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Friday, May 21, 2010

Life in 13th Century Parma



Parma: Cathedral and Baptistry





Parma: Baptistry: Interior





Parma: Duomo: Interior



Parma: Medieval Bishop`s palace


Parma Vicolo del Medioevo, L'antico xenodochio


Salimbene di Adam or Salimbene of Parma (9 October 1221–c. 1290), was a Franciscan friar in Parma.

His Cronica describes his times.

The English version is : Salimbene of Parma, Cronica, ed. Giuseppe Scalia (Bari: Laterza, 1966); trans. Joseph L. Baird et al., The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 40 (Binghamton, N.Y. Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1986)


As a small boy, the Franciscan Salimbene heard from his father, Guido di Adamo, how, when construction of the new Parma baptistery began in 1196, he and other men of the city put stones into the foundation as memorials of their families.

The Parma baptistery opened twenty years later for the Easter baptisms of 1216. Fra Salimbene’s house was right next door. In his chronicle, the friar proudly records his own baptism there at Easter in 1221.

He describes how in the early 1200s Don Guidolino of Enzola, a wealthy citizen of Parma, retired to town so he could live near the cathedral and its splendid baptistery.

Salimbene had seen him sitting in the piazza ‘‘thousands of times,’’ in front of the cathedral of the Blessed Virgin:

"And every day he heard Mass in the cathedral and, when he could, the Divine Offices of both day and night. And when he was not attending the church Offices, he sat with his neighbors under the community portico near the bishop’s palace, spoke of God, and listened to others speaking of him. He also used to stop the boys of the city from throwing stones at the baptistery and the cathedral, destroying the bas reliefs and frescoes. Whenever he saw any boy doing this, he would chase him down and whip him with his belt, acting as though he were the official custodian, though he did it purely out of zeal for God and divine love. . . . And once a week he prepared an open charity supper of bread, beans, and wine in the street near his house for all the poor of the city who wished to come.

Salimbene of Parma, Cronica, ed. Giuseppe Scalia (Bari: Laterza, 1966) 878-888, Baird trans., 616-7; trans. Joseph L. Baird et al., The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 40 (Binghamton, N.Y. Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1986)


In medieval times processions were a common ritual. They were an expression of "corporate identity". Men and women, clergy and laity, could and did take part in processions. They could traverse not simply a single neighbourhood but the entire city.

Processions were for various occasions and purposes.

Salimbene describes the penance procession organised by Manfredo of Coranzano at Parma on 3rd June 1239. The clergy and people carried the relic of the True Cross, and God showed his favour by an eclipse during the very ceremony

In the twelfth century, there appeared the "penitents": laypeople who took up a life of asceticism after conversion. Penitents lived at home and laboured at their crafts just like their neighbours. They simply changed their clothing and abandoned a ‘‘worldly’’ style of life.

Salimbene describes the life of one: Giovanni Buono of Mantua (ca. 1168?–1294). He spent the first forty years of his life as a dissolute minstrel, wandering about northern Italy. During a severe illness, fear of death led him to petition Bishop Enrico of Mantua for permission to become a penitent. He practiced fearful mortifications and sought seclusion, first in a hermitage near Cesena and later near Mantua. But he could not escape devotees and admirers. At his death, a spontaneous cult developed, and another early canonization commission investigated his life

Lay prophets were another feature of medieval life.

Salimbene describes the illiterate cobbler Asdente ("The Toothless"), of Parma.

He was a simple craftsman whose large teeth caused a speech impediment. The chronicler Salimbene insisted that he could predict the future ‘‘like Abbot Joachim, Merlin, Methodius, the Sibyls, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Daniel, the Apocalypse, and Michael the Scot.’’

In 1282, Asdente predicted the August death of Nicholas III and the election of Martin IV. He predicted the destruction of Parma’s rival Modena and on another occasion the defeat of the Pisan navy by Genoa.

Salimbene admired his hometown prophet because Asdente was unpretentious and humble. Bishop Obizzo of Parma (but see below) agreed. He used to invite the cobbler to dinner at the episcopal palace to hear his views on  ecclesiastical and secular politics. Asdente obligingly predicted tribulations for Reggio and Parma after the death of Martin IV and then added that Martin would be followed by three popes, two of which would be illegitimate.

However others like Dante, thought Parma’s prophet was a fraud. He placed him in Hell

Salimbene describes the beginning of the popular cult of Alberto of Villa d`Ogna, a wine porter. Alberto was a humble and pious labourer, who had died at Cremona in 1279. Reports of miracles at his tomb threw his hometown into religious exaltation.

