The Vatican and Oxford University team up to digitize 1.5 million pages of medieval manuscripts

The University of Oxford and the Vatican have jointly created a digital project that will put online over 1.5 million pages of medieval and biblical texts.

Image from a Byzantine manuscript now digitized

The four-year project will digitize the collections of the Bodleian Libraries and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) related to their Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and fifteenth-century printed books. They include a Gutenberg Bible from 1455, an autographed and annotated manuscript of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, and the oldest surviving Hebrew codex.


The project is funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Polonsky Foundation. Dr Leonard Polonsky said, “In today’s fast-paced, digital-driven world of scholarship, easy access to primary resources is paramount. I hope that the collection of digital texts that is jointly released by the Bodleian and the Vatican libraries will make a contribution to the advancement of modern scholarship.”

While the Vatican and the Bodleian have each been creating digital images from their collections for a number of years, this project has provided an opportunity for both libraries to increase the scale and pace with which they can digitize their most significant collections, while taking great care not to expose books to any damage, as they are often fragile owing to their age and condition.

The newly launched website features zoomable images which enable detailed scholarly analysis and study. The website also includes articles on the conservation and digitization techniques, as well as video presentations made by scholars and supporters of the project.


Richard Ovenden, Interim Bodley’s Librarian, commented,  “It is very exciting to see the first fruits of this landmark collaboration between the Bodleian and the Vatican libraries. We hope that through digitizing and making openly accessible some of the most significant books in our collections we will increase their potential for research and broader understanding of these ancient texts.”

Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the Prefect of the Vatican Library, added, “I am very pleased with the website that is launched together by the two institutions: I envision how useful it will be to scholars and many other interested people. Moreover, I see the common fruit of our labour as a very positive sign of collaboration and sharing, that is a trademark of the world of culture.”

Click here to visit the project website

Sources: University of Oxford, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Polonsky Foundation


Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!