462 medieval manuscripts to be digitized

Mainz University Library will be digitizing 462 medieval manuscripts over the next three years. The manuscripts, which can be found in the German cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, have over 170,000 pages.

The team at Mainz will generate high-quality digital reproductions of these manuscripts and then make them generally accessible for the first time. Some of these manuscripts have never before undergone close academic scrutiny. The German Research Foundation has provided 310,000 euros to fund the project, which is a collective effort by Mainz University Library, Wissenschaftliche Stadtbibliothek Mainz, Landesbibliothekszentrum Rheinland-Pfalz, the Martinus-Bibliothek of the Catholic bishopric of Mainz, and the Manuscript Center of the Leipzig University Library.


“The political, religious, and economic leadership of the Middle Rhine region during the Middle Ages resulted in a flourishing manuscript production,” says Dr. Christian George of the University Library of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. “We are thankful for this opportunity to create digitized versions of these cultural and historic treasures and to make them available to the general public.”

The Cobra scanner in the Mainz University Library provides for circumspect digitization in accordance with stringent conservation requirements by ensuring that books need only be opened to a small angle for scanning. The scan results fully comply with the best practice requirements of the German Research Foundation. Photo © Christian George / Mainz University Library)

One of the notable texts to be digitized include the sacramentary of the former St. Alban’s Abbey in Mainz, which dates to the 9th century. Currently deposited in the Martinus-Bibliothek, this is one of the oldest manuscripts that will be the subject of the project together with the six large-format choir books of the Carmelites from the 14th century, held by the Episcopal Cathedral and Diocesan Museum in Mainz. The digitization process has already started with these choir books. “Many of the 462 manuscripts go back to the High Middle Ages, including some that originated in the 10th and even the 9th centuries CE. However, the majority derive from the period following the end of the 14th century,” added George, who – as Head of Archives and Collections at the Mainz University Library, is coordinating the project.


At present, there is no systematic overview of the rich medieval textual heritage in the three cities on the Rhine, largely due to the extensive depredations and damages incurred in the aftermath of the French Revolution and during the wars of the modern era. One of the aims of the digitization of these historic texts is to provide new opportunities to explore overarching aspects of cultural and textual traditions. The source references will be provided through the Manuscripts Portal of the German Manuscript Center. The Gutenberg Capture portal of the Mainz University Library will be responsible for the display of the digitized texts and will also be providing for the long-term archiving and the free accessibility of the data.

In addition to the digitization process, the partners will also start a thorough examination of 39 manuscripts from Speyer and Worms that have to date only been subjected to surface analysis. This new examination will involve the detailed collation of the surviving texts present in each manuscript, the establishment of their histories, and the evaluation of the scripts, the miniatures, illuminated initials, ornamented pages, and bindings.

Top Image: The Cobra scanner is installed in a digitization station at the Mainz University Library. If necessary, the scans can be reviewed and edited here. Photo © Larissa Arlt / Mainz University Library