Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 164 (Germany?, 1300-1500): Astesanus of Asti, Summa de casibus conscientiae (Cases of conscience), parchment, 27 fols., 208 x 152 mm, 1 col., 33 lines.

The study of canon law was an important aspect of the curriculum taught at Medieval universities. Young prospective clerics often opted for a career as a lawyer and thus had to learn behave professionally in court. Students therefore studied treatises, summae and manuals on confession and penance. These books contain rulings from councils, courts, synods, and decrees by various popes. This manuscript contains part of the Summa de casibus conscientiae (On Cases of Conscience), an influential book written by the Franciscan lawyer and theologian Astesanus de Asti (? – c. 1330). He was probably commissioned by Cardinal Giovanni Orisini to write this summa.

The parts of the Cases of Conscience that are copied in this manuscript comprise the De significatione verborum (On the Meaning of Words). This part was used as a reference for legal usage in the thirteenth century and was often circulated independently from the other parts of the full text. Explanations for key words from the main text were written in the margin, making it easier for students to find the meanings of the words. Even though the manuscript has minimal decorations, the illuminator had added one fun element by drawing a little face inside in an initial on fol. 17v1.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 76)


  1. While the medieval book was made out of sheets, it is the quire that is the object's building block. A quire is a small package of folded sheets usually made from bifolia. To create a bifolium, a sheet is folded in half (each half is called a 'folium', which consists of two 'pages', i.e. the front and back of the folium). How many bifolia were used in each quire of this manuscript? Clue: take a look at the catchwords in the lower margins.
  2. Up to 1200 most manuscripts were produced by monastic scribes, whereas after this date it became increasingly common for lay (i.e. non-clerical) individuals to be involved in book production. Does the manuscript in front of you provide any clues as to the potential background of the scribe? If you were forced to speculate, what would your verdict be and why?


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.