Ancient texts from Bodleian and Vatican Libraries available to view online

By Sarah Jackson | 03 December 2013

A landmark partnership between the Bodleian and Vatican libraries will digitise some of their rarest works, allowing scholars and the public to peruse them worldwide

Image from an illuminated manuscript showing two men with halos.
© Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticano
For the first time, ordinary members of the public from around the world will be able to view some of the most important and unique bibles and biblical texts in existence from the comfort of their own home.

A team of scholars and curators from around the world chose a selection of texts from the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books. Conservation staff worked closely with curators to ensure that the objects chosen were appropriate in both content and condition.

The collaboration between the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticano builds on both libraries' individual digitisation projects. It has allowed them to increase the scale and pace with which they can digitise their most significant collections, while taking into consideration the fragile condition of these ancient texts.

A dedicated website - available in both English and Italian - has been launched, revealing the first batch of digitised books in a four-year project. The images are zoomable, allowing them to be used for scholarly research and analysis. The website also provides essays and video presentations made by experts including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès.

Conservation and digitisation techniques will also be discussed on the blog, revealing the immense amount of time and effort used in making the project a reality.

The collaboration began in April 2012, aiming to open up the two libraries' vast resources and making a selection of their outstanding collections freely available to anyone, scholar or average Joe, around the world. During the next three years, more than 1.5 million digitised pages will be made available.

“It is very exciting to see the first fruits of this landmark collaboration between the Bodleian and the Vatican Library," says Richard Ovenden, of the Bodleian.

"We hope that, through digitising and making openly accessible some of the most significant books in our collections, we will increase the potential for research and broader understanding of these ancient texts.”

Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the Prefect of the Vatican Library, said: “I am very pleased with the website that is launched together by the two institutions. I envision how useful it will be to scholars and many other interested people.

"Moreover, I see the common fruit of our labour as a very positive sign of collaboration and sharing, that is a trademark of the world of culture.”

The digitised texts can be accessed on the dedicated website here.

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Page from an illuminated Hebrew text.
© Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Page from an Italian biblical text with black ink illustrations.
© Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Follow Sarah Jackson on Twitter @SazzyJackson.

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