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  • Giovanni of Capestrano's Liturgical Office for the Feast of Saint Bernardino of Siena
  • Daniele Solvi (bio)

In the years following the death of Bernardino of Siena (1444) Giovanni of Capestrano was intensely involved with the tasks of his role as the main supporter of the cause of canonization. This project, which finally came to be realized in the Jubilee year of 1450, was close to his heart for both personal reasons and for the legitimating power that a Bernardino who had been proclaimed a saint would have for advancing the interests of the Observant movement. Along with a feverish diplomatic activity carried out by Giovanni in the triangle of Siena-Aquila-Rome, he developed a role in the construction of the written memory of his Franciscan brother.1 He promoted the registration of miracles both before and after the canonization, and assigned to Leonardo Benvoglienti of Siena the task of writing a Vita to document the early life - that is, the story not well known to the wider public - of the candidate for sainthood. Giovanni in turn also dedicated himself to the writing of a Vita, which incorporated Benvoglienti's material and then carried the story to Bernardino's death.2 Capestrano also composed [End Page 49] an Office dedicated to the liturgical celebration of the feast of his brother once he had been proclaimed a saint.3

The sung parts of the text have come down to us, thanks to Francesco Aringhieri and Agostino Borghesi, ambassadors of Siena in Venice. Capestrano had encountered them there between the end of November and the beginning of December, 1450, and had asked them to take the Office to Siena, where he argued that it was not yet known. According to the account of Aringhieri, Pope Nicholas V had himself commissioned the work from the Franciscans, who had in turn tasked Giovanni, and the text had already been duly approved. If this notice refers to the authority of the Order, it could have only happened at Pentecost in 1449, when the general chapters of the Cistmontane Observants and the Friars Minor were held, respectively, at Bosco al Mugello and at Florence. But this dating is too early with respect to the canonization of the saint. It thus seems more probable - at least if there was not a misunderstanding on the part of the ambassador - that there had been direct papal approval. In any case, the copy the ambassadors made was then transcribed by Aringhieri in a letter of December 28, 1450 and sent to Siena.4 Although the text is perfectly understandable, the various sections of the Office follow one another in an order that is not always correct, and there is no shortage of readings that at first glance seem corrupt. These might be due to the liturgical and linguistic inexperience of an improvising copyist, but we cannot rule out the possibility that they might also reflect the condition of the original - perhaps a work manuscript of the author rather than a clean copy.

The historical and editorial uncertainties I have outlined here - and that I do not intend to address in this contribution - arise also from the fact that since 1962, the year in which Enrico Bulletti had given notice of the text and published a provisional edition, the Office has essentially avoided scholarly criticism. It is quite clear, however, given the prominence of the author, its official commission and early appearance, that it numbers among the most important texts in Bernardino's hagiographic dossier. I therefore propose a hagiographical reading of the text that will take into account the internal economy of the work, and that explains its symbolic significance in light of relationships with the broader hagiographical production surrounding both Bernardino and [End Page 50] other Observant preachers.5 The aim I have set for myself is to reconstruct in its fundamentals the image of the saint as outlined by Giovanni of Capestrano, as evidence of the awareness of a proper historical role and of a specific ecclesial function as it developed in Observant circles after Bernardino.

Bernardino, a Sienese Saint?

The hymn for Vespers that opens the Office calls all of the cities tied to the memory...


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