Zambeccari, Girolamo Maria

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Girolamo Maria Zambeccari (born Jacopo) was born in Florence on 26 January 1575 from the Bolognese aristocratic Lepido and from Camilla Fortunati. He had a brother, Marcantonio, member of the Senate of Bologna. Godfather of baptism was the warlord Mario I° Sforza, count of Santa Fiora, and godmother the noblewoman Virginia Savella de Vitelli. His father, Lepido (natural son of monsignor Pompeo Zambeccari, bishop of Sulmona and apostolic nunzio before the King of Portugal), was butler of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and belonged to a noble and ancient house of Guelf tradition, authoritative in public town life, and considered among the most renowned forty families in Bologna together with the Malvasias, the Gozzadinis, the Pepolis and the Bentivoglios. In Florence little Jacopo’s baptism’s godfather and godmother were count Mario Sforza and Virginia Savelli Vitelli. We do not have certain information about his childhood and adolescence, but we know that on 9 January 1593 he enrolled into the Law Faculty of Bologna’s University of Studies, where at 19 years of age, on 6 December 1594, he obtained the degree in utroque iure, that is in both civil and canonical law. He was then received, on 30 April 1598, when he was 23 years old, into the Dominican Order. From a very accurate biographical profile of the religious man from Alife, written by Herman H. Schwedt, we learn that the young Zambeccari, after the novitiate, changed his name Jacopo into Girolamo Maria and that on 11 October 1603 he was admitted to the specialization as a formal student at the Dominicans’ Study in Bologna. He taught theology until 1615, as a lecturer, in more than one convent of the Dominican province utriusque Lombardiae (of inferior Lombardy, situated in Bologna, and of superior Lombardy, situated in Milan in Saint Eustorgio’s basilica). By a decree of 29 July 1615 the cardinals of the Roman Congregation of the Inquisition appointed Monsignor Zambeccari as inquisitor of Reggio Emilia. Few months before he had been forty, the minimum age required for inquisitors. He soon showed himself to be inflexible in the various trials he was involved with, almost all referring to cases of untoward conduct: blasphemies, bigamy, sexual harassment (sollicitatio ad turpia). Herman H. Schwedt refers that various times the prefect of the Congregation of the Index referred to Zambeccari to face questions linked to the circulation of prohibited books, with letters signed by cardinal Roberto Bellarmino. Pope Paul V, in the Congregation of the Holy Office of 5 November 1615, ordered Monsignor Zambeccari to proceed not only against Jews, but again against the same Christians who are not ashamed nor stop serving them. During his tenure, between 1617 and 1618, he had to face a notable misadventure, while he prosecuted three supposed heretics, causing the ire of the sovereign prince of Correggio, Giovanni Siro from Correggio. It must be taken into account that the tribunal of Inquisition, even if formally established in Reggio Emilia, had extended its jurisdiction also to Correggio. Let’s see how events unfolded according to the reconstruction by historiographer from Correggio Quirino Bigi:

Some brothers Pistolazzi and Francesco Riseghini, suspected of heterodox opinions, by order of the Holy Office were incarcerated and put in the rock of Correggio. The Dominican Girolamo Zambeccari complained to prince Siro that the Inquisition was not assisted enough by the secular arm, and asked for the same men to be delivered while the trial was pending. In October 1617, Zambeccari, accompanied by a crew of thugs, came to Coreggio. And without previous warning, took possession of the accused and of the warden, transporting them to Reggio. The young prince, affected by indignation before such outrage, had Zambeccari chased, ordering that he was well clubbed. The friar was reached midway; he was maltreated and covered with wounds; but he did not die. Paolo V, irritated by the consequences of this scandal, cited before the Inquisition prince Siro, who had to transfer to the Holy Office’s jails in Milan, where it was decided that the trial should take place. The Holy Father was soon well convinced of the crime by the depositions of Girolamo Balbi, one of the thugs.

Nicole Reinhardt, by a scrupulous archival search, has brought to light again the documents testifying the crimes committed by prince Siro against Monsignor Zambeccari’s relatives, particularly against his old father Lepido and his brother Marcantonio, object of reiterated outrages. The prelate, in an autographed letter to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, writes about repeated efforts against my secular brother (Marcantonio)’s and other relatives’ lives … In 1619 he was transferred to the Inquisition in Faenza. Presumably because of prince Siro’s ferocious atrocities, in May 1620 Monsignor Zambeccari left the Inquisition, preoccupied for his own life, taking shelter in Bologna, where he stayed until 7 April 1625, when he was appointed bishop of Alife. Once established in the diocese of Alife, he had to face new and insurmountable obstacles, which materialized in a very hard conflict against Piedimonte’s lord, duke Alfonso II Gaetani of Laurenzana, who excercised a meticulous feudal control, wanting to rule completely, not acknowledging any juridical limit. The struggle between the two was hard and without exclusion of blows. At the zenith of the fight the duke tried to have Monsignor Zambeccari killed with poison while eating. The bishop saved himself, but some helpers and the young and only nephew, Marcantonio’s son, died. Because of the duke’s ominous efforts and because objectively the atmosphere in Piedimonte had become heavy, the prelate returned to Bologna from where, on 27 May 1631, he wrote a moving letter to cardinal Francesco Barberini, detailing the abuses suffered and witnessing an unshakable faith in the Church:

