In Search of Lost Manuscripts

Research News

The Library has recently digitised MS 689 (aka Mus 1295), an intriguing fragment from a fifteenth-century Roman Missal, written on parchment by an anonymous scribe in a style otherwise known as 'gothic textura rotunda'. The manuscript consists of eight non-adjacent leaves purchased at auction in Geneva, and donated by Paul Lewis, father of Jonathan W. Lewis (Christ Church, 1991). At the time, the intention was to follow the matter through and see if any more of the manuscript came to light. Sadly, despite our efforts so far, we never did find any sign of more of it. By digitising this incomplete manuscript now, the hope is that scholars might trace other pages scattered throughout collections elsewhere in the world, adding more substance to the extant fragment, even if only virtually.

Fragments survive sometimes as loose pieces, but more often either as wrappers (used to cover other codices), or as parts of bindings of printed books. There are countless binding fragments in the Library -- countless because the essential groundwork has not yet been done, but even on a conservative estimate they run into the thousands. This could set a challenge which is daunting, but there is a manageable pilot project we have in mind, concentrating on the fragments identified in the Allestree collection.

The intention would be to provide these with online descriptions complete with images of the fragments and the bindings in which they sit. When more than one fragment from a manuscript survives, an extra record would be produced reconstructing as far as we can that volume and how it came to be dismantled. Findings of particular significance would be then written up as online articles which can also be used in Christ Church Library Newsletter or in other publications. The platform will replicate the structure provided by the Lost Manuscripts project run by Dr David Rundle. In addition, links will be established from the Digital Bodleian site, and the Fragmentarium site in Switzerland, ensuring the discoveries gain as wide an audience as possible.

The project is founded on the belief that, according to David Rundle, a wider understanding of the fragmentary can be transformative of our understanding of manuscript culture. The aspiration is to provide the groundwork for that transformation by participating in the building up of a union catalogue of manuscript fragments in the British Isles.

Cristina Neagu
Keeper of Special Collections