Naples: per maestro Ioanne Sulsbach [Giovanni Sultzbach] Alemano, 1532.
Octavo: 20 x 14.5 cm. 49,  lvs. Collation: A-L4, M6
Bound in contemporary vellum (a bit wrinkled, small defects to spine) with a contemporary Sicilian gift inscription occupying the full length of the lower cover: “Al mio padre Gia[como] Batt[ist]a Serabone [?] della Compagnia del Giesu. Messina.” Inscription on title (scored through) “Collegii Messiniensis Soc. Jesu.”; 16th or 17th c. ownership inscription on title: "Custodia Caraffa" and associated ownership inscription on leaf B1 verso, “Questo libro è dela S[uor] Custodia et S[uor] Ginobia Carrafe” with the subscription “Vittoria Caraffa”. 19thc. book ticket on front pastedown: “Jacob Manzoni” (1816-1889), whose library was dispersed in various auctions between 1892 and 1894; 20th c. book ticket “Libreria Rappaport”(Rome).
Contents in overall good condition but with several gatherings browned and other minor faults: title page foxed and lightly soiled, with small marginal chips and a couple of stains; several gatherings (as well as the margins of a few other leaves) with damp-stains to margins. With a large title page woodcut (see below) and unusual, intricate woodcut initials. A search of KVK, OCLC, EDIT16, and Universal STC finds only a single copy (Biblioteca nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III, Naples.)
An extremely rare Neapolitan printing of a life of Saint Agnello (“Aniello the Abbot)”, co-patron saint of Naples (b. ca. 535- d. ca. 596), responsible (in life and in death) for numerous miraculous healings. The title page woodcut depicts the Saint towering over Naples, carrying a banner, protecting the city from the Lombard invasion of 581. The book is replete with accounts of miraculous healings, including exorcisms, performed by the saint.
The book is listed in EDIT16 under the name of “Petrus Subdiaconus”, 10th c. monk of Monte Cassino and sub-deacon of St. Januarius in Naples. However, the text is not, in fact, a translation of Peter’s life of Sant’Agnello (“Libellus Miraculorum”) but rather a new, composite work by the 16th c. Augustinian Canon Giovanni da Napoli, who cites several sources for the saint’s vita (f. 4v-5r). The title page tells us that this Vita has been translated from the Latin original, which I have thus far failed to trace.
The dedication -to the Neapolitan noblewoman Vincenza Montalto, the content of the book, and the provenance indicate the book’s strong appeal for women. An early inscription (see provenance note above), indicates that the book was owned by the sisters Custodia and Ginobia [Genovia] Carrafa, possibly daughters of the woman who penned the inscription, Vittoria Caraffa.
The Vita begins with the story of Sant’Agnello’s conception, which strongly mirrors the birth of Christ. The first chapter focuses on the experience of the Saint’s mother, Giovanna, a barren (“sterile”) woman who prayed before an image of the Virgin Mary for 30 days in the hopes of conceiving a child. On the 30th day, the image of the Virgin glowed and from it emanated a voice that announced to Giovanna that she would give birth to a boy. Soon thereafter, women began to flock to the image of the Virgin (still preserved in the author’s time in the Church of Sant’Agnello) in the hope of conceiving children.
Born in Naples, Agnello was the scion of a prosperous family of Sicilian origin, and perhaps a relation of Saint Lucy, with whom he is still closely associated. Agnello spent his youth living as a hermit, first in a cave and later in the church of Santa Maria Intercede (now Sant’Agnello Maggiore.) The story that he saved the city of Naples from the Lombards in 581, while widely-known, is not found in Pietro’s life of the saint. He died at the age of 61, while a priest in the church of Santo Gaudioso, which had been founded by African clergy fleeing the Vandals. Agnello’s jawbone is preserved as a relic in a 17th c. reliquary in the Naples cathedral. His body is buried in Sant'Agnello Maggiore in Caponapoli. The saint’s cult is still active. His feast day is December 14th.
EDIT16 CNCE 50455; P. Manzi, Annali di Giovanni Sultzbach (Napoli, 1529-1544 - Capua, 1547), n. 16; USTC 847958