Most Eminent and Reverend signor Cardinal Francesco Barberini,
I show you what the duke of Laurenzana (Alfonso II Gaetani), this year, has done against me, titular bishop of the diocese of Alife. He has had the bishopric’s territories sown and has had someone attempt against my life and my helpers’, then, boldly releasing the brakes, has attacked, in my absence, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction. God has tolerated for a long time this oppressor of the Church was to be borne. The duke has not allowed the royal functionaries to enter his land of Piedimonte (where the bishop also dwells) to do some acts of justice. Actually he has forgotten to be a subject and feudal lord, so immediately a company of Spanish soldiers has been sent to his feudal land by Naples’ viceroy to arrest him. But the duke has fled and the soldiers continue to stay in Piedimonte, while the criminal judges institute a trial against him. Who knows if God will allow the judges to clear traces of the attempted murder which the duke has had perpetrated against me, crime in which my assistants and my nephew have died. Because of the evil done to me and my family, it has been conceded to me by the Holy Consistorial Congregation to renounce my Church (Diocese). Verily there are many who ask me to renounce my Church, promising rewards, but I don’t accept these offers and don’t want to hear about it.
Brother Girolamo Maria Zambeccari, bishop of Alife.

By contrast, wanting to reconstruct a reality opposed to the truth and without meaningful factual bearings, the people of the duke’s entourage moved in a one-way direction, putting together documents serving to discredit the bishop, describing him as a prey to humours. Raffaello Marrocco unearthed, in Historical Memories of Piedimonte d’Alife, a long accusation, subdivided in fourteen points, against monsignor Zambeccari, written in 1633 by and unknown author, but very likely written by someone who gravitated around the ducal court. It is worthwhile to report integrally in its salients passages: 1. Last year (1632) bishop Girolamo Zambeccari excommunicated in public place (Market Place), pontifically dressed, making toll the bells to arms, Signor Duke of Laurenzana (Alfonso II Gaetani), accused of many crimes, because he had his lay master of acts incarcerated. 2. He doesn’t want delinquent priests to be jailed by the secular court and so all the ecclesiastical go armed and almost all the crimes are committed by priests and at night. 5. To raise the people against the feudal lords he has issued an edict in which he orders that every day priests gather themselves to recite the litanies and other orations against the oppression of priests and paupers. 9. He excommunicated thirteen deputies of Piedimonte University, who had voted for the imposition of a certain tax and who were Piedimonte’s best thirteen citizens, and these having gone to the Episcopal vicar to appellate the excommunication, people saw the bishop, by his window, beginning to offend the deputies, calling them heretics, and made himself noted while holding two pistols saying he wanted to fire arms. Neither he wanted to absolve such excommunicated people unless the University paid him three hundred ducats. 12. He suits all the governors he doesn’t approve of.
The conflict between the prelate and the duke finally ended with Monsignor Zambeccari’s transference to Minervino diocese, after the clergyman made a post swap with bishop Gian Michele De Rossi. Unfortunately we don’t have data about monsignor Zambeccari in Apulia. But, as we learn from a very good book by Maria Celeste Cola, during the years in which the prelate governed the Apulian diocese he wrote a memorial, conserved in a miscellany in the Vatican Secret Archive, bearing the title Signors Zambeccari’s Information. The memoir contains the whole of the documents produced by the Zambeccari family for the suit against the expoliation, by the Apostolic Chamber, of monsignor Pompeo Zambeccari’s goods, Girolamo Maria’s paternal grandfather. The immobile goods, among which the current Valentini Palace, in Rome, that by Pio V’s bull of 3 March 1564 had been confiscated to the Bolognese prelate Pompeo Zambeccari, were given back to his family by Sisto V, in December 1587, after payment of one thousand golden scudi to the General Depositary. The sources still contain scarce news about monsignor Zambeccari’s last years. In spring 1635, probably because of an illness, he left his post as Minervino’s bishop. Death caught him in Rome on 29 December 1635.

Bibliography and Archival Sources

  • Le visite ad limina dei vescovi della diocesi di Alife (1590-1659), a cura di Armando Pepe, Youcanprint, Tricase 2017.
  • Herman H. Schwedt, Conflitti e violenze intorno a Girolamo Maria Zambeccari OP, inquisitore di Reggio Emilia nel Seicento, in Dario Visintin, Giuliana Ancona (ed.), L’inquisizione e l’eresia in Italia: medioevo ed età moderna. Omaggio a Andrea Del Col, Circolo culturale Menocchio, Montereale Valcellina 2013, pp. 207-252.
  • Archivum Secretum Vaticanum, Dataria Apostolica, Processus Datariae 4, ff. 157r- 176v.

Article written by Armando Pepe | English translation by Luca Iannotta © 2018

et tamen e summo, quasi fulmen, deicit ictos
invidia inter dum contemptim in Tartara taetra
invidia quoniam ceu fulmine summa vaporant
plerumque et quae sunt aliis magis edita cumque

[Lucretius, "De rerum natura", lib. V]

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