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.