Dominican Lectores in Florence during the 14th century

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Weiss. 40 (4124) [15th c. mid.],73v-94 [Terms of Use, CC BY-SA 3.0]
Author Lorenza Tromboni
Theme(s) Medieval Manuscripts
Period(s) 1250-1450
Status final version






This ARG aims to provide information on Dominican lectores (teachers) in the Florentine convent of Santa Maria Novella in 14th century. After a brief introduction, focused on the role of the lector (teacher), the Florentine context and contemporary historiographical sources, there is a list of the most important lectores, from Remigio de' Girolamo (1240-1319) to Leonardo Dati (1365ca-1425). In the subnotes for each lector the date of birth and death, a list of works, modern editions and manuscripts, and short bibliography will be provided.

Single authors entries come from CALMA, Compendium Auctorum latinorum Medii Aevi, with additions on vernacular works.  


The lector and his role in Dominican education

The lector was the key figure of the Mendicant Orders's teaching activity. He taught mainly theology, but could also teach philosophy and logic. During the 14th century some orders insisted that a lector must have taught logic and philosophy for at least a year or more, if he was to be appointed. Within the Dominican order, the lectores cursores read the Sententiae of Peter Lombard. In the most important convents, the friars could benefit from the presence of two lectores: a principal lector and a bachelor or a sub-lector for the Sentences. Apart from teaching classes, the principal lector managed disputes.

The Dominican order established another figure, who was later found in other orders: the magister studentium. He organized exercises and disputes, provided assistance to the students and taught philosophy.

In the studia generalia ordinis (principal convents focused on the education of friars) there were four teachers:

  • the principal lector: he could be a theology teacher and was responsible for the entire studium
  • the second or sub-lector: he read the Sentences of Peter Lombard and he was also called the lector cursor
  • the magister studentium: he assisted the students and helped them in the course and in the disputes
  • the lector biblicus: he read the Bible to the students

The teaching activity of the lector consisted of lessons, disputes and readings (repetitiones). Disputes were conducted by the teachers and the most learned students were invited to take part. The best-known and documentated form were the solemn debates, divided in ordinary and de quodlibet (disputes in which friars could discuss several different topics). Sometimes, the lector and his assistants helped the students by repeating the lessons with them, and asking questions to check their preparation.  

Several tools were employed by the friars for teaching: encyclopedias, florilegia (collections of relevant sayings), and compilations of texts, often produced by the teaching friars. Important examples of medieval authors who such teaching tools are:

  • the Flemish Dominican Thomas of Cantimpré, author of the De natura rerum
  • the Dominican Vincent of Beauvais, author of the Speculum maius - arguably the best-known encyclopedia of the Middle Ages - was sub-prior of the Parisian convent of Saint-Jacques and a lector in the Cistercian abbey of Royaumont.

For reading of the Bible, glosses and Biblical concordances were often compiled by the lector himself. The friars used to compile their own tools for grammar, logic, philosophy and for studying the Sentences. In addition, commentaries on the works of eminent brothers, notably Thomas Aquinas, were used or abridged.     

Apart from lessons, the preparation and capability of each lector was fundamental. A good lector had experience and competence, and could manage different topics that were related to each other. He could also, if required, introduce questions or notabilia and show the correct division of the texts.  

The Dominican constitutions of 1220 stated that every convent should have a prior and a doctor and that the community should focus on the study of theology. The convent itself was conceived as a theology school, following canonical prohibitions concerning other disciplines. Only selected friars had permission to read and study non-theological texts, such as philosophical or scientific treatises. With the passage of time, exceptions increased until several convents were established schools (studia) of grammar, logic and philosophy. These schools were intended as preparatory courses to the study of theology.

The role of the Dominican order in 14th century in Florence was crucial, as the Dominicans shaped the most important Italian preachers and intellectuals of the Late Middle Ages. Preachers such as Remigio de Girolami, Giordano da Pisa and Giovanni Dominici were important for the life of their order and for the cultural life of the city of Florence. The presence of these friars was valuable for the young Dominicans who listened to their lessons, and their preaching, often in the vernacular, shaped Florentine society itself.


