Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202) and Anselmus, Bishop of Marsico, Vaticinia, siue prophetiæ Abbatis Joachimi, & Anselmi episcopi Marsicani

The August rare book of the month is Vaticinia, siue prophetiæ Abbatis Joachimi, & Anselmi episcopi Marsicani, by Joachim of Fiore (1132-1202) and Anselmus, Bishop of Marsico, a work printed in Venice by Girolamo Porro in 1589. The book is lavishly illustrated with thirty engraved portraits of Popes with Latin captions and Italian translations. The engravings include a plate entitled 'Oraculum Turcicum' with an engraved caption in Turkish characters.

Joachim of Fiore (also known as ‘of Flora’) was a Cistercian abbot who was said to have “received celestial illumination” while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He joined the Abbey of Corazzo, a Cistercian monastery where he was ordained as a priest in 1168. He was given leave by Pope Lucius III to concentrate solely on his studies into the “hidden meaning of the scriptures” in 1182, upon which he moved to the Abbey of Casamari, where he was able to concentrate on writing his three great books. Urban III confirmed this special dispensation (“papal approbation”) in 1185, and again in 1187 by Clement III. By 1198 he had founded the Abbey of Fiore, which was a “stricter branch of the Cistercian Order”, approved by Celestine III. He died before any of his writings could be approved by Innocent III. Dante described Joachim as one “endowed with prophetic spirit”, although Joachim himself did not see himself as a prophet. His three main works, Liber Concordiae Novi ac Veteris Testamenti, Expositio in Apocalipsim, and Psalterium Decem Cordarum all focus on “scriptural prophecy, with reference to the history and the future of the [Catholic] Church”.

Not much is known about Anselmus, Bishop of Marsico (died 1210), to whom the second set of prophecies in this work is attributed. More about his work (in Italian) can be found here:

The book overall concerns two sets of mystical prophecies regarding the Catholic Church and the papacy, illustrated by individual portraits. Each portrait outlines a prophecy in relation to the pope depicted- “[consisting] of four elements, an enigmatic allegorical text, an emblematic picture, a motto, and an attribution to a pope.” Current scholarship shows that the attributions of these prophetic texts (originally derived from the Byzantine Leo Oracles) were falsely attributed to Joachim of Fiore and Anselmus. The text was widely circulated in manuscript form throughout the medieval period.  

The Vaticinia is an emblem book- a type of work which uses pictorial and literary representations to express an abstract idea. Emblems were used to “communicate moral, political, or religious values in ways that have to be decoded by the viewer”. An emblem consists of three parts: a motto, illustration and “an epigrammatic gloss (often in verse but sometimes in prose)”. Andrea Alciati’s Emblemata, printed in Augsburg in 1531 is the first emblem book to be printed, and the Library has a third edition (1581) of this work. Emblem books were very popular during the Renaissance period, with Alciati’s appearing in close to 200 editions after 1531. They have become important tools for researchers in a variety of fields as they cross across a wide range of social, decorative and art history topics.

Renae Satterley

Librarian, August 2016