Monday, August 18, 2014

I met a Franciscan Friar! Before I tell the story, I'd best explain the circumstances: I have just returned from visiting my aunt and uncle in San Diego, California. While there, I visited a few of the old missions which Spain used the Christianize the native peoples of California. I was excited from the start to see them, especially San Luis Rey; I was proud that my Spanish was still good enough to translate that to "Saint King Louis," one of my favorite medieval kings. Upon arriving, I found myself wondering what it must have been like to have lived in the mission when it was first built, a priest in a small European island in a land still inhabited by its aboriginal people.
A "Suspicious Tourist" in front of the Mission San Luis Rey

My family and I went inside to tour the church. We had made our way partly down the nave when I realized that a good number of people were kneeling and praying in the church pews. Then I heard a ringing bell; I may not be Catholic, but I'd been in enough Catholic churches to know that signaled the beginning of Mass. Stuck in the midst of the nave as the service began, we quickly took seats to join in. I didn't mind; though I hadn't intended on attending a Mass, I always love seeing churches in use, especially historic ones.
While the priest gave a lesson on the importance of forgiveness, he mentioned that he was a Franciscan friar. I figured the missions must have been run by Franciscan friars. Who else is better suited to the harsh conditions of the New World than friars sworn to poverty? (After visiting the museum at the mission, I found I was correct in my deduction).
After the Mass had ended, I walked outside with my aunt where I came across the friar, now dressed in his brown habit, speaking to two teenagers about how he had grown up in San Francisco's Chinatown. Seeing that he seemed friendly, I decided to engage him in conversation once he had finished speaking with the teens. He introduced himself as Brother Franklin. After an initial confusion (he was hard of hearing and thought I wanted to become a friar!), we had a long conversation.
"You're a good Catholic, I assume?" Brother Franklin said.
I sheepishly replied that I was not, and explained that I was raised a Methodist.
"Ah, it's all the same to God anyway," he said, smiling,"I often wondered why there were so many denominations, but then I looked to the plants and realized that, while God could have chosen to make one super-plant, he instead allowed many varieties of plant to flourish in different places around the world."
He went on to advise me to always show my faith and embrace it, because it is the most important thing in life. He said not to let it lie fallow and untended, but to nourish it through charity and prayer. Brother Franklin's simple and friendly, yet powerful words amazed me. I'd often been taught about how friars spread their faith through preaching and had read about their humble, devoted style, but experiencing it in person made me understand, perhaps for the first time, why the Friars Minor were so incredibly successful in the 13th century.
I asked him how long he had been a friar. "Since the early 1990s. Before then, I was a tenured professor of Agriculture at Texas A&M," he explained, pausing before continuing. He explained how, after much spiritual guidance, he had decided to give everything up and join the Franciscan Order. I asked him if he was happy, to which he told me that it was wonderful to live with others supporting him in his faith. I told him about my project with the Breslauer Bible and how it involved Franciscans, as well as about my aspirations to become a Medievalist. He told me to continue to work hard and get my PhD and then see where God would take me. "While your path may seem clear now," he said with a smile,"keep in mind that I didn't decide to become a friar until I was forty and well into my career. God has a plan for everyone; you'll end up in the place he intends for you."
We bid each other goodbye. I watched as he walked off towards the mission cloister, amazed. I didn't know people still did things like that, giving up everything to join a holy order. While I don't think I'm going to become a friar any time soon, Brother Franklin's advice has not fallen on dead ears. I will make sure not to forget my faith whilst striving for achievements in academia.
Seeing a Franciscan in person has helped me understand the appeal and charisma of a friar in a way which my textbooks never made clear. It also makes me wonder if our mysterious Brother Adam had similar conversations about faith with any young men in the 14th century.
That's all for now, but I intend on posting again once I meet with Dr. Gwara and Aaron sometime in the next week or two.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Whilst working on the project, I have stumbled across several exciting discoveries which turned out to be not so promising or as unique as we had expected. For instance, whilst we initially thought we had struck gold upon stumbling across Richard of Connington and Adam of Lincoln (there’s an Ufford near Lincoln) who spent time at the friary of Stamford, we have now realized that finding Sandford/Sampfords etc. close to Affords/Assfords/Alfords etc. and friaries is not so uncommon as we had anticipated. For instance, I stumbled across a Sandford manor in Somerset within twenty miles of both the friary at Bridgwater and the village of Ashford.
I also have stumbled across numerous red herrings. Many took the form of entries in the indexes of the Victoria County Histories for Richards of Sandford/Sampford as well as a few Adams of A-, which almost all turned out to be men living centuries after our period, or merchants and mayors, clearly not members of holy orders.
I also ran into many more “red herrings” of a less convincing nature, pure coincidental juxtapositions of various people and places involved in the project. I recorded one interesting example in my notes on the Sandford in Worcestershire, when I found the following index entry: “Sanford, Hen. S. J. Ayshford, iv 36 . . . see also Sandford.” Seeing a Sandford in the same name as an Ayshford excited me, never mind that it involved a Henry and not a Richard or Adam. It, of course, was a total red herring.
For another, take a look at the following section of my notes which features the Great Dissolver himself and a Richard living in Sandford:
Sandford on Isle of Wight
•             Henry VIII visited his son Richard Worsley at Appuldurcombe in 1538.
•             Richard seems to have been a common name there amongst the Worsleys; Sir Richard Worsley purchased the manor in 1781.

