Precious medieval manuscripts and fragments that illuminate the art, music and literary culture of medieval Europe are being made available to the public for the first time thanks to a two-year conservation and digitisation project at the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
While the Book of Kells is Trinity’s best-known medieval manuscript, the Library of Trinity College Dublin is also home to 600 other precious medieval manuscripts dating from the 5th to the 16th centuries with origins right across western Europe.
Sixty of these manuscripts have been conserved and digitised, rendered as 16,000 high quality images, and are now available to the public on as part of the Library’s Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project.
The material illuminates the social, creative, medicinal and culinary culture of medieval Europe. It forms part of the Virtual Trinity Library programme, a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections.
Support for the project was provided by a philanthropic grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Dame Louise Richardson, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said: “The founder of Carnegie Corporation of New York, Andrew Carnegie, often said that books contain the treasures of the world. Over 140 years ago, he began funding libraries in the belief that providing a library exceeds anything else a community can do to help its people.
“Today our foundation honours that legacy by supporting Trinity College Dublin’s stewardship in preserving knowledge for future generations. Through the careful restoration and digitisation of the medieval manuscripts, these cultural artifacts will be accessible to both the curious and the scholarly for the benefit of us all.”
Commenting on the significance of the project, Helen Shenton, Librarian & College Archivist said: “The Library of Trinity College Dublin is delighted to make these magnificent medieval manuscripts accessible to a global audience. For the first time in their existence, these exquisite manuscripts can now be viewed digitally by anyone. As part of the Virtual Trinity Library’s Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project they are part of teaching and research at Trinity College Dublin and foster international collaboration with other universities and libraries.”
The most significant manuscripts in this collection include the highly decorated medieval manuscripts, the Winchcombe Psalter (12th century), the Life of St Alban by Matthew Paris (13th century) and the West Dereham Bible (pictured above). These manuscripts of exceptional artistic quality have been photographed in their entirety in colour for the first time.
Estelle Gittins, Manuscript Curator, Trinity Library, said: “The types of manuscripts represent virtually every area of medieval thought and activity across Western Europe and further afield, including lavishly decorated religious manuscripts; histories and chronicles; literary works in prose and verse; music manuscripts for communal singing; a whole host of recipes and cures; and fragments from long-lost manuscripts from a variety of eras.
“These manuscripts’ significance lies not only in their beautiful illumination, but in the fact that they survived the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, not to mention the chaos and destruction wrought by accident, fire, flood, and warfare over several centuries of history. All are unique and irreplaceable.”
The collection also includes manuscripts which give rare insights into medieval Irish culture. These manuscripts include Irish medieval music manuscripts, containing hymns and chants dating from the 15th Century.
At the launch event choral ensemble Schola Hyberniae performed a chant from the 15th-century manuscript ‘Clondalkin Breviary’. The music was transcribed from medieval notation into modern musical notation and prepared for performance and wider scholarly study by Dr Ann Buckley, Medieval History Research Centre, Trinity. It is one of only a handful of manuscripts containing musical notation to survive from medieval Ireland and is one of the manuscripts conserved, digitised and now freely available to the public.
To mark the culmination of the project the Library is also hosting a two-day conference (Nov 30-Dec 2) entitled The Many Lives of Medieval Manuscripts which is showcasing research outputs arising from the digitisation of these manuscripts including research papers on conservation of vellum manuscripts and using AI to transcribe medieval manuscripts.