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.

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