Once I realized how common such coincidences actually were, I stopped recording them in my notes, even as curiosities. One thing is certain: England has an abundance of Richards, Adams, and Sandy-bottomed-river crossings!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The project has been proceeding nicely these past weeks. Today, whilst searching the internet for information on English friars and pocket bibles, I stumbled across this article:

It reminded me of how lucky I am to participate in unlocking this precious book’s secrets. It was also very neat to see Dr. Gwara’s quote about how books like the Breslauer Bible were used by Dominicans or Franciscans; we now know ours was almost certainly used by Franciscans thanks to the work we did with Dr. Webb at Stanford.

These past weeks, I have spent most days deep in the bowels of the Thomas Cooper Library, shifting through the hefty, red tomes of the Victoria Histories of the Counties of England. Some of the books are old and filled with yellowed paper pages which crack when you turn them, but their information is very rich and detailed. Dr. Gwara sent me a list of potential Samfords/Sandfords in Britain; my job has been to research information about them so as to determine which ones ARE and are NOT likely candidates. In my research, I have relied upon the Victoria Histories extensively, but also upon internet resources as varied as Google maps and local town councils’ histories. Here is an abbreviated example of my notes on three Sandfords/Samfords:

  Sandford             SZ5481  Hampshire          England               

o   Not recorded in The Historical Gazetter of English Place Names b/c Hampshire isn’t finished

o   On an island with no friaries according to Rohrkasten’s map of friaries

o   Closest friary is Southampton (founded before 1250), 23 miles away across a channel.

o   Victoria County Histories

§  Benedictine Priory of Appledur Combe owned land in Sandford. (v2 231)

§  Sandford had a mill (v v, 175)

Sandford             SO8545 Worcestershire England               


·         There is a settlement of a few houses on the satellite map which could very well be this Sandford today.

§  The nearby Severn Stoke is only 7 miles from Worcester Cathedral; Sandford is therefore less than 7 miles from the nearest city containing a friary, Worcester Friary established prior to 1230. Promising, very promising. It also apparently had a theological library—see citations under vch notes

§  It doesn’t turn up anything on google, indicating that it is not a place of great modern significance


·         Doesn’t show up as a Parish, but is present on the map as “Sandford” with what appear to be markings indicating a settlement.


·         Is present as a part of the parish of Severn Stoke. It has no sub areas.

·         It appears to be on a major road heading south from Worcester

o   Victoria County History


·         “The parish of Severn Stoke, inclusive of the hamlets of Clifton, Kinnersley and Sandford, has an area of 3,326 acres, about two-thirds of which are devoted to pasture” iv 192-7

·         “The village of Severn Stoke lies at the foot of a fairly steep hill, about midway between Worcester and Tewkesbury, on the high road connecting those places. It contains several cross-timbered houses. The church of St. Denis, which stands low near the river bank, is backed by the dark woods of Severn Bank. Near it is the rectory; a little to the north of the village there is a pound.” 192-7

·         “mile north, on the Worcester road, is the hamlet of Sandford, where there are brick and tile works on the river bank.” 192-7


I have covered around twenty-five Sandfords in my notes thus far, with eight more to examine, two of which are in Scotland (making them unlikely candidates). Another promising candidate is Sandford-on-Thames, which I will discuss in detail in a future blog post.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Adventures from across the pond and advice acquired there

A blog post by Carl.

From May 12th to June 12th, I have the privilege to travel in Europe with my grandfather. We stayed in bread and breakfasts and visited Normandy, Paris, Rheims, London, Norwich, Canterbury, Yorkshire, Edinburgh, Chester, Wales, and Salisbury. While there, I saw several things which relate to our research. On the continent, we visited several monastic structures, including Mont St. Michel Abbey and the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris.

While in England, we also visited several former monastic sites. However, most (excluding monastic cathedrals) were in ruins. When we investigated the scene of the crime, the culprit was, without exception, Henry VIII. In many places, we found streets named after the greyfriars or the blackfriars, but there were no medieval friaries to be found. While on my way into the walled city of York, I remember ambling through the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. Its tall, gothic stone walls still stand, but grass grows within the former nave, and a field is all that remains of the cloister. Standing in the midst of the ruins, I could picture the wealth of the abbey, because the structure around me must have rivaled Yorkminster in size and grandeur. Instead of black-clad Benedictine monks, grey-cloaked pigeons now nest in the boughs of the once great structure.

