Vatican and Bodelian librarians digitize 'great works of humanity'
By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
(Caption: A scanned image of King David with the Psalms, called Davidis cum Psalterii libro pictura, is now displayed on a website managed by the Vatican and Bodelian libraries. The photo comes from the Reginensis graecus, a 10th century Greek Bible. Photo credit: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.)
Ever wanted to turn through the pages of a Gutenberg Bible? Now anyone with an Internet connection can digitally peek inside the first book ever typeset, a 15th-century Bible that allowed kings and commoners alike to read the Old and New Testaments.
For the past three years, staff at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) and the University of Oxford's Bodleian library have been dusting off irreplaceable manuscripts and tomes for scholars, students, and the curious to flip through 1.5 million pages – via their computers – of vital documents that changed history.
"We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity, and we want to conserve them," Msgr. Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the BAV, told the Associated Press Dec. 3.
The BAV and the Bodleian each have their version of the Gutenberg Bible available online. There is also an illustrated 11th-century Greek Bible. Both libraries will soon put more from their collections on the website: http://bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.
The librarians separated the "to be digitized" list into three categories: Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and incunabulae, or 15th-century printed books. Greek manuscripts from Plato, Homer, and Sophocles will be added.
Dr. Leonard Polonsky, head of the Polonsky Foundation, who offered $3.5 million to fund the project, stated that 21st-century technology provides the opportunity for collaborations "between cultural institutions in the way they manage, disseminate, and make available for research the information, knowledge, and expertise they hold."
According to the BAV website, Popes kept a collection of manuscripts, treaties, and books before the 13th century, but that collection was lost, for an unknown reason.
Eventually, during the reign of Avignon Pope John XXII in the 14th century, a new library was formed. It led to the founding of the BAV by Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455.)
Pope Nicholas declared scholars would be allowed to study Latin, Greek, and Hebrew manuscripts, which had "grown from 350 to 1,200" during his reign.
Oxford's Bodleian Library, which was founded in 1602, boasts 11 million printed works in its archives.
"This varied collection of texts witnesses that for the Catholic approach, the search for truth in all fields of knowledge, not just Catholic, is an important endeavour," Dr. Shawn Flynn, a committee member of the Dr. John Micallef Memorial Library at St. Mark's College, told The B.C. Catholic Dec. 18.
He explalined that the New Testament readings used during Mass are "actually a compilation of various manuscripts, some likely in this (BAV-Oxford) collection."
For centuries scholars have been working to translate from Aramaic and Greek into different languages. This is "something the Catholic intellectual tradition is engaged in, and we should be proud of that work," Dr. Flynn concluded.