See Kienzle 2000, CISAM 1995, Abdersson 2008, Reichert 1899, Mulchahey 1998, Maierù 2002.

Florentine History - 14th century

The history of Florence in the 14th century is characterized by political instability that was reflected in many different aspects of the city life. 

  • 1300 Jubilee. Dante Alighieri's (1265-1321) imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise (Commedia) is set in this year. In Florence, the Guelph party split in two factions. The Guelfi Neri of Corso Donati is close to the papacy and formed by people of noble descent. The Guelfi Bianchi of Vieri de' Cerchi are opposed to papal influence and papacy and are formed by merchants and bankers, the so-called popolo grasso 
  • 1302 Charles, Count of Valois, arrives in Florence. He is sent by Pope Boniface VIII to balance the critical situation of the city. Charles however fosters the Guelfi Neri, and the Bianchi, including Dante among their number, are banished
  • 29 August 1315  Uguccione della Faggiuola defeats the Florentine forces in the battle of Montecatini [08/29/1315] (near Lucca)
  • 1320 Giotto paints the frescos in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels in the Church of Santa Croce
  • 1325 Castruccio Castracani defeats the Florentine forces at the battle of Altopascio (near Lucca) 
  • 1326 Charles, Duke of Calabria and son of Robert of Anjou, is elected signore of Florence. Charles dies in 1328 in Naples while attempting to foil the Emperor Louis IV ("The Bavarian")
  • 1334 Giotto plans his square-based bell tower, which will be finished later by Francesco Talenti in 1359 
  • 1340- In the 1340s the banks of the Peruzzi, Acciaiuoli and Bardi collapse, destroying many small businesses.
  • 1342-1343 Walter VI, Count of Brienne  , attemps unsuccessfully to establish a Signoria in Florence. On 26 July 1343 the Florentines rise up against the "Duke of Athens" (as Gualtieri was called), and expel him from the city
  • 1348 The Plague arrives in Florence, causing the death of half of the population dies. Giovanni Villani dies, leaving his Cronica unfinished. Matteo Villani, his brother, continues the work until his death. Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron is set in this period
  • 1375-1377 Otto Santi War [01/01/1375]-[12/31/1378]. Florence defends itself from the claims of Pope Gregory XI. Machionne di Coppo Stefani and Matteo Villani record these events in their historiographical works
  • 1378 The Ciompi revolt [06/01/1378]-[08/31/1378]. Textile workers claim better working conditions

Florentine Chronicles

The chronicle tradition is based on, and elaborates, elements of civic political identity. For this reason, chronicles are important in order to understand a text's historical context.

Definition of a chronicle 

Major Florentine chroniclers:

  • Dino Compagni (1246/7-1324), Cronica

Bibliography on Dino Compagni

Bibliografy on Giovanni Villani

Bibliography on Matteo Villani

  • Marchionne di Coppo Stefani (1336-1385), Istoria

Bibliography on Marchionne di Coppo Stefani (Baldassarre Buonaiuti)

Florentine lectores in Santa Maria Novella: A Survey

Remigio dei Girolami (c. 1240-1319)  

Ricoldo da Monte Croce (1242-1320) 

Giordano da Pisa (c. 1260-1310)

Bartolomeo da San Concordio (1262-1347)

Taddeo Dini (1283/84-1359)

Iacopo Passavanti (1302-15/06/1357)

Francesco da Prato (1330-1345)

Stefano da Rieti (fl. 1331-1345)

Domenico Pantaleoni (b. 1336 ca., d. 28-8-1376)

Giovanni Dominici (1356/7-1419)

Leonardo Dati (1365-1425)

Simone da Cascina (fl. 1380-1417)

Bartolomeo Tebaldi de Urbeveteri (1386 - after 11-9-1423)



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