In York, I had the privilege of having breakfast with Dr. Pete Biller, a professor of medieval history at the University of York, his wife, and his friend Mark Hearld, an artist. We talked a bit about medieval historians and my future plans in academia, but the conversation turned to the Breslauer project. He asked me why I had titled part of the blog “Gestae Breslauorum,” “deeds of the Breslauers,” and I explained the history of the Breslauer Bible and how it was given that name because Mr. Breslauer left USC the money with which to purchase the manuscript. Dr. Biller advised me to examine the methodologies used by researchers on similar projects, and told me to investigate a book called The Friars’ Libraries. He also suggested that I examine the Corpus English Medieval Library Catalogues and contact the British Academy’s current general editor and email him to ask if anyone is working on revising it. He recommended that I also look at the works of Neal Ker, an expert in paleography who has a catalogue of manuscripts which have been traced to their locations/owners of origin or use. We talked a bit about art in today’s world and in the past. Mark said he thought Yorkminster looked most beautiful from the outside when cast in beautiful evening or morning sun; later that evening, I saw how the orange glow of the setting sun turned the stone of the cathedral to various shades and found I agreed with him. The depth of medieval art never ceases to amaze me.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to work on the project. I hope to get caught up with Dr. Gwara and Aaron soon. That’s all for now—thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Mysterious C—or lack thereof

One of the issues which we have tackled over the past few weeks is figuring out the meaning of a strange mark on the second line after “Ricardi de” and before the place-name we are still uncertain about. Here’s a picture of it:

It’s the small “letter” after the “de” at the center of the image. When we were initially examining it, Dr. Gwara believed it was a small “c” which might be attached to the place-name which follows. However, I disagreed because the “c” was so small. Dr. Gwara later decided it was probably not connected to the place-name, which we decided must be something along the lines of “Samford” after getting a very interesting reply from Paul Cavill at the English Place-Name Society.  Paul Cavill also directed us towards a place called “Little Sampford” connected to the Hospital of the Knights Templar, which has an “Asford” nearby.

I attended Dr. Tim Graham’s “Understanding the Medieval Book” seminar, where I presented our findings thus far. When I was explaining the inscription, Dr. Graham commented that he thought the “c” was almost certainly some sort of punctuation mark (which would explain its size).  Such a view would make sense with our current reading “Brother Richard of Samford,” but we will have to investigate the idea further.

In addition to getting Dr. Graham’s view on the mark, I showed the inscription to Dr. Christine Ames, USC’s Medieval Historian. Dr. Ames was immediately confident that the last word was “Samford,” but said she noticed a minim which might be part of an “I” in the gap in the center of the word. She also agreed that it was reasonable to read “(hole)inores” as “Minores,” indicating Franciscan ownership. She had an interesting view of the mysterious “c,” saying that she felt confident it was just a stray mark made in error.

It amazes me that people can interpret a single “letter” in so many ways. We will have to do additional work comparing the mark to those in other texts in order to decide whether it is a small c, a punctuation mark, or a mistake. Once we reach a conclusion on what it is, we will then have to figure out how it impacts the inscription as a hole.

In other news, exams are officially underway! I personally am excited because I will be leaving on the 12th to spend a month in England with my grandfather; perhaps while I am there I can visit some of the places we have read about.

Regarding Little Sampford, I found this link:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gestae Breslauorum

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I hereby continue my task of chronicling the deeds of Carl Garris, Aaron Sanders, and Scott Gwara on their journey to the far off land of Palo Alto, in which I account their great finds (God be praised!)

We arose the next morning and headed over to the lab where Sam and Courtney awaited us with this image:

An iron map of the inscription, which revealed more than we had previously seen! We excitedly began trying to make out what it said, throwing out all sorts of ideas. Dr. Gwara announced that he could read one of the words about which we were previously uncertain. Just after the hole in the vellum, Dr. Gwara explained he could make out “inores,” which he thought was the word “Minores” lacking the M (which had occupied the area of the hole). “Minores” most likely meant the Order of Friars Minor, also known as the Franciscans, the followers of St. Francis of Assisi. Like monks, friars also joined orders sworn to a holy life of poverty. Unlike monks, who cloistered themselves in monasteries, friars travelled around the countryside preaching to the masses. We thought we could make out “Liber fratres Ade de Afford (something?) (hole)inores de dono Fratres Ricardi de (something?)” which translates to “The book of Brother Adam of Afford (something?) (hole)inors by gift of Brother Richard of (something?)”

