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!  


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