Digitising the manuscripts of St. Gall

The Benedictine abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland is one of the places where manuscripts travelled down the centuries.  Founded in the Dark Ages, it’s collection crops up in many a discussion of ancient texts.  Quintillian was found here by Poggio, for instance.  There is still a very substantial collection there in the possession of the Roman Catholic church, although the abbey was expropriated in 1805.

I was delighted to learn today from Evangelical Textual Criticism that St. Gall are digitising their collection and placing it online.  Of course ETC are mainly interested in biblical mss; but the rest of us will be interested in the other mss!  The website is here.  Currently there are 144 mss online.

An article in the NY Times says that they have recently received a grant of $1m from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to scan the 355 mss in their collection which were written before 1000 AD.  This tells us that the Swiss intend to digitise all 7,000 medieval mss in that country — wonderful news indeed, and one that must benefit scholars greatly.  Full marks to the Foundation for funding it.  That works out at around $3,000 per manuscript; quite a bit, but getting much closer than the British Library ever has to the real cost to doing the work.

All credit is due to Ernst Tremp, the library director.  It seems that he thought up the project after seeing widespread flooding in Dresden in 2002 which damaged many artworks.  It is great to see a library director who grasps what should be obvious; that manuscripts must be photographed and must be made accessible or they WILL be lost in the mischances of the years.

The site has an English interface.  I had a browse by author to see what’s in there, which gave a short list, and then by title to see the rest.  Most of the stuff is 9th century, it seems.  There’s a 9th century ‘Hegesippus’ (Latin Josephus’ Wars); an copy of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae from ca. 900; a bunch of biblical commentaries by Jerome of the same date; Lucan, Pharsalia, 11th c.; Martianus Capella; Orosius; Prudentius; a 9th century astronomical/computistical text; a bunch of composite manuscripts; several volumes of fragmenta rescripta or reused palimpsest parchment pages from late antique books.

Nothing of great interest to me, so far; but still very useful indeed to have available.  My only query: why don’t they make the mss into PDF’s, like Google do?  These itsy-bitsy one-page-at-a-time custom interfaces are a pain to work with.


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