Just as we were starting to decipher the less clear ending of the inscription, Sam Webb clicked a couple of options on a menu, changing the image to this:

He explained that he had changed the map to show zinc rather than iron. This image was remarkably clearer than the first. I pondered that the parchment must contain a good bit of iron, but not zinc, causing the contrast to appear greater in the zinc map. The near-perfect clarity of the image struck me with awe at the miraculous power of technology. Some denizen of the Medieval England had, for whatever reason, thought to erase an inscription so that none would ever again be able to read it. For centuries, no one could have, even if they had tried. And today, we were able to see it as clearly as the day on which it was written. "Laus deo!" I exclaimed softly, relieved by our success. After discussing it for several minutes, we decided would could read “Liber fratris Ade de Afford inter (hole)inores de dono fratris Ricardi de c (something?)” which in English is roughly “The book of Brother Adam of Afford amongst [the Franciscan Friars] by gift of Brother Richard of C (something?)”

We spent the next few hours fervently trying to decipher the final word in the inscription. We asked Sam to give us a blown-up picture of the tricky bit of text:

From the blown-up image, we proposed many ideas, from names such as “Stamford” to “Camford” to “Oxenford” . . . Dr. Gwara was skeptical of the last, until Sam suggested the strange first letter might be an “O” fashioned like an Theta, at which point Dr. Gwara announced that he felt sure it read “Oxenford,”  indicating what he thought was an “X”

While we continued to debate the paleography, I began googling the names “Brother Adam of Afford” and “Brother Richard of C,” coming across many monks by the same names. I was just about to leave one page about the Masters of the Grey Friars of England (another name for the Franciscans) where I had found yet another Brother Richard of C (this one Richard of Connington), when I noticed the name immediately following him on the list: Adam of Lincoln. It struck me as too much of a coincidence! I shared my findings with the rest of the group, who also found the idea compelling. Perhaps Richard had given the book to Adam as a gift to his successor. Of course, we knew we would need to spend more time deciphering the inscription and researching the friars in question, but we thought we had perhaps stumbled upon our answer.

Dr. Gwara sent us to research Richard of Connington and Adam of Lincoln further at the Stanford Library. After arriving and undergoing a sign-in process, Aaron and I went up to the chamber containing their records of Oxford and Cambridge masters. We found and photographed their respective entries so that we could review them later. We arrived back to the lab to find Dr. Gwara, Sam, and Courtney running additional tests on other parts of the page in order to find out what elements the various colors of ink contained. Dr. Gwara explained that he thought the Synchrotron might be used in future research to learn more about the components of medieval ink in manuscripts coming from all over Europe. Perhaps that idea will be the seed for a future project, but for the time being, we were ready to celebrate our success! We carefully removed the bible from its frame and thanked Courtney and Sam heartily for working with us before heading back to the Guest House.

We enjoyed a most interesting victory feast that evening. We ordered sushi from a local sushi place. When it arrived, we thought we had the wrong order, because it all fit into one regular-sized takeout box! Opening it up, we confirmed that we did indeed have everything we had ordered. . . each of us had a sushi roll. We sat down to our rather meagre meal, only to be pleasantly surprised; though it wasn’t much, it was very good sushi! (Or perhaps we were just really hungry)

Our return journey to South Carolina passed quite uneventfully. As I sat on the plane reflecting on our three days in California, I realized that, while we had succeeded in reading the inscription, the long, difficult process of figuring out who these Brothers Adam and Richard actually were still lay ahead of us. However, I knew that, regardless of what conclusions we would ultimately reach, I would never forget working with Sam and Courtney and witnessing the awesome power of technology.


Addendum: 4/25/14 corrected "fratres" in inscription to "fratris," the proper genitive form after a conversation with Dr. Christine Ames.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gestae Breslauorum

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I hereby continue my task of chronicling the deeds of Carl Garris, Aaron Sanders, and Scott Gwara on their journey to the distant land of Palo Alto.

We proceeded to speak with Sam and Courtney about how best to proceed with reading the ownership inscription. They showed us the beam hutch, a small room (the size of a walk-in closet) behind a heavy metal door. A complicated series of wires and assorted detectors came out from the walls and hung from the ceiling; it looked rather overwhelming! However, from Sam and Courney’s explanation, I deduced that there were three important elements. First, tube through which the beam entered. This tube was directed at the second important element, the holding apparatus for the sample. Finally, at a ninety-degree angle and about a foot away from the holding apparatus, was the detector which would read the signals emitted by the sample once the beamline was activated. Essentially, the beam would hit the various elements within the parchment and cause them to emit different signals. Once read by the detector and analyzed on the computer system, these signals would produce a “map” displaying all detected occurrences of individual elements.

