Posted in Medievalists.net
September 26, 2022

‘Forgotten archive’ of medieval books and manuscripts discovered in Romanian church


A team of researchers in Romania has discovered over 200 books and manuscripts in a church in Mediaș. It includes dozens of early printed works and manuscript fragments dating back to as early as the 9th century.

The research team, led by Adinel C. Dincă of Babeș-Bolyai University, found the cache in the Ropemakers’ Tower of St. Margaret’s Church in Mediaș, a town in central Romania. Biblioteca Batthyaneum, a branch of the National Library of Romania, announced the discovery on its Facebook page earlier this month. They reported that the find included 139 printed books dating to between 1470 and 1600, two manuscripts from the early 16th century and about sixty more charters and other documents dating to between the 14th and 16th centuries. Furthermore, they found several manuscripts fragments that were kept inside parish records, the earliest of which is from the Caroliginian era and may date back to as early as the 9th century.

Some of the manuscript fragments discovered.Photo by Adinel C. Dincă / Biblioteca Batthyaneum

The discovery of this “forgotten archive” is, according to Biblioteca Batthyaneum, resembling “one of Indiana Jones’ stories.”

St. Margaret’s Church, also known as Margarethenkirche, dates back to the early 15th century and was established by the Transylvanian Saxons, a community of Germans who settled in this region of Romania in the Middle Ages. The collection of books seems to have been left in the church’s tower for at least decades, perhaps to protect them during the First or Secord World War. However, Professor Dincă believes they may have been placed here much earlier. In an email to Medievalists.net, he explains:

When I first encountered the books, I immediately noticed the disposition of the volumes according to a certain historical typology: bibles and biblical texts, patristic, theology etc. This order doesn’t look like an improvisation and suggests that the collection was placed there at an earlier stage of development. Furthermore, older shelfmarks were following (with few exceptions) a clear order. The books were part of the church patrimony and were mostly kept (from a certain moment on) for their intrinsic value.

These items may have been part of a much larger library collection within the church. Professor Dincă notes that a catalogue published in 1864 lists around 7,700 books held by the library, including dozens of early printed works by Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon. The research team will now be working to match up the discovered books with those listed in the catalogue.

Church tower where the collection was kept – Photo by Adinel C. Dincă / Biblioteca Batthyaneum

While research into the discovery has only just started, Dincă explains that they have already made some exciting finds:

One highlight of this historical collection is the large number of original 16th-century bindings, many of them dated. In addition to that, in the series of administrative registers of the parish, there are several fragments of mediaeval manuscripts, among them one copied in Carolingian minuscule, the rest of the ‘fragments collection’ containing the usual liturgical manuscripts from the 14th to 15th century. The closed context of re-use makes it very likely that such recycled pieces of parchment are in fact remnants of a pre-Reformation stock of manuscripts locally used.

The research team is now working to better understand the collection and help with its preservation, and they hope that it can be kept in a local library with digitization to give it wider access. Professor Dincă believes that this discovery will be allow historians to better reconstruct the literacy and the intellectual life of the Transylvanian Saxons as well as the local medieval manuscript tradition.

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Medievalists.net September 26, 2022 at 11:16AM

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