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A shopping list of books for college! Not any college and not books that are going to be bought by the students, but books that are going to be bought by Cisneros's secretaries and held in the library of the new Colegio de San Ildefonso. The shopping list does not include must have books, but already bought books. This suggests that the project of acquisitions for the new college had to adjust to what was possible to find in places such as Medina del Campo or Toledo. Of course, a couple of Lullist volumes are contained in the catalogue.

Madrid, BNE. MSS/20056/47, f. 4r.

Universities need books.

When the first studia were built and funded in Western Europe during the middle ages, one of the major concerns felt in their foundations was the necessity of getting books that were truthful in terms of text and gloss. Universities needed people who could seek for books, people who copied books, and people who had books that were for either rent or sale. Talking about agents, as I did in the one of my previous posts, there are several that should be counted here. Those who owned the books, those who copied them, those who were able to look for them and to attract people to academic environments in order to put books to the disposition of the institution, those who judged the validity of the books, those who taught them, and those who read them mostly in order to learn stuff from them. Normally, people did more than one thing at a time, which is the main reason why history of learning is necessarily connected to the history of the book. Many of the most important agents in history of the book were also students or scholars.

In his legal code, Las siete partidas, Alfonso X (1221-84) regulated the making, buying, renting, copying, and reading books as one of the central activities upon which a university completely depended: “Estacionarios ha menester que haya en todo estudio general para ser cumplido que tenga en sus estaciones buenos libros e legibles, e verdaderos de texto e de glosa, que los loguen a los escolares, para hacer por ellos libros de nuevo o para enmendar los que tuvieran escritos. E tal tienda o estación como esta no la debe ninguno tener sin otorgamiento del rector del estudio.” (2.31.11) Searching for books and copying them is a crucial matter. The truthfulness of the books is one of the elements central in the university. Moreover, the truthful character of the book relies on the idea that the sense of the book is constructed through writing. Such writing is never original in the sense that we tend to understand it nowadays. Two activities build truth inside the book: a faithful copy and a gloss that helps commenting the most complex passages at the center of the page without deviating from their meaning. In medieval universities, intellectual innovation and innovations in terms of ways of copying books usually go hand in hand. This is the case, for instance, of the creation of the bottega accursiana at the University of Bologna at the beginning of 13th century that represented at the same time a new method of organization of the text and a new method of transmission of a corpus of knowledge.

The beginnings of the foundation of the Colegio de San Ildefonso in the villa of Alcalá should be established between 1498-9. On March 14th 1498 the Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros places the first stone on the construction of the colegio. This building shall be of the uttermost importance for him and there he will gather some of the most important Castilian intellectuals of his time. On April 13th 1499, Pope Alexander VI will issue the famous littera gratiosa known as Inter cetera in which he authorizes the foundation of the university, among many other things. A group of humanists and professors such as Pietro Martire d’Anghiera (1457-1527) or Pedro Ciruelo (1470-1548) will constitute the intellectual core of the university in its first years, as well as the probable close assistants to the cardinal in the writing of the foundations of the university. Still, a new university needs books so the students can learn. A new university needs to acquire books and through the process of acquisition of books it is possible to read to some extent the amplitude of the intellectual project of the institution.

So, a catalogue of the books bought for the college would be really useful here. Little did I know, until this week, that such catalogue exists.

It exists in the form of a manuscript formed by 15 ff. with leather binding and classified at Biblioteca Nacional de España among the documents belonging to the Spanish historian and bibliophile José Amador de los Ríos (1818-78). One of Amador de los Ríos’s main interests was the López de Mendoza family who was related to the Colegio de San Ildefonso since its foundation, so it would be logic that a good chunk of the documentation about the institution. In a letter dated in 1535 in which Íñigo López de Mendoza de la Vega y Luna (1493-1566), Duke of the Infantado, accepts the role of protector of San Ildefonso, he points out the role of king Ferdinand and queen Isabel along with his own family in the foundation of the college: “por quanto el excelentisimo nuestro señor don fray francisco ximenez cardenal de españa arzobispo de toledo fundador y dotados del ynsigne collegio de sanct yldefonso de alcala de henares ovo dexado por protectores del mismo collegio a los muy poderosos señores los reyes de españa y a los duques del ynfantado.” Both in Luis Salazar de Castro’s Historia genealógica de la Casa de Lara and Marcel Bataillon’s Erasmo y España, the court of Íñigo López de Mendoza de la Vega y Luna was known for being a place friendly to Protestantism and Erasmism. So, would it be too much to ask that the catalogue contain some books by Ramon Llull?