The first task which we faced was figuring out how to attach the bible to the apparatus (without damaging it!) and isolate the inscription-bearing page from the others. Using the various materials such as plastic and foam which we had brought with us from USC, we devised a holder with which to securing the book in place without any of the sensitive areas, such as the parchment, having to touch the metal apparatus. To give credit where it is due, Aaron cut the foam, I bound the pages together with mylar, and Dr. Gwara coordinated the whole affair, while Sam and Courtney prepared the beam hutch for use. Though it required some minor modifications to our design, notably including solid strips in order to hold the pages in place, we managed to successfully mount the Breslauer Bible onto the holder in the beam hutch. Sam and Courtney shut the bible into the beam hutch and closed the door. Through the small window, we could see the interior lights turn off and hear the alarm warning about the imminent arrival of, to use super-scientific language, tons and tons of x-rays. Sam flipped the switch opening the beam shutter. We were ready to begin our scan!

Or so we thought. . . as I should have remembered from my prior scientific research, you can’t have a research project involving physics without preliminary testing. Sam proposed that we scan a quite-legible annotation in the right margin of the inscription-bearing folio. No problem, we thought. . . until the first scan began to appear on the screen. Viewing the iron map, we could see the main text of Saint Jerome’s letter to Saint Ambrosius. . . however, the area of the annotation was entirely blank! “How could that be?” I frantically asked Sam as he flipped through maps of several different elements, such as Zinc and Mercury, to no avail. Sam explained that the ink might have been organic in origin. Organics, apparently, are more difficult for the Synchrotron to pick up. We grew most anxious at this news. . . we feared we had come all the way to Stanford only to be thwarted by the innocuous choice of low-quality ink by a man from the fourteenth century! Sam and Courtney tried several different methods, all to no avail. Realizing that they were going to work tirelessly to solve the problem with the annotation, I suggested that we run a quick, low quality scan of the area of the inscription to see if the ink would show up or not.

Sam set the test up to run while we went to lunch. SLAC, apparently, does not currently have a cafeteria, as they are in the process of constructing a new one. Instead, they bring in food trucks from various caterers. While I was skeptical at first, I got a burger, fries, and a cookie at Courtney’s suggestion. Sitting down to eat in the shade of a Eucalyptus tree, we had a delightful time discussing the differences between South Carolina and California. Courtney, who was currently looking at houses, told us that apparently termites are so much of a problem there that they are expected in most houses! The food turned out to be delicious, especially the cookie, which apparently is something like a “dulce de leche” cookie from South America. When we returned to SLAC, we went through a brief safety demonstration (which more or less told us not to do anything dangerous and report anything amiss). We then returned to the beam hutch, anxious to find out if the inscription would show us. To our delightful relief, we could clearly read the words “de dono!” Sam told us he would set a scan up to run over the course of the afternoon and evening so that we could read it in the morning. We then departed to go and tour Stanford’s campus.

Stanford’s campus reminded me of some sort of legendary Spanish monastery. It was constructed in a sort of fantasy-Spanish architectural style (no idea if that’s a proper term or not!), with Romanesque arches surrounding cloister-like courtyards. In some ways, it reminded me of a European site, but its vast scale gave away its American origin. The square in front of the chapel was enormous! The chapel itself was beautiful, with a large mosaic over the door of what appeared to be Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Sadly, the chapel was all locked up for the evening. . . through the window, we picked out tiles bearing alternating images of the Chi-Rho with the Alpha and Omega, which was really cool. We strolled around the campus for a while before heading down the road to Palo Alto. It was a long, but refreshing walk. When we reached the town, we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant called Thaiphoon which turned out to be quite good! I got Thai sweet tea, which oddly enough bore significant resemblance to Southern Style Sweet Tea (at least in my opinion). We had a delightful time talking about the day’s fascinating experiences before heading back to the SLAC. Before going to bed at the Guest House, we swung by the lab to see if the scan had made much progress. Unfortunately, it had only scanned empty vellum and hadn’t yet reached the inscription. After returning to the room, I fell asleep wondering what mysteries the Synchrotron would reveal in the morning.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gestae Breslauorum

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I hereby set forth on my task of chronicling the deeds of Carl Garris, Aaron Sanders, and Scott Gwara on their journey to the far off land of Palo Alto.

Our travels to San Francisco passed mostly uneventfully. The Breslauer Bible remained secured within our innocuous blue backpack. Dr. Gwara made sure that we kept eyes on it at all times. One small problem did arise: while at the Columbia airport, we received an email from our contact at Stanford, Jackie, telling us that I, Carl, had not completed the online safety training courses. I had shared an account with Dr. Gwara, which apparently was a big no-no. While waiting at our layover in Houston, I completed the GERT training, which certified me to enter Radiological Controlled Areas, and the Web Safety Training. . . which taught me the “difficult” art of creating a proper password. I wasn’t able to complete the final course until we had arrived in Palo Alto. By that time, it was nearly midnight. In order to get to the SLAC guest house, we took a taxi cab with a driver (with questionable knowledge of the English language) who insisted it would cost us “a million millions” to go all the way to SLAC.

