Liber sacerdotalis nuperrime ex libris s[an]c[t]e Romane eccl[es]ie et q[uo]rundam aliarum ecclesiarum, & ex antiq[ui]s codicibus apostolicae bibliothece...(Venice: Melchiorre Sessa and Pietro Ravani, 20 July 1523)

CASTELLO Alberto da O.P (1523)



Printed in red and black throughout, title printed in red with half-page woodcut of Pope Leo X surrounded by cardinals presenting the author with official approval for this work, verso of f.[8] and recto of f.[9] with woodcut borders, incorporating eight woodcut portraits of men (church fathers?) on f.[8], 9 on f.[9], all facing inwards towards a half-page woodcut of the 'Gloria di Dio' and the Eucharist (f.[8]) and large historiated initial 'S' with figure of Christ, 22 woodcuts of the Sacraments and other ceremonial scenes, of various sizes, some half-page, including woodcuts of the Guidonian hand on f.334 and musical scales on verso, several pages of music comprising square notation in black on red, four-line staves, fine woodcut initials of various sizes, Sessa's woodcut cat device on verso of final leaf. 

4to (213 x 155mm). [8], 367, [1]pp. Contemporary half-calf over wooden boards, panelled with repeating pattern of simple double fillet, contemporary clasps and catches, 'Sacerdotale' inked along fore-edge of text block (spine repaired, scattered minor worming to covers, lacks clasps). 

Venice, Melchiore Sessa and Pietro Ravani, 

Extremely rare first edition of the Venetian Dominican friar Alberto da Castello’s hugely influential handbook for the use of priests. We have found no copies outside Europe; the British Library has the only copy in the UK, none are located in North America. 

In compiling this handsomely printed and illustrated work, Castello aimed to provide for priests a volume of liturgy analogous to Pontificals, which could accompany and support the correct and uniform administration of the sacraments’ (Righi, p.217, our transl.). Structured in three parts, and illustrated throughout with woodcut vignettes and diagrams, and musical notation, this volume provides a guide to the various offices to be conducted by a priest, including the conferring of the blessed sacraments, i.e. baptism, penance, marriage, communion and extreme unction, as well as the Canon of the Mass and other variable prayers and prefaces used during the liturgical year for particular occasions, processions and ceremonies. A large section, Compendium Musice, uses the Guidonian Hand for the study of the succession of notes and the theory of mutation. Following this is a section on exorcism f. 344v -f. 363r. The final few pages, printed in a smaller type, hold a prayer against storms and a small group of sample sermons intended to be given on certain feast days.

The timing of this publication is notable. Castello was preparing the material for this work at the same time that the Protestant Reformation was sweeping through Europe. Having travelled to Rome in the second half of 1519 to carry out research for the work in the Biblioteca Vaticana, as he explains in his dedication here, surviving records of Vatican payments in 1520 indicate that Castello received 25 ducats from Leo X in part for a manuscript copy of this Liber sacerdotalis (see Fattori, p.152), presumably given to the pope for correction. Leo is illustrated giving his approval on the title page here, and his privilege, on the verso, is dated 2 November 1520 (though he died in 1521, before its completion; Castello’s dedication is to his successor Adrian VI). Eventually printed in 1523, two years after the Diet of Worms, it is thus hard not to view this work as a statement of the authority of the established Church, and the sanctity of its liturgy and practice in the face of the challenge posed by the reformers. This explains its continued publication through the sixteenth century, both before and after the Council of Trent, amounting to twenty four editions by 1603.

It is arrestingly printed, providing a superb example of liturgical printing. The woodcut on the title page, of the Pope with cardinals and supplicants – perhaps Castello himself – remained unchanged until 1555, and as with a handful of the woodcuts in the text, had previously been used in Castello’s Rosaria de la gloriosa Vergine Maria, printed in 8vo at the same press in 1522.

Alberto da Castello himself is something of a mystery; born in the mid-fifteenth century in Venice and taking Dominican orders in Brescia at a young age, he transferred to Venice, and the convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo around 1502-3, where he could spend more time editing religious texts in Latin and Italian. He collaborated both with Sessa, the printer of the present work, and Lucantonio Giunta as the editors of a several liturgical volumes, including the beautifully printed Rosario della gloriosa vergine Maria. Legal proceedings brought against Castello by a fellow monk around 1519-20 - who later recanted and withdrew his accusations -  encouraged Castello's flight to Rome for a time, during which period he conducted research in the Vatican archives for the present work. The Liber Sacerdotalis was his last and most influential work; he is thought to have died some time around/after 1523.

Daniela Fattori, ‘Frate Alberto da Castello, un domenicano in tipografia’, La Bibliofilia 109 (2007), 143-168. Davide Righi, Il Sacerdotale di Alberto da Castello e le sue numerose edizioni (1523-1603)’ (Bologna, 2016). 

Provenance: unidentified small round armorial stamp at foot of title-page. Folio 332 with numbers and letters written in the margin in a 17/18th century hand. 

Minor neat repairs to title page in outer blank and lower margins, discreet paper repairs to two wormholes in first few leaves, tear to upper corner of f.81 affecting corner of top two ljnes with no loss (old paper repairs to verso), minor dampstain to foot of first few ff. Occasionally a little browned or spotted, but generally a crisp and fresh copy.

Censimento Edit16 11931. Essling 2203. Sander, 3951. OCLC/USTC (UK: British Library only. No copies in North America).

Stock Code: 246778

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