Mazzolini, Silvestro

Dizionario di eretici, dissidenti e inquisitori nel mondo mediterraneo
Edizioni CLORI | Firenze | ISBN 978-8894241600 | DOI 10.5281/zenodo.1309444

Silvestro Mazzolini da Prierio (born 1456/7, died 1527), better known as Prierias, was a dominican inquisitor and theologian.

He was born in Prierio in 1456 or 1457 and entered the Order of Preachers in the convent of S. Domenico in Savona, which belonged to the Congregation of Lombardy. Then he studied in studium generale in the convento of S. Domenico in Bologna, assuming the position of master of studies (1489), lector of theology (1490) and bachelor (1491). In 1494 he resided in Naples and directed the reform of several convents in Kingdom of Naples, that had been aggregated by Congregation of Lombardy. In 1498 he graduated master of theology and was included in the college of doctors in studium generale in Bologna. Then he served as regent of studium generale in Bologna (1499-1502), regent of the studium conventuale in Venezia (1502-03), prior of S. Maria delle Grazie in Milan (1503-05), of S. Anastasia in Verona (1505-07) and of S. Maria di Castello in Genoa (1507-08). In 1508-10 he was vicar general of the Congregation of Lombardy.

In 1508 Mazzolini was appointed inquisitor of Brescia. In August 1511 he was transferred to the inquisition of Milan, to which was added a district of Piacenza. However, in 1512 Congregation of Lombardy was deprived of the control over milanese convent of S. Eustorgio, which was a seat of the inquisition. Mazzolini probably lost an office of inquisitor of Milan at that time, but may have retained the post of inquisitor of Piacenza until the appointment of Crisostomo Iavelli in May 1515. He served also as prior in Cremona (1512-14) and Venice (1514-15).

In December 1515 he was appointed Master of Sacred Palace in Rome and inquisitor for the diocese of Rome. He occupied that posts until his death. He became famous as adversary of Martin Luter. He actively propagated the papal bulls Exurge Domine (1520) and Decet Pontificem Romanum (1521), which condemned Luter.

He died in 1527, probably in Rome.

Mazzolini and witch-hunts

Silvestro Mazzolini was a renowned propagator of witch-hunts. He is author of De strigimagarum daemonumque mirandis libri tres, completed in November 1520 and published in 1521 in Rome, which belongs to the most important works of demonological literature. Prierias strongly argued for the reality of crime of witchcraft and called for its prosecution.

More obscure is the question of his own involvement in witch trials. It is repeatedly claimed that as inquisitor of Brescia he may have been responsible for burning of 60 witches in Valcomonica in 1510. However, these trials are mentioned only in Annali di Brescia, a manuscript work that is known to us only through the citations in the 19th century writings of Cesare Cantu. On the basis on statements made by Cantu it can be assumed, that this source contains some chronological and/or typographical errors, for it dates to the year 1455 the witch trials conducted by the inquisitor Antonio Pezzotelli, although they actually occured in 1485. Short description of the alleged proceedings in 1510 in Annali di Brescia are very similar to the accounts about witch trials in Valcamonica in 1518, including the places of executions (Edolo and Pisogne), number of victims and especially their courage determined by the convincement that Devil would rescue them from the death. Besides, Prierias himself never recalled in his works his own experience as prosecutor of witches, but benefited from the experience of other inquisitors. It is quite possible, therefore, that the author of Annali di Brescia chronologically misplaced the events of 1518, or perhaps Cesare Cantu misread the manuscript (1510 instead of 1518). Apart from this doubtful statement, which does not even refer to Prierias personally, there is no evidence of Prierars' personal engagement in witch trials.

Principal works

Silvestro Mazzolini was author of several works, mainly theological, but not only:

  • De juridica et irrefragabili veritate Romanæ Ecclesiæ Romanique Pontificis (Rome, 1520);
  • Epitoma responsionis ad Lutherum (Perugia, 1519);
  • Errata et argumenta M. Lutheri (Rome, 1520);
  • Summa Summarum, quæ Sylvestrina dicitur (Rome, 1516), an alphabetical encyclopedia of theological questions, reprinted ca. 40 times;
  • De strigimagarum daemonumque mirandis libri tres (Rome, 1521), a book about witchcraft;
  • Rosa aurea (Bologna, 1510), an exposition of the Gospels of the year;
  • In theoricas planetarum (Venice, 1513) - astronomical work.


Article written by Tomasz Karlikowski | © 2014

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]

The content of this website is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License