VATICAN APOSTOLIC LIBRARY TO DIGITISE A MILLION PAGES OF MANUSCRIPTS AND INCUNABULA

Vatican City, 13 April 2012 (VIS) - Msgr. Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, announced in yesterday's "Osservatore Romano" that over the next five years 1.5 million pages of manuscripts and incunabula held in the Vatican and in the Bodleian Library in Oxford will be be transferred into digital format. This is the largest such initiative yet carried out by the Vatican Library and is being put into effect with the assistance of the Polonsky Foundation.

Two thirds of the works to be digitised - around one million pages or 2,500 books - will be chosen from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and incunabula in the Vatican Apostolic Library. The institution possesses 8,900 incunabula, making it the fourth largest collection in the world. A catalogue of the incunabula has recently been published on the internet and, thanks to this latest project, it is hoped to make more than 800 complete works available online. They include the famous "De Europa" by Pope Pius II, printed by Albrecht Kunne in Memmingen before 1491, and the 42-Line Latin Bible of Johann Gutenberg, the first book printed using moveable type, between 1454 and 1455.

Certain particularly important Hebrew manuscripts are also due to be digitised, including the "Sifra", written some time between the end of the ninth and the middle of the tenth century and perhaps the oldest surviving Jewish codex; a Bible written in Italy around the year 1100; commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud; Halakhah and Kabbalah, as well as writings on philosophy, medicine and astronomy.

Among the Greek manuscripts to be transferred into digital format are works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hypocrites, as well as New Testament codices and works by Church Fathers, many decorated with Byzantine miniatures.

As well as its 8,900 incunabula, the Vatican Apostolic Library also possesses more than 80,000 manuscripts. Msgr. Pasini explains that transferring them to digital format is a way of "better conserving cultural heritage, facilitating consultation and ensuring a high-quality reproduction before any eventual degradation of the original. It also means making those works immediately accessible to many more people online".

The Vatican Apostolic Library’s digitisation project began two years ago, since when the number of manuscripts available in digital format has been gradually increasing thanks to the efforts of the library's own reproduction laboratory. There are also a number of initiatives under way in collaboration with other cultural institutions, such as the ongoing digitisation of the Latin Palatine manuscripts being carried out with the University of Heidelberg.