After a good (but somewhat short) night’s sleep, we got up and made our way to the SSRL. After getting security clearance, we entered into the SSRL laboratory. It was nothing like I had expected. When I thought of a high tech particle accelerator, I imagined a sort of sterilized and organized sort of futuristic compound peopled with scientists in lab coats. In contrast to my expectations, SSRL was filled with an overwhelming abundance of wires, tanks, computers, and other scientific apparatuses using up every bit of space; it reminded me of market where as many vendors as possible had crowded in to take advantage of the coveted space. Contrary to my expectation of sterile scientists in lab coats, the scientists were dressed incredibly casually (I felt rather overdressed wearing a tie).

Arriving at our beam hutch, we met Sam Webb and Courtney Roach, the most excellent scientists who were going to help us on the project. Sam Webb told us a bit about some of the other projects he had worked on dealing with cultural applications of the Synchrotron. For instance, he had used the Synchrotron to restore a 200 year old aria which had been erased. Read more at

I will describe how we proceeded with our experiment in the next blog post which I will post tomorrow.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

On Explosive Cats

The advent of gunpowder and explosives in Europe during the late Middle Ages was revolutionary, and armies experimented with various ways to make effective use of the new technology.

Sometimes these experiments were a little bizarre.

Check out his fascinating article on the many appearances of cat and bird "bombs" in antique manuscripts!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Less than a week away!

When I woke up today, I realized that we will be at Stanford in less than a week! I’m quite excited to make a major step in our project, but I am also looking  forward to seeing Stanford. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities, but I never visited Stanford in Palo Alto while there. Assuming the climate in Palo Alto is similar to San Francisco’s, I’ll have to pack some decently warm clothes.  I have heard from my family that Stanford’s campus is beautiful; I went on the internet today to look at pictures, and must admit that I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t wait to see it in person. Universities are so distinctive, from Duke’s Gothic architecture to USC’s Horseshoe to Stanford’s Eucalyptus trees (which Dr. Gwara mentioned to me). 

Dr. Gwara also mentioned that we might get to see Stanford’s medieval manuscript collection. I read online that they have a pristine copy of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues as well as a beautifully illuminated early 16th century Life of St. Catherine of Siena. I really hope we get to see these fascinating documents.

Assuming we finish our project early, we might be able to visit a few sites around San Francisco. Out of curiosity, I googled “San Francisco Museums Medieval” and discovered an exhibit on medieval torture. A bit gruesome, but something which might be interesting to see if we have time. There is also the Presidio, which dates back to the Spanish settlement in the 18th century. 

I’m sure that Aaron probably has a few ideas for what we might be able to see (if we have time).  In other news semi-related to the project, Dan Jones’s book The Plantagenets, the royal house which ruled England during the period in which our Breslauer Bible was written; I’ve been surprised to discover the extent to which the various monarch’s quarreled with the church, notably how they confiscated some church property two centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation. That’s all I have to write for now; however, stay tuned for more posts over the weekend before we head to Stanford!


Sam Webb Receives the Model

Just a brief update today, but there will be more to follow over the course of this next week (it’s spring break so I’ll have a lot of time to work on the project). We received word back from Sam Webb, who has received the facsimile of the Breslauer Bible. He told us the following:

“One important piece to note is that the original equipment used to hold the Archimedes manuscript no longer exists. I've attached a picture of how the mockup may fit into some of the brackets that we do have available at present.

Note the following:

(A) the page of interest is isolated from the front and the pages behind as well
(B) the book itself is clamped between the metal frame and holder. You will probably want to bring some sort of foam or padding to protect the book I presume.
(C) it is not clear how exactly the front cover will be maintained in an open position.
(D) it would be useful to have several of the plastic straps to insure the pages do not bow in front of the beam.”

While we clearly have a few kinks to work out, we are well on our way to having a workable setup. It was very cool seeing the picture of our model in Stanford—I almost can’t believe we will be there in less than a week!

Staff Scientist Sam Webb

Here is Sam Webb's description from his own webpage:
"I am a beam line scientist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) in the Structural Molecular Biology (SMB) program. My current interests relate to developing the microscale imaging beam lines here at SSRL, and how these micro x-ray techniques can be applied to research projects in the biological, medical, environmental, and cultural heritage fields. I also work on developing software for data analysis of XAS and imaging data as well as data collection."

He seems like a highly intelligent and skilled scientist. I am sure it will be a pleasure to work with him while at Stanford.

That is all I have to write for today, but Aaron and I should be providing more posts over the course of this week!

- Carl

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Bit about the Breslauer Bible

The centerpiece of our project is, of course, the Breslauer Bible. This post takes a look at how the University of South Carolina acquired the valuable manuscript.

The Breslauer Bible was acquired by USC, under the supervision of Dr. Gwara, at Christie's in London on June 2, 2010, for $77,000. Here is a link to the original auction: 

Check out the video below to hear Dr. Gwara discuss the importance of the Breslauer Bible acquisition!


