and chronicling important events in his life and in the region. Some of these notes include mentions of the incursions of and resistance to the Turks in their attacks on Austrian land, of a sighting of a comet that was understood as a bad omen, and of his concern about the death and succession of the King of Hungary.

Biblia [German]. Nuremburg: Johann Sensenschmidt and Andreas Frisner, 1476–8. f B-628. Gift of Samuel Pennypacker.

Patristic Texts

One of the strengths of the collection of incunabula at Bryn Mawr College is in the area of Patristic texts. Some of these works were among the first that Howard Lehman Goodhart purchased.  The collection includes multiple works by some of the major early Christian writers, including Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Eusebius, Cyprian, Gregory the Great and Orosius.  Collections of the letters of Jerome are especially numerous, with ten editions printed in the 15th century, including the mammoth 1470 edition printed by Peter Schoeffer in Mainz, and an illustrated Italian-language edition.

Among the notable works:

Eusebius, De evangelica praeparatione.  Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 1470.

Jerome. Epistolae. Mainz, Peter Schoeffer, 1470. ff H-165.

Jerome. Epistolae. Ferrara: Laurentius de Rubeis, de Valentia, 1497. f H-178.

Origen.  Contra Celsum et in fidei Christianae defensionem libri.  Rome: Georgius Herolt, 1481.  Copy with arms of Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. 

Medieval Theologians

The major medieval theologians and religious writers were heavily collected by Howard Goodhart.  St. Thomas Aquinas figures most prominently, with 27 15th century editions of his works.  Also represented are Albertus Magnus (10 editions), St. Bonaventure (9), Peter Lombard (6), and the author of the lives of the saints, the Legenda aurea sanctorum, Jacobus de Voragine.  The collection includes 19 of his works, including 16 of the Golden Legend.  

Sermons

By the late Middle Ages, the modern or scholastic sermon, a highly structured work organized around a particular theme, had become a popular mode of preaching. Published treatises about how to compose and deliver sermons influenced this trend, and collections of sermons provided exempla to preachers. There are a few treatises on the artes praedicandi and a broad array of collected sermons in Bryn Mawr’s collection. The nearly sixty volumes of sermons range in author from the Early Church Fathers, like Augustine, to the saints of the Middle Ages, like Bernard of Clairvaux, to less well-known preachers, like Roberto Caracciolo.

For a brief introduction to the history of preaching in the Middles Ages, see “A History of Medieval Christian Preaching as Seen in the Manuscripts of Houghton Library.”

Decretals

Another genre of religious texts is decretals, which are collections of pontifical decisions that formed part of the corpus of canon law. These texts were important reading for students at university in Theology, and are among the most frequently printed titles in the fifteenth century. Bryn Mawr’s collection holds both of the major collections of pontifical decretals, the Decretales of Gregory IX and the Liber sextus decretalium of Boniface VIII, and these are represented by multiple volumes. There are also a number of commentaries on these collections.