The Franciscan professor of theology, Bartholomaeus Anglicus (fl. 1220-1240), provided scholars with one of the first encyclopedias in the civilized world.
The exact birth and death dates of Bartholomaeus are not known. It is believed that he lived in the first half of the thirteenth century from 1220 to 1240, during which time he wrote his 19 volume reference work De proprietatibus rerum, a treatise on the natural sciences. It was organized as an encyclopedia and the work survived many translations including Spanish, French, Dutch and English, as well as numerous printings and handwritten manuscripts.
Bartholomaeus was also known as Bartholomew the Englishman or Bertholomew de Glanville. Born in Suffolk, England, he was an English friar who studied the natural sciences and theology at Oxford University, under the direction of Robert Grosseteste. Bartholomaeus went on to the University of Paris, where he taught theology. In 1224 or 1225, with fellow theology professor Haymo of Faversham, he joined the newly organized Franciscan order in Paris. Bartholomaeus continued to teach theology until 1231 when he was sent to Magdeburg, Germany as lector at the request of the minister general, John Parenti.
Educational opportunities blossomed in thirteenth century Europe with the appearance of two scholars: Bartholomaeus Anglicus of the Franciscan order and Vincent of Beauvais of the Dominican order. Each set for himself the goal of organizing and cataloging the knowledge of his time.
Vincent's book, Speculum majus was the larger of the two efforts, covering all knowledge to 1250. Bartholomaeus, on the other hand, focused his work, Liber de proprietatibus rerum (also referred to as De proprietatibus rerum) on the knowledge of all sciences of his time. The book is an alphabetical listing of trees and herbs, concerned primarily with their medicinal uses and values. Similar to the Speculum majus, Bartholomaeus treats each topic with theoretical considerations.
De proprietatibus rerum consists of 19 books in 400 manuscript pages, organizing the subjects of astronomy, botany, chronology, geography, medicine, mineralogy, philosophy, theology and zoology. It is considered by many to be the first important encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. De proprietatibus rerum was the first to combine the works of Arabian, Greek and Jewish physicians and naturalists into one reference work. Bartholomaeus cited the works of Aristotle, Isaac Medicus, Hippocrates, Theophrastus and the Arabian, Haly.
De proprietatibus rerum was extremely popular, with many manuscript copies made and distributed throughout Europe. In the fourteenth century, it was translated into many languages. The Occitan version was dedicated to Gaston Phoebus, Count of Foix and in 1372, Jean Corbechon translated a copy into French for Charles V. More than 43 copies of Corbechon's translation have been identified. The National Library at Paris currently possesses 18 copies. De proprietatibus rerum was kept in manuscript form for over 200 years and was the accepted reference work for those studying the natural sciences. John Trevisa produced an English translation in 1398 entitled Properties of All Thyngs. This translation was a source of information for numerous writers of the time, including William Shakespeare. Students at the University of Paris, as well as lay people, had access to the work and Bartholomaeus was considered to have exerted considerable influence on the world in which he lived.
Bartholomaeus' contribution to education is undeniably one of the most important in history. Although by today's standards, his work barely scratched the surface of the world's collective knowledge of natural history, it represents one of the best references to life in the Middle Ages. It is through this door that we learn a great deal about how people survived during these times. It provides an understanding of numerous aspects of life in twelfth and thirteenth century Europe. The large number of copies made available to students and scholars alike is a testament to its importance.
Although his exact death date is not known, Bartholomaeus is believed to have died in France in the middle of the 13th century.
Catholic Encyclopedia, volume II Robert Appleton Co., 1907 Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary Merriam Webster, Inc., 1995
"Bartholomaeus Anglicus," Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.britannica.com/seo/b/bartholomaeus-anglicus/(November 15, 2000)
"Bartholomew de Glanville" Columbia Encyclopedia, sixth edition 2000 http://www.bartleby.com/65/ba/BartholoGl.html, (December 11, 2000)
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Liber de proprietatibus rerum (On the Properties of Things) by Bartholomew the Englishman and its French translation by Jean Corbechon http://www.bnf.fr/enluminures/texte/atx2_oy.html, (November 24, 2000)