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Incipit clavis sanationis elaborata per venerabilem virum magistrum Simonem Ianuensem domini pape subdyaconum et capellanum medicum quondam felicis recordationis domini Nicolai pape quarti qui fuit primus de ordine minorum.


The 1473 Milan incunabulum ('B' print) omits the incipit [[1]]


Here begins the Clavis sanationis (Key of Healing) laboured on by the venerable man, Master Simon of Genoa, subdeacon and medical chaplain to the lord pope, at one time to lord Pope Nicholas IV of auspicious memory who was foremost from among the Order of Friars Minor.

Factual Introduction

Little is known about Simon of Genoa beyond what is revealed in the incipit and preface to the Clavis sanationis. In the incipit Simon refers to himself as subdyaconus et capellanus medicus at the papal curia of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-92). Traditionally a subdeacon had been a sacred minister whose functions were to prepare the bread, wine, vessels, and chant the Epistle during High Mass,(1) and chaplains were clerics in charge of a chapel who performed non-parochial duties.(2) However, by the eleventh century the offices expanded and transformed from being chiefly liturgical to governmental offices at the curia.(3) As subdyaconus et capellanus medicus Simon’s duties therefore would have included attending to Nicholas IV’s medical needs.

Nicholas IV, previously Girolamo Masci, was the first Franciscan friar to become pope. Nicholas had close ties with the Colonna family in Rome and earned criticism for supposedly being under the family’s control after awarding them with positions of power when he became pope. His pontificate was noteworthy for the dispatch of the Franciscan friar Giovanni de Monte Corvino to the curia of the Great Kubla Khan in 1289, which bore fruit in the form of the Catholic Church’s first establishment in China. The fall of Acre in 1291 marked the end of the crusader states in the Holy Land, and in response Nicholas issued a crusade appeal, but to no avail. His issue of the bull Coelestis altitudo on 18 June 1289 was significant for increasing the power of the College of Cardinals.(4)

At the end of the thirteenth century when Simon was physician to Nicholas IV, the papal curia was still based in Italy (it moved to Avignon in 1309). Nicholas’s papal registers show that for most of his pontificate the curia could be found at the papal residences at Rieti, Orvieto, and St Mary Major. For the first few weeks of his pontificate, Nicholas stayed at the Lateran Palace, and used St Peter’s on occasion.(5)

Simon was encouraged to write the Clavis by another member of the papal curia, Campano of Novara, who was an astrologer, astronomer, and physician (d.1296). It is noted in the preface that Simon sent Campano a copy of the Clavis to gain his estimation of the work. Simon spent some thirty years compiling the Clavis, during which time he made visits to Roman monasteries, commissioned copies of manuscripts, and studied medical treatises in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Simon consulted works that are no longer extant, such as Demosthenes’s Ophthamology (Opthalmikos), and he was the only thirteenth-century encyclopaedist who used both versions of Dioscorides’s De materia medica.(6)


  1. Cross & Livingstone (2005: 1562).
  2. Cross & Livingstone (2005: 322).
  3. Hilken (2004: 64).
  4. Kelly & Walsh (2010: 206-8).
  5. Langlois (1887-93).
  6. Paravicini-Bagliani (2000: 190); on Simon’s use of Demosthenes, see chiefly von Staden (1989: 570-8).