HMML acquires two landmark titles for its Rare Book Collection

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October 23, 2007

The Rev. Columba Stewart, OSB, executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), has announced that HMML has acquired two new books of critical importance for its already outstanding collection of rare books and manuscripts: one of the most significant Bibles of all time, and the first edition of a major Benedictine text.

The Ostrih Bible, sometimes known as the “Slavonic Gutenberg,” is the first complete printed Bible in Church Slavonic, the common liturgical language of Slavic Christianity. Printed in the Ukraine in 1581, this was in its day by far the largest Cyrillic printing project ever undertaken. Edited and printed under Orthodox auspices, the Ostrih Bible (sometimes called Ostrog after the Russian form of the place name) seems to have been deliberately designed for both Orthodox and Catholic readers, as its arrangements of the biblical books has features of both traditions. It has been suggested that the motivation for its publication was to unite Orthodox and Catholics in opposition to the inroads of Calvinism in the western Slavic world, giving the older religious traditions a Bible they could use in refuting the Protestant claim that they had neglected the Bible in favor of other religious texts.

The HMML copy was originally owned by the Orthodox Bishop of L’viv, Ukraine, Hedeon Balaban (bp. 1569-1607), and was only recently discovered in northern Romania by a European bookseller. This is an extremely rare book, with only a handful of copies in North America. HMML’s copy is in unusually good condition: most copies are very worn, and often are missing pages.

“With HMML launching a major, multi-site manuscript digitization project in Ukraine this fall, the acquisition of the Ostrih Bible is timely indeed,” Stewart said. “This will help place HMML on the map for those interested in the Christianity of the Slavic world.”

HMML has acquired a rare first print edition of The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, the only source of information about the life and deeds of Saint Benedict. A copy of the first edition, printed in Strassburg in 1472-73, became available recently for the first time in decades. HMML’s handsome, pristine copy was rebound in the early 19th century by the noted Parisian binder Bozérian le Jeune. Well cared for by the distinguished collectors who have owned it over the last 200 years, this extremely important monastic work has found its way to a good home, where it joins North America’s best collection of Benedictina, or works related to Benedictine monasticism. Until now, no copy is known to have remained in a monastic library.

“Our two principal areas of focus in rare books are Bibles and Benedictina,” Stewart said. “Other areas in which HMML has significant strengths are liturgy, typography, paleography and, because of The Saint John’s Bible, calligraphy. Our collections in these areas support HMML’s holdings of manuscript images, making HMML a unique resource for the study of both handwritten and printed books.”

HMML was founded 40 years ago in response to the devastating loss of manuscripts and books during two World Wars. It is the only institution in the world exclusively dedicated to the photographic preservation and study of manuscripts, particularly in locations where war, theft or physical conditions pose a threat. Since its inception, HMML has built the largest collection of manuscript images in the world, having photographed almost 100,000 manuscripts totaling more than 30 million pages.

For more information about HMML and its rare book collections, please contact the Rev. Columba Stewart, executive director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, at 320-363-2217, or by e-mail at cstewart@csbsju.edu. For further information about the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library or Vivarium, visit www.hmml.org.