The Bodleian Library, the main research library of the University of Oxford, is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. flickr user J.Salmoral

Vatican Library, Oxford's Bodleian launch major digitization project

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • April 15, 2012

VATICAN CITY - In collaboration with the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, England, and thanks to a grant of more than $3 million, a million pages of material from the Vatican Library will be digitized over the next five years.

"Digitizing means better conservation of cultural goods, less arduous consultation, guaranteeing a high-quality reproduction before the original can deteriorate and making them immediately accessible online to many more people," said Msgr. Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Library.

The project, funded with a grant from the London-based Polonsky Foundation, is expected to digitally reproduce a total of 1.5 million pages of manuscripts and ancient books from the Vatican Library and the Bodleian Libraries.

Msgr. Pasini told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that about two-thirds of the total pages would be from the Vatican Library's holdings. The project will be a huge leap forward in the Vatican Library's digitalizing process, which began in 2010 and has produced an online catalogue describing its 8,900 incunabula, which are books printed in the 15th century.

The new project will allow the library to digitize and make available online complete copies of 800 of the incunabula, he said, including Johann Gutenberg's Latin Bible, which was printed between 1454 and 1455 and was the first book printed using movable type.

The Bodleian-Vatican Library digitized collections will be in three subject areas: Greek manuscripts, incunabula and Hebrew manuscripts.

According to the Bodleian, the subject areas were chosen because both libraries have strong collections in those areas and because of the collections' importance to scholars. The project will bring together online "materials that have been dispersed between the two collections over the centuries," the Bodleian press release said.

Msgr. Pasini said the project will allow the Vatican Library to expand the service it has rendered for almost six centuries by making cultural treasures available to a much wider group of readers and researchers.

The Vatican Library's Greek manuscripts include works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hippocrates, manuscripts of the New Testament and of the early church fathers.

The Hebrew manuscripts include the Sifra, a legal commentary on Scripture thought to be the oldest existing Hebrew codex; it was written at the end of the 9th or in the first half of the 10th century. Other Hebrew texts in the Vatican collection are biblical commentaries, works on Jewish mysticism and writings on liturgy, philosophy, medicine and astronomy.

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