Binding size 335 x 233 mm. Contents: 18 documents: 12 printed authentication forms (”authentics”), all completed in manuscript, most with woodcut arms of the issuing cleric at top, some with woodcut or typographic three-quarter borders; all with official wax seals or stamps, of which most attach a second sheet of paper; plus two full-sheet (2-leaf) manuscript authentication forms and 4 manuscript sections of notes, one in four pages, totalling 8 pages; with two loosely inserted manuscript slips. Many of the authentication forms originally folded, with residual creases, some fraying and staining, sewing loose, a few documents detached. The documents stitched into pale green silk covers over flexible boards, splendidly embroidered, both covers with outer yellow border enclosing a silver arabesque border punctuated with abstract fleur-de-lis in silver, beige and brown, at center the large Durazzo coat of arms embroidered in orange, cream, red, gray, and various shades of blue, set within a large and elegant ornamental cartouche in brown, green, cream and green silk, surmounted by a marquess’s crown of white-dotted silver wire thread with “gems” in green thread; dark pink satin liners; some darkening to covers from paste used for the liners, stains to lower portion of front cover, a few threads frayed, apparent loss to embroidered motifs on spine, some light soiling, but overall in fine condition. Provenance: Durazzo family, supra-libros and contents; the volume was acquired in Italy and legally exported (export license will be provided to the purchaser). ***
A noble Italian family’s relic authentications, in a magnificent embroidered silk binding.
This superlative volume is both a beautiful book object and a window into a routine but often neglected aspect of Catholic religious life, codified in the Council of Trent, but inextricable from Christian practice from the earliest era. Mostly printed forms filled in by Bishops or protonotaries, each with its official wax seal or stamp, the documents contained herein confirm the authenticity of fragments from the bodies, clothes, hair, and personal effects of two dozen Saints, the veil of the Virgin, and several fragments of the True Cross. These precious and highly evocative certificates reveal a side of Catholic bureaucracy rarely seen but nonetheless crucial to the perpetuation of ecclesiastical power. Unusually, the present certificates of authenticity were issued for relics preserved in the private chapels of a prominent noble family, and were carefully stitched into lavishly embroidered covers emblazoned with the family crest. The Durazzo (or Durazzi) family was one of the most powerful families of Genoa, who contributed no fewer than nine Doges to the city; at the time this volume was assembled the paterfamilias was Marcello Durazzo, Doge of Genoa from 1767 until his death in 1791.
Relics are a bedrock of the Catholic Church. “In opposition to the Iconoclasts ... the Second Council of Nicaea anathematized those who despised holy relics and laid down that no church should be consecrated without them... The theological foundation of the cult of relics was worked out by the Schoolmen, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, on the principles laid down by Jerome and Augustine. ... In the 16th century the doctrine was confirmed by the Council of Trent...” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, 1997, p. 1388). To combat the always looming threat of fakes, the Church developed a regulatory system “requir[ing] the authentication of relics if they were to be publicly venerated. They had to be sealed in a reliquary and accompanied by a certificate of authentication, signed and sealed by someone in the Congregation for Saints, or by the local Bishop where the saint lived. Without such authentication, relics are not to be used for public veneration. The Congregation for Saints, as part of the Roman Curia, holds the authority to verify relics in which documentation is lost or missing. The documents and reliquaries of authenticated relics are usually affixed with a wax seal” (Wikipedia, article “Relics”).
Although these printed forms provide a glimpse of a veritable industry of relic certificates, the rules governing the process were, and remain, rigorous. The Council of Trent decreed, for example, that “in this matter bishops should make use of the advice of theologians and of other pious persons. It would seem that among the latter should be included those who are trained experts in history and archaeology.... The bishop must take care that the relics which are to be authenticated are such as can be exposed fittingly to the veneration of the faithful....He must inquire as to the identity of the relic, i.e. that it really belongs to the saint to whom it is ascribed. ... Among the principal proofs relied upon are: tradition or the veneration by the Church for a long time; the testimony of pious persons worthy of faith and beyond exception, ... or the writing that is found with the relics; and miracles which are done or have been done through their instrumentality. Relics which are recently discovered or produced for the first time cannot be exposed to the veneration of the faithful until they have been duly authenticated and approved” (E. Taunton, The Law of the Church: A Cyclopedia of Canon Law , pp. 54-55). Whether these rules were observed to the letter or not, authentication certificates, known in English as “authentics,” granted the right to place and exhibit the relic for the veneration of the faithful in any church, oratory, or chapel.
