May 13, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 16

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    Regenstein Library acquires rare facsimile of ninth-century Bible

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    When scholars visit the Vatican Library in search of the Bible of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, they will be disappointed. The Vatican Library will not display the original, and it does not own a copy. Scholars would have better success at the University, which now owns a facsimile of the Bible.

    The Joseph Regenstein Library recently acquired a facsimile of this Bible that sheds light on the life and times of Charles the Bald, a ninth-century king of France and a descendant of Charlemagne. According to online databases of worldwide library holdings, only three copies of the book can be found in the United States.

    Michael Allen, Assistant Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, was instrumental in bringing this treasure to the University. “For me, this is a visual representation of a drama that is rooted in the work I study and that is articulated here in letter forms and pictures,” said Allen, who teaches Latin Paleography, the history of scripts.

    The original book is owned by the monks of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a Benedictine monastery on the outskirts of Rome. To preserve and protect it, the book is kept on deposit at the Vatican Library.

    Although the reproduction process is somewhat shrouded in mystery, certain facts are known. The monks gave permission to a private individual or a corporate group of individuals to produce a facsimile. With assistance from the State Mint of Italy, approximately 1,000 copies have been printed but not necessarily bound.

    During the process, the binding of the original manuscript was removed, and the pages were restored and photographed. The copies were imprinted with gold leaf and bound with gold fittings. The copy owned by the University is worth more than $15,000.

    “It’s a cosmopolitan book that reflects concerns and possibilities and interests and intellectual life at the Court of Charles the Bald, done in a visually stunning and brilliant way,” said Allen.

    “People think they know the Middle Ages from Disney World,” he said. Unlike the theme park, this Bible is an authentic example of that era.

    “The book is a cultural artifact,” said Allen. He called it a medium for teaching about script, scientific endeavor and practice, as well as an example of how the Franks developed a way to organize knowledge. “You can turn pages; you can cross-reference,” as opposed to Roman scrolls that could not bind multiple works. The Franks also invented headings and subdivisions.

    The Bible, which weighs about 50 pounds, is “a vehicle of learning and knowledge, but it is also something intended to impress by its weightiness. The sacred text was given a mass that is commensurate with its cosmic importance as its authors understood it,” said Allen.

    During the ninth century, the Franks considered themselves the new people of God, and in light of this self-proclaimed destiny, this Bible was a direct line to God. It justified Charles the Bald’s power by comparing him to King Solomon in an image at the start of the Book of Proverbs, Allen said.

    “For me, it’s an important book because the historiographer I work on, Bishop Frechulf of Lisieux, was an advocate of Charles the Bald. He set up a sort of theater piece in the preface to his finished Histories in which he was like Nathan the Prophet, Charles the Bald’s mother was like Bathsheba and Charles himself was like Solomon. The book reflects the play of politics and ideas in its time,” said Allen.

    Students and scholars of art history, religion and medieval studies will use the book. It will be available in Special Collections at the Joseph Regenstein Library when the department reopens to researchers on June 21.