Collection of 3,000 medieval manuscripts now online

After centuries of separation, one of the most valuable collections of manuscripts from the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age – the Bibliotheca Palatina – has been virtually reunited.

Illustrated Latin magnificent codex from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome. Photo: University Library Heidelberg

Heidelberg University Library digitised not only the German manuscripts in its own holdings but also the Latin codices of this “mother of all libraries”, housed in Rome for nearly 400 years within the walls of the Vatican Library, the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation provided the long-term financing that made possible this landmark project in scholarly research.

The technical capabilities of digitisation and the Internet gave the University Library the opportunity to reunite this “treasure of Western culture”, now split between Rome and Heidelberg, into a single virtual library. To this end, Heidelberg University and the Vatican established a cooperation extending over several years.

“For us, the virtual reunification of the German and Latin Palatina manuscripts is a dream come true,” emphasises Dr Veit Probst, Director of the Heidelberg University Library.

The Bibliotheca Palatina had a long history even before Pope Gregory XV confiscated it in the Thirty Years’ War and transferred it to the Vatican in 1623. For nearly 250 years, it had grown from two sources – the royal collections of the Heidelberg Castle and the libraries of Heidelberg University founded in 1386. With the exception of the German-language codices, which were permitted to return to Heidelberg in 1816, the Palatina remains a foundation of the Vatican Library in Rome.

An employee of the University Library digitises a medieval manuscript in Rome. Photo: University Library Heidelberg

At the beginning of the 17th century, it was known as “the greatest treasure of Germany’s learned”. As a universal library, it contains not only theological, philological, philosophical, and historical works but also medical, natural history, and astronomical texts. It therefore remains of great interest for a number of academic disciplines. The digitised core inventory of approximately 3,000 manuscripts is now available to everyone over the Internet.

Click here to go to the Bibliotheca Palatina Digital website

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