Dr. Gwara discusses the acquisition of the Breslauer Bible 

The hefty price tag was mitigated by aid from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, hence the manuscript's name. In life, Dr. Bernard H. Breslauer was one of the most eminent antiquarian book collectors in the world, with an enormous collection of early European manuscripts. Before his death in 2004, he allowed for the creation of numerous endowments to aid universities like USC in acquiring rare books for their own collections. The foundation has also helped our university purchase two other manuscripts besides the Breslauer Bible.

Dr. B.H. Breslauer, whose endowment enabled USC to purchase the Breslauer Bible 

Early MS 85, A Cistercian Sermon Manual also purchased with the help of B.H. Breslauer Foundation 

Thanks to the generosity of the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, USC students can now enjoy the pristine beauty of one of the world's finest surviving English pocket-bibles, and USC's Irvin Department of Rare Books has been established as a serious collector of medieval manuscripts. 

- Aaron

Monday, March 10, 2014

On the Project's Background

In this post, we are going to take a look back at how our project began.

In April 2007, the University of South Carolina hosted Dr. Christopher de Hamel for a seminar entitled "Understanding the Medieval Book." Dr. de Hamel is a Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and a world-renowned scholar of medieval manuscripts. Carl and I had the pleasure of reading his excellent History of Illuminated Manuscripts for Dr. Gwara's class last semester; a link to the book on Amazon can be found here:  

Dr. de Hamel at USC in April 2011; the manuscript on the slide is USC's Early MS 15 (“Beauvais Missal”) 

While at the seminar, Dr. de Hamel took a look at USC's recently acquired Breslauer Bible (the story of its acquisition will be the subject of a future blog post). While doing so, he noticed the erased Latin inscription on the bottom of the manuscript's first folio. This piqued his interest, and he and Dr. Gwara immediately attempted to decipher what the text said. The image below shows their initial reading of the text under normal lighting conditions. 

Dr. de Hamel and Dr. Gwara's initial notes attempting to decipher the erased inscription 

While the two scholars were not able to fully decipher the manuscript's inscription (which proved impossible even during later attempts using different lighting techniques), Dr. de Hamel was intrigued by the few words that they were able to read. Based on the mysterious phrase "Brother Richard," Dr. de Hamel raised the possibility that the manuscript had originally belonged to a monastic library, and remarked that if this had been discovered before its sale to USC, it probably would not have been granted an export license due to the rarity of such manuscripts in the United Kingdom. 

Through our trip to Stanford next week, we hope to finally solve the puzzle first raised by Dr. de Hamel, and determine the manuscripts provenance once and for all!  


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Breslauer Bible Model

In order to arrange the proper setup for the scanning of the Breslauer Bible at the SSRL, Ms. Cathy Knotts (the SSRL director) directed us to Sam Webb, who she said would assist us in devising a setup. Using the aforementioned sketch by Dr. Gwara as a model, Ms. Kelsey Crump of the Hollings Special Collections library constructed a full-scale model of the Breslauer Bible for us to send to Stanford. The Facsimile showed the first three paper fly leaves and then the page to be scanned; as they are unimportant to the scanning, the rest of the pages of the model were a solid piece. Here are a few images taken by Mr. Robert Smith: 

This picture shows the model closed. Note the solid representation of most of the pages.

This image shows the paper fly leaves found at the beginning of the bible. Its covers are slightly more rigid than those of the actual bible. It luckily survived Dr. Gwara’s attempts to induce greater flexibility.

This image shows the Bible open the the page containing the inscription.

We mailed the model to Sam Webb at Stanford, along with a few attachments and a letter explaining the model to him. We told him that we planned to isolate the inscription page by holding the first three fly leaves to the front cover using a band of mylar, and the rest of the pages to the back cover using the same method. To hold the page steady, we told him we planned to use a half-frame of matt board. We sent the package last Friday with priority shipping, so they should likely have it by tomorrow.

- Carl 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Lighter Side to Medieval Manuscripts

Dr. Gwara recently sent Carl and I this interesting manuscript related article. 

Before cats became infamous for inconveniently scurrying across keyboards. . . 

. . .one feline trod across this Medieval Manuscript!  

Check out the original article below! 

- Aaron

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Project Continues

Last week was a tumultuous one—we  suffered from snows storms, ice storms, and even an earthquake, but our project plods on ahead. We met earlier this week at Dr. Gwara’s office in order to discuss our travel to Stanford. We filled out the appropriate Travel Request form—Dr. Gwara taught us to pad our budget by adding additional money on to each category (anywhere from $ 20 to $ 50) because the amount listed on the budget is the maximum reserved for a project by the department—it is therefore better to plan over budget than under. Stanford contacted me, asking for us to contact one of their personnel to discuss the experimental setup—specifically how we planned to mount the open Breslauer Bible. I had hoped to meet with Dr. Gwara at the library on Wednesday, but the arrival of a snow storm kept me snowed in at home. However, Dr. Gwara spoke with Ms.  Sudduth at the Hollings Library, producing the following initial sketch. 

