At the very back of the State Library of Ohio, past the reference collection, the shelves of government documents, and the cabinets full of microfilm, is an unobtrusive door labeled “Rare Book Room.” If a visitor goes through those doors–which one can do simply by scheduling a tour–he or she will have the opportunity to hold the oldest item in the library: a manuscript tentatively dated to around the 13th century!
The item is hand-written by a scribe, as it was created approximately two hundred years before Gutenberg’s press revolutionized the book manufacturing industry. Scribes–typically males–were copyists who sometimes could not read the words being written by their own hands. The work of fully-illiterate individuals is often lost to time, but in the case of manuscripts such as this the individual’s work remains as a record of the person having lived; we can see it, touch it, and retain a record of one person’s beautiful artistry.
The title of this piece, Historia testamenti veteris et allegorii, translates from Latin to The History of the Old Testament and Allegories. It is religious in nature as books often were at this time, and is written on parchment (animal skin) with rubrication, which simply means that certain letters, words, or sections are written in red for added emphasis. An example of this characteristic can be seen above.
A scholar who recently visited Ohio from South Carolina believed that the manuscript was written in Italy and tentatively dated it to the late 1200s.
We recognize that not everyone who is interested in such treasures can make a trip to the State Library, so we have brought this manuscript right to you via Ohio Memory. We hope you enjoy viewing it as well as the thousands of other unique items in our online collections, all available to you with the click of a mouse!
Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!