Sure enough, two Lullist books are mentioned in the catalogue. Both are printed books. The first is an edition of the Arbor scientiae printed in Barcelona by Pere Posa in 1489 and acquired from Gonzalo de Ávila in Toledo for 265 maravedíes and incorporated to the library in 1503. The second is a volume entitled Liber de contemplacione printed by Jean Petit in Paris in 1505 bought by Jorge de Baracaldo in Medina del Campo for 100 maravedíes and incorporated to the library in 1507. The origins of none of the Lullist manuscripts of Cisneros are mentioned here which makes me think that they were either not intended for the university but for his own personal library or they were bought before this catalogue starts (or just both). The books cover the sides towards which the legacy of Lullism tended to be pulled apart already: the part represented by the Arbor scientiae is oriented towards the idea of the Art as a principle that can organize all knowledge; the part represented by Liber de contemplacione is oriented towards the mystic and eremitic reception of Lullism that converges with Erasmism and iluminismo at the time. The former would be defended by Proaza, Pacs, or Bovelles; the latter by Lefèvre d’Étaples or arguably Cisneros himself.

This document explains the process of acquisition of only two Lullist books from Cisneros’s library, which is interesting since it details the place where the books were bought, who bought them, their prize, and the year when they were included in the library. All of this data is frustrating because it would incredibly useful to have regarding all the Lullist volumes and not just two. I still know don’t how the four valuable manuscripts were purchased or when and where Cisneros became interested in Lullism. Nevertheless, these two books represent a certain awareness of the fact that the two most important focuses for Lullism from Cisneros’s point of view were Barcelona and the circle of the editor Pere Posa (including Pere Dagui and Jaume Janer) and Paris and the circle around the Collège du Cardinal Lemoine. It is possible to identify both tendencies inside Cisneros’s circle. The ending of Llull’s allegorical romance Blanquerna is what best represents the mystic and eremitic tendencies present in Llull’s works. In the romance, the homonymous character becomes an eremite and writes a Liber de contemplationis, after accomplishing a program of reformation of the Church as pope. The idea of spiritual reformation was of great importance to Cisneros and maybe that was the reason behind the fact that he embraces the Franciscan order in his late forties and changes his name from Gonzalo to fray Francisco.

Moreover, it would possible to argue that all the political activities that the cardinal was able to accomplish were modeled after the model of Blanquerna. His moments of political influence and power (Confessor of the queen Isabel, Archbishop of Granada, Regent of the Crown in two different occasions) were windows into political action oriented to reformation of the institutions, the foundation of the college would allow him a place for retirement. The only two problems with this interpretation are that Cisneros’s life kept being pulled back to politics constantly to the extent he died on the way to greet the new Emperor Charles V that had come to the Iberian Peninsula. Several testimonies gathered in García Oro’s two-volume book about the cardinal talk about how he enjoyed his stays at San Ildefonso and how he stopped from time to time at Antonio de Nebrija’s house so he could enlighten the humanist on the interpretation of certain passages of the Sacred Scripture.

Last Updated 4 years ago


  • Alfonso X, el Sabio. Las siete partidas o libro del fuero de las leyes. Ed. José Sánchez-Arcilla Bernal. Madrid: Reus, 2004. Printed.
  • Bataillon, Louis J. “Exemplar, Pecia, Quaternus.” Vocabulaire du livre et de l’écriture au Moyen Âge. Ed. Olga Weijers. Turnhout: Brepols, 1989. 206–19. Printed.
  • Bataillon, Marcel. Erasmo y España. México DF: FCE, 1956. Printed.
  • Cuentas de los gastos efectuados por cuenta del Cardenal Cisneros para adquirir e imprimir libros para el Colegio de San Ildefonso, entre los años 1497-1509. Madrid. Biblioteca Nacional de España. MSS/20056/47. Manuscript.
  • García Oro, José. El cardenal Cisneros: vida y empresas. Madrid: BAC, 1992. Printed.
  • —. La Universidad de Alcalá en la etapa fundacional (1458-1578). Santiago de Compostela: Indepencia, 1992. Printed.
  • Llull, Ramon. Contenta Primun volumen Contemplatio Remundi duos libros continens [et] Libellus bla[n]querme de amico et amato. Paris: Jean Petit, 1505. Printed.
  • —. Arbor scientiae Raymundi. Barcelona: Pere Posa, 1489. Printed.
  • Radding, Charles M. The Origins of Medieval Jurisprudence. Pavia and Bologna 850-1150. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1988. Printed.
  • Ruiz, Elisa & Helena Carvajal. La casa de Protesilao. Reconstrucción arqueológica del fondo cisneriano de la Biblioteca Histórica “Marqués de Valdecilla.” Madrid: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2011. Printed.
  • Salazar y Castro, Luis. Historia genealógica de la Casa de Lara. Mateo Llanos y Guzmán/Imprenta Real: Madrid, 1696. Printed.



Noel Blanco Mourelle, « Shopping Cart », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on November 17, 2014. Full URL for this article

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