Inventorying the past: Jerusalem Franciscan Manuscripts

Michele Campopiano, University of York

Jerusalem is a place of encounters, encounters of religions, ethnicities, and also different languages and writing systems: different languages and scripts which represent no real fixed boundary, but fluid substances which melt into each other through different forms of re-elaborations. They are palimpsests which are written and re-written without deleting the multiple layers of texts on which they rest.

An archive of such palimpsests is the Library of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. The multi-centenary history of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land is materially consigned to us in the form of more than five hundred manuscripts dating from the 11th century to the present day. A recent project, based on the most advanced principles of library science, has provided modern scholars with the logic framework with which to orient themselves in this repository of fragments of memory. It is the project “Books, bridges of peace” of the European Research Centre Book Publishing Library (CRELEB) of the Catholic University of Milan.

Led by Prof. Edoardo Barbieri of the Catholic University of Milan and supported in particular by ATS pro Terra Sancta, this project has seen a team of young and bright scholar providing an online catalogue for the manuscripts, incunables, ancient and modern printed books: thanks to ​Marcello Mozzato for the manuscripts inventory, Alessandro Tedesco for the description of pilgrimage accounts and travelogues (Itinera), Emilia Bignami for the online catalogue, Luca Rivali for the catalogue of the incunables, and to the help and support of the Librarian Father Lionel Goh, these works can be seen and consulted by scholars worldwide: http://www.bibliothecaterraesanctae.org/

This project has showed how books have served as bridges to connect cultures and languages. A visual demonstration of these connections has been given with the exhibition MFH: Manuscripta Franciscana Hierosolymitana. Selected Exhibition, where 35 manuscripts were put on display, and a catalogue was published for the occasion: MFH Manuscripta Franciscana Hierosolymitana.

On this occasion I was  invited to give a lecture on Writing the Holy Land: Manuscripts and Texts from the Franciscan Convent in Jerusalem (1333-1530 ca), where I anticipated some results of my next monograph on the Franciscans and the Holy Land in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period. A television report on the event can be seen here.

I want to mention two manuscripts of the library which in particular exemplify this process of encounter and fusion. One is the Ms. 78, in Latin, of the first half of the 14th century. This manuscript contains several medical treatises by al-Rāzī, a Medieval Persian scientist: these works are transmitted in their 12th century Latin version by Gerard of Cremona.  It is an encounter in the form of translation, which recasts Arabic into Latin, in a manuscript then brought to the Middle East. The other example is ms. HEB. 15, an 18th century collection of medical recipes in Judeo-Arabic, Arabic written in Hebrew script.

Our journey in the Medieval and Early Modern history of Jerusalem will continue on the 9th of December, at the Royal Dutch Institute of Rome, where I have organized the seminar Shaping Christian Memories and Identities: The Franciscans in the Levant, 13th-16th century. It will take place within the framework of the NWO project I lead together with Guy Geltner (Amsterdam): Cultural Memory and Identity in the Late Middle Ages:  The Franciscans of Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Representation of the Holy Land, 1333-1516, and several specialists on the topic will participate. You can view the programme here.

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