University Libraries Special Collections Joins Digital Scriptorium


Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections has joined Digital Scriptorium — the online, national union catalog for medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Supported by a consortium of academic, public, and independent research libraries, Digital Scriptorium, which has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation, provides open access to images and catalog records for a wide variety of illuminated and text manuscripts. Through this resource, anyone with an internet connection can view materials that are often restricted from public access. All of the Vatican Film Library’s collection of medieval manuscripts will ultimately be found online via Digital Scriptorium. These rare and unique manuscripts are used in both teaching and scholarly research. The first upload is now viewable and consists of  VFL MS 002, five single leaves from a famously disbound and disbursed manuscript known as the Llangattock Breviary, originating from mid-fifteenth century Ferrara, Italy. The manuscript takes its nickname from the Baron Llangattock, who sold the manuscript at auction through Christie’s in 1958.

VFL MS 002, fol. b, verso: One of SLU’s five leaves from the Llangattock Breviary

At the Christie’s sale the Boston book dealer George Goodspeed bought the manuscript, perhaps in an already fragmentary state, and broke it up to sell individual leaves to American collectors. These included Milton and Gail Fischman, who donated five leaves from the manuscript to Saint Louis University in 1962. Other institutions that now own leaves from the manuscript include Harvard, U.C. Berkeley, the American Academy in Rome, Michigan State, University of South Carolina, the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, Dartmouth College, the Museo Schifanoia in Ferrara, and the Bibliotheque nationale de France (MS lat. 9473, fol. 2). And there are also leaves from the manuscript among private collections as well as some still known to be in the trade, such as one for sale at Les Enluminures, and another (from the collection of Stuart and Caroline Schimmel) that was included in Bonham’s, New York, sale of 11 December 2013 as lot no. 1376.

Even more exciting news about the Llangattock Breviary is that Saint Louis University’s Center for Digital Humanities has plans to use it as the test case manuscript for a digital project called Broken Books, which will develop a web-based application to enable the virtual reconstruction of manuscript books that at some point in their history were taken apart, “broken” into pieces and dispersed. Although the physical reunification of disbursed leaves from any one manuscript is impractical, as more archives and repositories make their collections more accessible through digitization, the possibility of restoring these books virtually is within reach. The Center for Digital Humanities plans to create a digital tool that can assist in restoring these broken books even if the individual leaves (and their digital surrogates) reside in various locations around the world.

VFL MS 009, fol. a, recto: Leaf from a 14th-century Italian Antiphonary

A total of sixty-one original manuscripts reside in the Vatican Film Library collections, comprising eight bound manuscripts and 132 single leaves, dating from the thirteenth to the twentieth centuries, and originating from Asia and Africa as well as European centers or production. Only some of these have been previously cataloged, so the Vatican Film Library is working with the the University Libraries Digitization Center of to scan and prepare metadata for all of the VFL manuscripts to be included in Digital Scriptorium. This digital access will also provide an opportunity for the rest of the university’s collection of medieval manuscripts to be included in the Broken Books digital reconstruction project.

For more information about these projects and collections contact Debra Cashion, Vatican Film Library Assistant Librarian  and Associate Director for the Center of Digital Humanities (314-977-5517,

Debra Cashion

About Debra Cashion

Assistant Librarian, Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library;
Digital Humanities Librarian;
Dept. of Special Collections, Pius XII Memorial Library, Saint Louis University

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