Michał Spandowski A Trace of Savonarola in the National Library of Poland

The Dominicans’ Monastery of the Holy Blood in Graz (the capital of Styria) was founded by Emperor Frederick III in 1466. In 1585, when the Jesuits arrived in Graz, the Dominicans were forced to turn the building over to them and to move to the suburban Church of St. Andrew, on the site of which a new, magnificent temple was built from 1616. In 1807 the monastic buildings were taken over for military purposes, and the expelled monks settled at the parish church of St. Anne. This monastery was in turn closed in 1852, and the buildings were turned over to the Jesuits. The Dominicans returned to this location five years later, and the reactivated studium generale was in operation until 1938. During World War II the monastery was partly destroyed.

The book collection had been established in the monastery from the beginning of its existence.  It was largely dispersed in Napoleonic times and incurred losses again during World War II. At present it contains ca. 16,000 volumes, including 62 incunabula.

From a comparison of the dates, it follows that Ławrowski had to have come into possession of our incunable in 1807 (or soon thereafter), when the expelled Dominicans were unable to take the entire book collection with them.  Since the time of Emperor Joseph II’s reforms, books from the libraries of suppressed monasteries were usually sold. Many books of such provenance were incorporated in the University Library of Lviv, where the collection had been built up since 1784. Apparently, Ławrowski also made use of this occasion.

The Dominicans in Graz came into possession of the incunable in 1521, according to the entry placed on the recto of the first leaf of the text: “Suscipite queso carissimi hunc libru[m] grato a[n]i[m]o fr[atre]s  a  co[n]uentu  frisacensi  [con]uentui  gräcensi  imposteru[m] ascribendu[m] [et] p[ro] nu[n]c  dono dam[us] anno 1521” (fig. 3).  This shows that the book was a gift from a Dominican monastery1 in Friesach.

The Dominicans arrived in Friesach, the oldest town of Carynthia, in 1217, and in 1251 they obtained permission to build a monastery on the site where it still stands today. The prime years of the monastery lasted until the end of the 14th century.  In 1672 a fire consumed the entire complex, including the library. The monastery was emptied completely in the 19th century and, subsequently, in 1858 was leased to the Dominicans. The Dominicans returned to their seat in 1890 and have resided there ever since. The book collection, built from scratch chiefly from gifts after 1672, numbers at present ca. 7,500 volumes, including 15 incunabula.   

In 1521, the library of the monastery in Friesach probably held many editions of the Summa by St. Thomas Aquinas, since the decision was made to donate such a precious gift to the brothers from a younger monastic house.2 This, however, is something that we may only surmise in a situation where the entire library burned down in the 17th century, our volume surviving only because it had previously been donated to another monastery.

We know thus that in 1521 the book left the library in Friesach, but when and under what circumstances did it arrive there? Here we are confined to pure guesswork, for while we know the first owner of our book, its further whereabouts are uncertain.

Hence, prior to producing any hypotheses, let us deliberate on the facts.

The first buyer and reader of the book signed himself next to the colophon as follows: “Iste liber e[st] michi concessus fr[atr]i hieronymo de feraria que[m] emi uenetijs.”  This is followed by the date as printed in the colophon: “M. CCCC.lxxix,” after which comes the next part of the entry: “die 14 augusti [...]"3 (fig. 4), hence we are to understand that the book was bought on the 14th of August 1479.4

1 Another source of proof is that in the quoted entry there is no mention of the convent’s name; moreover,  while book exchanges  between monasteries of the same order were very frequent, they practically never occurred  between  monasteries of different orders.

2 The matter is all the more obvious where it concerns probably the most important theologian in history who was a Dominican himself.  

3 The end of this entry is nearly indecipherable. Perhaps it is an abbreviated price entry. 

4 This entry enables us also to specify the date of the printing: instead of the formerly cited “1479,” the proper date of printing is [before 14 August] 1479.