Constantini, Niccolò

Niccolò Constantini (born in Biella, 1400s or 1410s, died ca. 1482, probably in Vercelli) was a dominican inquisitor and renowned witch-hunter.

He was born in Biella and entered the Order of Preachers in the convent S. Paolo in Vercelli. In 1450 he is recorded as vicar of the inquisition in Vercelli. On 13 December 1453, he graduated master of theology and was incorporated in the collegium doctorum of the theological faculty of the University of Turin.

In 1460, he was named inquisitor of Vercelli. At that time, inquisitors of Vercelli had a jurisdiction over the vast territory which comprised dioceses of Vercelli, Ivrea, Novara and Como (after 1474 also the part of the newly created diocese of Casale Monferrato). It seems that he occupied that post until his death. He served also as prior of the convent of Vercelli (1470, 1474) as well as vicar of the convents of Ivrea and Biella (1478/79).

Constantini was remembered as zealous inquisitor and ruthless witch-hunter. According to Cipriano Uberti, during the whole his career as inquisitor he had condemned to death over three hundred witches. This number may be exeggerated, though one must remember that Uberti was himself an inquisitor of Vercelli and perhaps he was able to consult the inquisitorial documentation still preserved at that time in the archive of this inquisition.

In any case, the contemporary testimonies about Constantini's inquisitorial activity are scarce but they generally justify his reputation. In 1463 he conducted several witch trials in Como, with numerous condemnations to death or banishment. These trials are known only from the correspondence between Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, and podesta of Como. The populace of Como reacted violently, insulting Constantini and beating some of his assistants. Duke initially took side of inquisitor, and urged podesta to discover and punish those who were responsible. However, podesta refused, arguing that Constantini acted irregularly, with great cruelty and without sufficient reason. Podesta concluded that the Constantini himself deserved much more to be punished than his unfortunate victims. The final outcome of this event is unknown and it is not even clear whether those condemned by Constantini were actually executed.

In early 1470, Constantini's vicar, Giovanni Domenico da Cremona (later inquisitor of Pavia) conducted in Salussola the trial of certain Giovanna Mondura for witchcraft. The records of this trial have been preserved. After six interrogations (two with the use of torture) she confessed to had been a witch for 23 years, recapitulated all elements of the stereotype of diabolic witchcraft and named several alleged accomplices. She was condemned to death by Constantini. Her execution at the stake took place on 17 August 1471 in Miagliano. The records of her trial strongly suggest, that this trial was only a part of greater investigation against the alleged witches in the diocese of Vercelli.

In the register of dominican Master General Leonardo Mansueti there is also a record of an investigation conducted by Constantini against certain sorceress in 1476. Master General reprimended a friar of the convent of Vercelli, Pietro Pezzano, for having absolved this woman. Her final fate remains unknown.

Perhaps Constantini was responsible also for burning two alleged witches in Como in 1480. Several Constantini's vicars have been recorded as acting in different parts of this large diocese: Jacopo da Monza in Bellinzona (1464), Antonio Seghandi da Soncino in Valle Mesolcina (1472) and Domenico da Sasso in the city of Como itself (1476).

Constantini was attested for the last time in February 1479. His successor, Lorenzo Soleri, was appointed by dominican Master General Salvo Cassetta on 10 January 1483.

Bibliography

  • Michael Tavuzzi, "Renaissance Inquisitors. Dominican Inquisitors and Inquisitorial Districts in Northern Italy, 1474-1527", Brill: Leiden - Boston 2007, p. 155-162

Article written by Tomasz Karlikowski | Ereticopedia.org © 2014

et tamen e summo, quasi fulmen, deicit ictos
invidia inter dum contemptim in Tartara taetra
invidia quoniam ceu fulmine summa vaporant

[Lucretius, De rerum natura, lib. V]