Tinctor's Foul Manual

A typical page from 'Tinctor's Foul Manual', complete with illumination and candle wax from a reader who lingered on the page.

A typical page from 'Tinctor's Foul Manual', complete with illumination and candle wax from a reader who lingered on the page.


Our ideas about witches and witch hunts may come from an extraordinary manuscript found in the University of Alberta Library. It's one of only four known copies. Written in the 1400s and now being re-translated from medieval French, it created the framework for witch hunts. Dave Redel carefully opens its cover.

tinctors-foul-1.jpgIn the basement of the Rutherford Library at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, a series of custom-made book boxes protect valuable and fragile manuscripts.  Arrayed on the shelves, they look like sets of encyclopedias.  But one of the book boxes holds knowledge of a very different sort, a malevolent treatise, innocently labelled Treatise against the Sect of Waldensians
The other three copies of the book are in national libraries in Paris, and in Brussels, and at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  But the Edmonton copy may be the original, the template for the other books.  It also may be a primary source for witch hunts.

It was written in 1460 by a cleric named Jean Taincture, or more commonly, Johannes Tinctor.
Johannes Tinctor's virulent treatise was fundamental in codifying witch hunts in late medieval Europe.  But it also helped create our modern ideas of witches, and of witch hunts, both supernatural, and secular.

Ideas producer Dave Redel visited the University of Alberta library to see the centuries-old book, to learn how it ended up in Edmonton, and to consider its lingering influence.

Participants in the program:

Dr. Andrew Gow, Professor of History and Director in Program of Religious Studies, University of Alberta.

Dr. Rob Desjardins, sessional instructor in medieval history at Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton.

Fran├žois Pageau, Doctoral student in medieval history, University of Alberta.

Dr. Linda Quirk, Assistant Director, Bruce Peel Special Collections Library,, University of Alberta.

Carolyn Morgan, Conservator, Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta.

Photographs courtesy of the University of Alberta.

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