Reports reached Piacenza, where a chronicler recorded the death of ‘‘Saint Alberto, a man splendid for his miracles.’and spread throughout Lombardy.

A group of wine carriers from Parma, went on pilgrimage to his tomb and several of them reported cures. They returned to Parma with relics of Alberto.

At Parma itself, they got permission to display the relics in San Pietro near Piazza Nuova. Wine carriers began to congregate and venerate the relics.

Soon the clergy joined the laity in flocking to Alberto’s new shrine at Parma.

The commune and the clergy erected pavilions and stretchers for the sick in the Piazza del Comune, facing the duomo of San Giminiano. The cathedral clergy offered solemn Masses daily. Cures multiplied. The ministers of the city, the wine carriers, and other devotees decorated Alberto’s shrine in San Pietro with purple drapes, damask hangings, and a baldachino.

Offerings estimated at the extraordinary sum of £300 imp. were collected. These permitted the commune to purchase the Malabranchi family’s house in Strada Claudia, near the church of Santo Stefano, and establish there a hospital for the sick and poor, the Hospital of Saint Alberto.

On his festival, the societies of the city processed through town with the reliquaries, carrying crosses and banners and singing. Priests erected images of him in their churches at popular request, and the city had his image painted on porticoes and city walls.

From there, images and devotions spread to the villages and castles of the Parmese contado.

Lay devotion powered the canonization of Saint Alberto, the spread of his cult, and its subsequent patronage by the commune.

The supervision of the cult was the work of the city government, which collected the offerings and oversaw expenditures. Clerical involvement began with the clergy of the chapels where the cult was located. It spread to the duomo after the people and commune demanded more splendid and public veneration

Salimbene comments negatively on the reports and on the growing cult. Alberto was a drunkard, said Fra Salimbene, and his devotees were a pack of wine guzzlers and silly women. The Inquisition eventually suppressed the cult

Visits to shrines could on occasion mean more than a visit of one hour. Some pilgrims had extended vigils even staying overnigt. For eample, Salimbene himself spent a night in the cave of Saint Mary Magdalen near Marseilles.

Kneeling to pray or express reverence was relatively new in the thirteenth century, and it was a lay habit The clergy chanted their prayers sitting or standing. Priests still made a deep bow to the cross as a gesture of respect; the lay faithful preferred to kneel.

Salimbene of Parma noted that thirteenth-century layfolk not only knelt to pray, they were rapidly adopting the single-knee genuflection— especially at the elevation of the Host. The lay practice of genuflecting instead of bowing at the elevation was partially motivated by the desire to keep visual contact with the Host.

The call for liturgical reform is not a new one. Salimbene had rather critical views about the thirteenth century Office:

"Up to the present day, some flaws remain, as many men say, and it is indeed true. For the liturgy contains much that is superfluous, which causes boredom rather than devotion, both to the congregation and to the celebrants. Take, for example, the hour of prime on Sunday: priests are required to say their own private Masses, forcing the laity to wait impatiently. There is no celebrant, for he is still occupied. The same is true with the recitation of the eighteen psalms in the office of nocturns on Sunday before the Te Deum Laudamus, both in the winter and in the summertime, with its short nights, intense heat, and pestiferous flies: only weariness comes forth from such an ordeal. Even now, there are many things in the service that could be changed for the better, and rightly so, since, though not recognized by everyone, it is full of crudities."
Salimbene, Cronica (1215), 43, Baird trans., 4-5

But there was no criticism of The Mass from Salimbene:

"In the time of the celebration of the holy Mass, who among the faithful can doubt that the heavens open at the voice of the priest, that a chorus of angels is present at that mystery of Jesus Christ, that the depths are joined to the heights, that heaven and earth are joined, that invisible things are made visible."

Priests existed to say Mass for the people, living and dead. This was the priest’s unique privilege and his most serious obligation. To ensure that new priests celebrated correctly and with proper reverence, each had an older, pious priest assigned to teach the chants and motions. Fra Guglielmo of Piedmont so taught Salimbene of Parma. Salimbene never forgot this act of kindness.

Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament was great in the thirteenth century. Reservation of the Sacrament was increasingly common at that time.

Salimbene gives three arguments for reservation of the Sacrament in churches. It allowed convenience in taking Communion to the sick it allowed the faithful to show devout and due reverence to Christ’s Body
and it was a tangible sign of Christ’s promise to stay with us always

However he noticed that easy access to the reserved Sacrament freed the priest on days of general Communion from having to count out the proper number of Hosts for those communicating.

