Jacques de Vitry

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Seal of Jacques de Vitry as bishop of Acre. Seal of James of Vitry.jpg
Seal of Jacques de Vitry as bishop of Acre.

Jacques de Vitry (Jacobus de Vitriaco, c. 1160/70 1 May 1240) was a French canon regular who was a noted theologian and chronicler of his era. He was elected bishop of Acre in 1214 and made cardinal in 1229. His Historia Orientalis (also known as Historia Hierosolymitana) is an important source for the historiography of the Crusades.



Jacques was born in central France (perhaps Reims) and studied at the University of Paris, becoming a canon regular in 1210 at the Priory of Saint-Nicolas d'Oignies in the Diocese of Liège, a post he maintained until his consecration as bishop in 1216. From 1211 to 1213 he preached the Albigensian Crusade, touring France and Germany with William, the archdeacon of Paris, and recruiting many Crusaders. [1]

In 1214 Jacques was elected Bishop of Acre. He received episcopal consecration and arrived at his see in 1216. He was subsequently heavily involved in the Fifth Crusade, participating in the siege of Damietta from 1218 to 1220. In 1219 he began to write the Historia Hierosolymitana, a history of the Holy Land from the advent of Islam until the crusades of his own day, but only two parts were completed. He returned to Europe in 1225.

Between 16 April and 29 July 1229, Pope Gregory IX elevated Jacques to the College of Cardinals and transferred him to the suburbicarian see of Frascati. With the exception of a short legation to Emperor Frederick II in 1232, he spent his last years working in the papal court. He subscribed the papal bulls between 29 July 1229 and 23 June 1239. He died at Rome as Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. His remains were transferred to Oignies and buried there in 1241.

From a document issued by Pope Gregory on 14 May 1240 it appears that de Vitry, shortly before his death, had been elected as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, but this election was either not ratified by the Pope or he rejected it himself.

Manuscript of Sermones Vulgares, 13th century, by Jacques de Vitry Houghton MS Riant 35 - de Vitry page 1.jpg
Manuscript of Sermones Vulgares, 13th century, by Jacques de Vitry

Aside from the Historia, his works include hundreds of sermons, and letters to Pope Honorius III. He also wrote about the immoral life of the students at the University of Paris and the holy life of the Beguines of Liège, in particular his Life of Marie d'Oignies , whose advice inspired him to become a canon regular. [2]

Jacques de Vitry was fascinated by the powers held by the beguines, such that they were paralleled with the priests of the time, yet functioned outside the church proper. [3] Although this movement was unrecognized in the church, Jacques made appeal to Pope Honorius III to legitimize the work of their community, as well as the Liège diocese, all France and throughout the Holy Roman Empire. [4]





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  1. Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay, Historia Albigensis 285. It was perhaps during this preaching campaign that he met Bishop Foulques of Toulouse; cf. Guillaume de Puylaurens, Chronica 28.
  2. Biographical entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. Fulton, Rachel, and Bruce W. Holsinger. History in the comic mode medieval communities and the matter of person. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. pg 45
  4. Coakley, John W. Women, men, and spiritual power female saints and their male collaborators. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. pg 69