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Alden Library houses hand-crafted Bible from 13th century


Among the modern resources and freshly printed books offered at Alden Library resides a far older work that dates back eight centuries.

Alden Library’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections on the fifth floor has housed a 13th century Latin manuscript Bible since its donation to the collection on April 7, 1979. It is the one millionth book registered in Alden’s collection, and can be viewed at the Mahn Center by signing a research form.

The Carr Liggett Advertising Inc. donated the Bible to Ohio University in memorial of Carr Liggett, an OU alumnus, according to a pamphlet produced shortly after the donation. The Bible formerly belonged to famed English poet William Morris and prior to that, a man named Ricardo Heredia.

Although the origin of the 396 page Bible remains largely unconfirmed, professor Charles Buchanan, the director of interdisciplinary arts and an instructor of a medieval art course, said artisans in France most likely produced the work to satisfy a demand at the time for portable Bibles. Buchanan said the process of Bible-making in the late medieval era moved toward an assembly line as opposed to being made in monasteries by monks.

Miriam Intrator, the special collections librarian at Alden, said at least three different people worked to create the Bible. One or more scribes created light ruling lines on sheepskin, and hand-lettered each page in Latin, the language of the church. Then, a rubricator would color in the incipits, or the letters that start each chapter. In this case, the colors are red and blue.

Lastly, an illuminator painted 72 illustrations of animals, humans and hybrids, according to the pamphlet. As for the third category, the illuminator included winged dragons and gargoyles as representations of the devil. Illumination is the practice of including miniature illustrations and colored initials.

The practice was expensive in the 13th century —  because of the price of paint — and exemplified wealth, and the gold used in the illumination is real, Intrator said.

The Bible is called a “pocket Bible” despite it being much larger than the modern idea of pocket-sized, but could be stored in a frock or robe, Buchanan said.

At one point, the Bible was taken to Spain and received a new binding made from goatskin. That aspect, along with a signature from a 17th century Spaniard, Bartolome De la Puente, prompted researchers to believe the work itself came from Spain. But, upon further inspection, France arose as the piece’s birthplace.

Along with De la Puente’s margin notes, two other scholars have made notes and drawings in the marginalia. According to the pamphlet, the notes date to the 14th and 15th century.

In addition to the hand-lettered Bible, Alden Library’s Archives and Special Collection also hold other works of religious significance such as a page or “leaf” from a Bible used by missionaries in the Americas along with many facsimiles, or copies, of medieval religious secular works including The Book of Kells.

Buchanan has brought classes, a graduate interdisciplinary arts class and an undergraduate medieval art class, to observe the Bible’s makeup, script and artwork.

He said the work represents a period when Bibles had become more commonplace and, for the first time, allowed people to read the holy book in a private setting.

“It’s one of the treasures of the library,” Buchanan said.

Alden Library hosts Africa exhibit exploring Western and native portrayals of the continent

In Southeast Ohio, Africa might seem far away, floating somewhere beyond an ocean that also escapes Appalachia’s horizon.

But in reality, the continent is closer to Ohio University than one might imagine.

In late July, Alden Library debuted its new fourth floor exhibit titled “Africa In History” that aims to showcase the institution’s collection of 19th century literature that chronicles the distant land. These dated bindings of yesteryear — the main focus of the exhibit — consist mainly of travel books complete with olden maps, explorers’ material, children’s books about Africa from the period and an array of other works.

“We try to represent different parts of the collection,” Miriam Intrator, Alden’s special collections librarian, said. “We have a textbook in (the exhibit) because it’s always interesting to see what children are being taught.”

The textbook and similar material are examples of Anglo-American works depicting Africa rather than Africa representing itself, Intrator said.

She stressed the visual components of the exhibit which also include baskets, hand-drawn African animals, photographs and other elements stemming from the continent itself.

Tebelelo Mazile Seretse, the former ambassador of the Botswana embassy in Washington D.C., donated several of these non-literary pieces to the display, Araba Dawson-Andoh, an Africana librarian at Alden who helped create the exhibit, said.

This is not the first time Alden Library has bridged the geological gap between continents.

Since the 1950s, Alden Library has collaborated with several African nations including Botswana and Swaziland, through which Alden serves as an official book depository, or a place for safekeeping, of these countries, Dawson-Andoh said.

For Intrator and Dawson-Andoh, the genesis of this particular exhibit came about with the intention of displaying Alden’s varied Africana collection for members of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, who recently held its annual conference in Columbus this month.

Intrator said Dawson-Andoh and herself searched through a cart full of texts from the archives and rare book collection before deciding on the pieces and to what pages they would be open.

After the two narrowed the featured works, Miriam Nelson, Alden’s head preservation librarian, examined the condition of the pieces and prepared them for extended display with custom book cradles and supports.

“We make most of our book cradles at the preservation department and fit them to each book based on the size and which page it will be open to,” said Nelson. “I really enjoy seeing exhibits come together. I’m always pleased to be a part of that.”

Dawson-Andoh said she hoped the exhibit would bring awareness to Africa’s history and pass knowledge on to students.

“Africa In History” will remain open to students and the public until Sept. 15.



IF YOU GO (Graphic)

What: “Africa in History”

Where: Alden Library, fourth floor

When: July 25 to Sept. 15

Admission: Free

(Photo by Austin Janning)