He needed only to consecrate a few, or only one, and then use the reserved sacrament for the rest. Likewise, adding Hosts to the pyx was an easy solution if too many were consecrated. With disgust, Salimbene watched a sacristan climb up to put extra Hosts in a hanging pyx during the middle of a general Communion of the friars. Like the manna in the desert, the Hosts should be used the day they are consecrated, Salimbene complained, and not ‘‘kept until the next day.’’ Nor he said was there any excuse for interrupting Mass to get Communion for the sick from the pyx; a priest should say a private Mass and consecrate the Hosts needed.

For Salimbene, during Communion, heaven joined with earth.

Salimbene thought it suitable to communicate whenever the recipient felt free of mortal sin—although he did recommend abstaining occasionally, out of recognition that no one is ever truly worthy of so great a gift. However it was the practice tat before one received Communion, there should always be a period of preparation which included Confession and meditation on the great gift to sinners of the true Body and Blood of Christ.

The reception of Communion was never a trivial matter. That is why Salimbene [and others] remarked on the many who [mistakenly] abstained from Communion out of humility

The confessional box was stiulated for in the Council of Trent. Like many priests of the time, Salimbene heard sins behind the high altar.

Having a "good death" fortified by the rites of the Church was regarded as essential.

Salimbene recorded how Ser Lodovico of San Bonifacio, former podesta of Reggio, died on the feast of Saint Martin of Tours in 1283 in the presence of his Franciscan confessors, after ‘‘setting his soul in order in the finest manner.’’

He left his horse and arms to the Franciscans of the city. All the townspeople came to view his body, which was dressed in scarlet, with a cape and cap of vair, girded with a sword, wearing golden spurs and fancy gloves

However Salimbene described two ‘‘bad deaths.’’

Giuliano de’ Sessi of Reggio, a persecutor of the Church, in 1249 "passed from this world, wholly stinking, excommunicated, and cursed; without confession, without Communion, and without making satisfaction, on his way to the Devil."

Of particular horror to Salimbene was the death of a sinner like the worldly Bishop Obizzo of Parma. He supposedly refused deathbed Communion, saying he did not believe in it. But he also said he liked being bishop for the money. Fra Salimbene had no doubt he was rotting in hell

Salimbene also offers us a picture of Bishop Obizzo of Parma eating with the "pseudo-holyman" Gerard Segarello. Salimbene had low regard for this enthusiast for the apostolic life; he describes him as "lowly born, an illiterate layman, ignorant and foolish." Bishop Obizzo had him chained up and put in prison for practicing syneisaktism, an ancient ascetic practice of testing one's chastity by sleeping among women.

After a period of imprisonment, however, the bishop "released him and kept him in his palace. And when the bishop ate, this one also ate in the hall of the palace at the lower table, where others were eating with the bishop, and he enjoyed drinking exquisite wines and eating delicate foods. When the bishop began drinking wine, that one called out to all hearing that he too wanted that wine, and immediately the bishop sent it to him."

But other bishops are singled out for praise by Salimbene.

The archbishop of Embrun was "a good singer, a good cleric, who loved so much the Alleluia canticle of blessed Francis, namely 'O patriarch of the poor,' that he composed a hymn in honor of the glorious Virgin using the same melody. The verse went like this:

"O Mary, comforter of the poor,
By your prayers, increase the number
of your [people] in the love of Christ!
Those whom you, o mother,
Snatch from the clutches of death
Through your humble son."

Salimbene depicts the archbishop of Ravenna strolling through his palace singing antiphons in honour of the Blessed Virgin,

The Inquisition was also present in Parma .

Salimbene records a celebrated incident involving the Inquisition in Parma.

In 1279, the inquisitor Fra Florio sent to the stake a certain Todesca, wife of Ubertino Blancardo, from the contrada of San Giacopo. She had been a servant of an authentic heretic, the well-to-do Donna Oliva de’ Fredolfi.

Todesca’s neighbours objected to this imputation of guilt by association. They stormed the Dominican convent, looted and burned it, and killed one of the friars, Fra Giacomo de’ Ferrari.

The friars left the city in procession and complained to the papal legate at Florence, Cardinal Latino. He excommunicated the commune and put the city under interdict. Parmese opinion was outraged: the city itself had no guilt in the matter. Negotiations to remove the censures lasted until 1282, when the commune paid large fines and imposed draconian punishments on the looters. The incident became, in popular lore, a classical example of clerical overreaching.

As mentioned above, a Franciscan Inquisitor suppressed the cult of St Alberto of Villa d’Ogna, the wine porter of Cremona. He was a very popular saint in Parma and its region.