Medieval fragments found sewn into Latin bible

00:01, Apr 17 2012
15th century bible
RARE FIND: Waikato University Emeritus Professor Alexandra Barratt, left, with Georgia Princs and Kate De Courcy, has worked with experts to verify the discovery of 1200-year-old manuscript fragments sewn into the bindings of 15th century bibles.

A Waikato academic has found fragments of centuries-old manuscripts sewn into the bindings of books at Auckland's Central City Library.

Alexandra Barratt, emeritus professor at Waikato University, was going through the pages of a 15th century Latin bible when she discovered the fragments.

"I noticed in the middle of some of the quires [booklets within the bible] there were strips of parchment and I thought they actually looked much earlier than the sort of manuscript that I'm used to dealing with."

An English expert, with an interest in manuscripts in New Zealand, she believes they are from early ninth century and are the earliest example of Western manuscripts in Australasia and possibly the southern hemisphere.

"I was very surprised because these Carolingian manuscripts are early and quite rare and I never expected to see one in Auckland. It's a very unlikely place to see something quite as old as that."

An expert at the Munich state library viewed the pictures for authenticity and said "they are in the same hand".


The strips of animal skin parchment are sewn into three of the four volumes of the bible to strengthen the binding. Only eight strips are visible.

"Most of them are sunk very deep and because they were put in to strengthen the stitching they've glued them over."

They are cut from a Latin Carolingian bible written in the time of the French and German emperor, Charlemagne, and include extracts from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Ezekiel and Hosea.

The four-volume Latin bible, presented to the library in 1913 by Henry Shaw, is held in the Sir George Grey Special Collections and come from the Benedictbeuern monastery in Germany.

"If you think about it, these little pieces of manuscript have travelled further than any other piece of Carolingian manuscript as far as we know."

The discovery adds to the collection of manuscripts found in libraries throughout New Zealand. "We've got some quite good collections of medieval manuscripts in NZ and we need to pay careful study."

- Elton Smallman is a Wintec journalism student.

Waikato Times