On Display: "Writing the World: Medieval Biblical Manuscripts from Columbia Collections" in Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library
NEW YORK, May 24, 2013 –

From now until July 5, 2013, “Writing the Word: A Selection of Medieval Latin Biblical Manuscripts in Columbia Collections” will be on display in the Chang Octagon Exhibition Room on the 6th floor of Butler Library at Columbia University.


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The exhibition features codices and fragments from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) and the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary. The manuscripts, which span the period from the eighth to the fifteenth century, demonstrate the range of scripts, formats, and versions in which the Latin Bible circulated during the western European Middle Ages.

The exhibition was created by Susan Boynton, Columbia University Music Department Professor and Consuelo Dutschke, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts with students from their Spring 2013 course, "Seminar in Historical Musicology: the Middle Ages.”   The course met in RBML's Chang Seminar Room weekly throughout the semester to select and describe the material for the exhibition.

“RBML is delighted to present this exhibition, and applauds the creators who worked collaboratively to create it,” said Jennifer B. Lee, Curator, Performing Arts Collections at RBML. “We look forward to expanding the exhibition with a web version, which will allow for the inclusion of more examples from the collections at Columbia.”

Highlights of the exhibition include three small single-volume Bibles of the kind that were first produced in thirteenth-century Paris, two illuminated leaves from a monumental “giant” Bible produced in twelfth-century central Italy, and a rare three-column folio in Visigothic script from around the year 800.

Carefully preserved single leaves from late-medieval Italy and England attest to the continuing variety of formats in the production of Bibles for scholars, religious communities, and lay patrons. Many of the manuscripts in the exhibition were used for reading aloud during the liturgy; their clear writing and punctuation facilitated recitation. Other books show evidence of close study, such as the thirteenth-century manuscripts with extensive commentary in the form of readers’ annotations glosses that were planned for in the original mise-en-page.

One of the exhibition’s overarching themes is the reuse of Bibles over the centuries. Beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing into the modern period, leaves from manuscripts that had fallen out of use were incorporated into the bindings of other books, or served as wrappers for account records or other archival documents. Some of the items in the exhibition have been removed from bindings while others that remain in situ attest to the important place of parchment in binding techniques. Many manuscripts of considerable historical interest to us today have survived only thanks to their expediency for book construction. 

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library owns over 500,000 rare books in some 20 book collections and almost 28 million manuscripts in nearly 3,000 separate manuscript collections. It is particularly strong in English and American literature and history, classical authors, children‘s literature, education, mathematics and astronomy, economics and banking, photography, the history of printing, New York City politics, librarianship, and the performing arts. Individual collections are as eclectic as they are extensive. For more information, please see: http://library.columbia.edu/indiv/rbml.html

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 11 million volumes, over 150,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 500 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.

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AM 5-24-13