In other news, we have continued working on our online courses (which deal with matters such as cyber security) in order to travel to Stanford. We have also agreed to stay at the Stanford Guest House for the sake of convenience. Our travel will be between the 18th and 21st of March. I am quite excited to continue working on this project once I return to school next week!

- Carl 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Preparation for Stanford

My name is Aaron Sanders, a junior, history major, and AFROTC cadet at the University of South Carolina. I'm working with Dr. Gwara and Carl on the Breslauer Bible project. Things are definitely speeding up!

Carl and I recently found out that instead of traveling to Stanford in June, as we originally planned, we will now be flying out March 19. Therefore, Carl and I have both created accounts on the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) website, and will begin taking the five online training courses required to use Stanford's facilities. We are hoping to use SLAC's synchrotron to read the erased inscription in the Breslauer Bible, using similar methods to those used for reading the original text of the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Synchrotron at SLAC

Check back for updates on our progress, and some upcoming posts about Medieval Paleography!


Monday, January 20, 2014

Welcome to Medieval Identity Theft!

            My name is Carl Garris, and I am beginning my second semester at the University of South Carolina, majoring in history. As a mere freshman walking into an honors course discussing Medieval Manuscripts last August, I could not have expected to receive a research grant involving priceless medieval manuscripts. Now, several months later, my colleague Aaron Sanders and I are doing that very thing. In this first blog post, I will explain how we reached this point.  

            One day in early autumn, Dr. Gwara showed the class the Breslauer Bible, a medieval “Pocket Bible” which contains an erased ownership inscription. You could barely make out the faint remnants of two lines of text on the margin of one of the first pages. Dr. Gwara explained that he had used ultraviolet light in order to read part of the inscription, but the rest remained indecipherable. Part of the readable text, he explained, read Frater Ricardi, Latin forBrother Richard.” Such a title, Dr. Gwara continued, could indicate orginal monastic ownership of the text. English monastic manuscripts are very rare; Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, and the scattering or destruction of their vast manuscript libraries, saw to that.  Proving Monastic ownership of the Breslauer Bible, he concluded, would make it a priceless connection to pre-dissolution English monasticism. He then asked, somewhat to my surprise, for volunteers to apply for a Magellan Grant (a type of student research grant offered to University of South Carolina students) to work on a project devoted to reading the rest of the inscription using advanced technology. I asked to join in. Aaron, a junior and fellow history major, also volunteered.

The erased ownership inscription inside the Breslauer Bible 

After a few meetings spread over the course of a week, Aaron and I began to work on the Magellan proposal. We used earlier grants for inspiration and read up on appropriate sources on our research. On such source was The Archimedes Codex, a book about the team which deciphered the Archimedes Palimpsest, a medieval copy of a text by Archimedes which had otherwise been lost. This particular text had not only been erased, but a Byzantine monk had also written prayers over the original writings! However, using X-rays from the Stanford Synchrotron, the team managed to decipher the original inscription through a map of the iron contained on the vellum of each page. Dr. Gwara believed that the same synchrotron could be used to read the inscription in the Breslauer Bible.

Aaron (right) and I with the Breslauer Bible in Thomas Cooper Library

Over the course of several weeks, Aaron and I met numerous times over coffee, in the Thomas Cooper Library, and even once or twice (accidentally) inside elevators in order to discuss our proposal. We divided the work, with Aaron writing the historical background information on the Breslauer Bible and with me writing about the scientific procedures we planned to use. We worked together on our budget, making sure to follow Dr. Gwara’s instruction to include great detail, including everything down to the estimated taxi prices in Palo Alto. After exchanging our proposal with Dr. Gwara to make the edits which he suggested, we submitted it almost a day before the deadline.

I spent a good portion of the past two months taking the appropriate steps to request beam time with the Synchrotron. When I called the director of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, she did not seem very confident that our proposal would receive time as it was very different from most of the work (typically advanced physics, chemistry, and materials science) which scientists conducted there. However, Dr. Gwara encouraged me to apply anyway, and by quoting the support of the appropriate people from the Archimedes Palimpsest team with whom Dr. Gwara had spoken and worked with before, as well as by explaining the small amount of time which our project would require from the Synchrotron, we were able to make a convincing enough case in our letter of intent that we received beam time, which we tentatively scheduled for this upcoming June.

Aaron and I are both very excited about this project, and now we will begin the extensive background reading required for us to prepare for potential analysis of the ownership inscription. We will also begin designing an apparatus with which to isolate the inscribed page of the manuscript.

Check in for further reports of our progress; we are looking forward to sharing the project with you!