Formulaic phrases came to be used in the authentications (still used in modified forms today). While subject to variation, the consecratory significance remained the same, as is evident from the present documents. Also obvious is the virtually equal importance of the vessels holding the holy relics: usually provided with one or two rock crystal faces, to enable viewing of the relic, these reliquaries, almost always of gold or silver and embellished with filigree or bejeweled decoration, are described in at least as much or more detail than the relics themselves.
As explained in two full-page manuscript notes at the head of the volume, dated 1758 and 1763, the present volume contains authentications of relics held in two large silver urns, labeled urn A and urn B, kept in the “new” private family chapel in the apartments of Maria Maddalena Durazzo (1715-1780), Marcello’s wife (and cousin). It contains fourteen authentication documents, dating from 1661 to 1794, though most are from the 1730s to 1760s (the document from 1794 is a later, loose insert). Twelve are printed forms completed in manuscript and signed by the officials named in the headings, including Bishops, Archbishops and protonotaries from Genoa or Rome but also from as far afield as Myra in Asia Minor or Porphyreon (present-day Jieh, Lebanon). The documents were issued from Rome, Genoa, the Bishopric of Minerbino (near Bari), and Venice, provided with the requisite seals or stamps, and witnessed, often several years later, by clerics receiving them in Genoa (though one is witnessed by one of the family members, one Maria Anna Durazzi). Two further authentics at the end are entirely in manuscript; written from Genoa in a hasty and barely legible scrawl, they appear to relate to the bequest in 1762 of a group of relics from Marcello Durazzo’s mother Paola Fransona Durazzo, to her daughter in law “Manin” (i.e., Maria Maddalena?) Durazzo, the contents of which are itemized in a four-page list. This unusual list consists of a veritable catalogue, not directly of the relics per se, but of the authentications of the relics, apparently necesary for record-keeping since the documents themselves are not present in the volume.
Among the relics listed in the authentics and in the manuscript catalogue of other authentics a rather large proportion are fragments of the Virgin’s veil. There are also several pieces of the Cross, of which one is itself in the form of a cross, and is housed in a cruciform crystal and gilt bronze reliquary; fragments of the bones of St. Anne, of Saints Mary Magdalene, Francis de Sales, Jeanne de Chantal (founder of the Visitation order), the Apostle Paul, Luigi Gonzaga, Andrea Avellino, Paola Matrona Romana, the Patriarch St. Dominic (founder of the Dominican order), St. Francis of Paola (founder of the order of the Minims), St. Paschal of Baylon, St. James the Apostle and St. Anthony the Abbott (or the Great). Moving beyond bones, there are hairs of St. Catherine of Bologna, teeth of St. Placid, parts of the intestines (Precordi) of St. Frances of Rome and St. Filippo Neri, drops of blood and fat of the martyred St. Lawrence, pieces of the cloak of St. Joseph, of the cowl of Francis of Assisi, of the sheet in which St. Alexander Sauli slept, and of Pope Pius V’s belt, vest, ashes, and Agnus Dei (small wax disks impressed with the figure of the Lamb; these were blessed at certain seasons by the Pope and sometimes worn as objects of devotion), and the complete remains of St. Justin Martyr. (A full list of contents in note form is available on request.)
When any of the relics (such as the body of St. Justin Martyr, authenticated on 14 August 1758), had to be opened, were moved or exhibited, a new authentication was required, and full details of the relic’s movements or adjustments are provided (St. Justin’s head, for example, required some “stabilization” after it was moved to the public chapel next to the family’s Ramairone villa...).
A few authentics mention the Durazzos specifically or state that the relics were sent as a gift from the Pope, e.g., the second printed document, “from the desk of” Fr. Silvester Merani, Titular Bishop of Porphyreon, signed and dated 19 May 1742, certifying a piece of the Veil of the Virgin, from the church of St. Anastasia in Rome, sent by special order of Pope Benedict XIV; or the authentication of the aforementioned body of St. Justin Martyr, also from Merani (though the printed form is different), dated 14 August 1758, which states that the relic was sent from the Cemeterio [that word being part of the printed formulary] S. Calista, by order of Pope Clement XIII, as a gift to his Excellence Master Marcello, Marquess Durazzo. (The catacombs of St. Callixtus, from the third century the officlal burying ground of the Church in Rome, contained the remains of dozens of martyrs and hundreds of early Christians, and naturally became one of the principal officially sanctioned sources of relics.) These surprising asides seem to imply that relics, which could of course never be sold, could nonetheless be “earned” as a reward for influence or an acknowledgement of social prestige.
The sumptuous embroidered binding appears to date from the second half of the 18th century. Embroidered bindings from this period are usually smaller; examples of this size and quality very seldom survive in such good condition, and surface very rarely on the market. Item #2852