Biblioteca Nazionale Torino

Green sustainability is all the rage today, but we’ve got nothing on our fanatically recycling medieval predecessors.

They carefully and page-by-page took apart books, scrubbed some pages to create clean (an ebay listing might say “gently used”) parchment for new pages in new books; other pages, perhaps not so gently used, became filler for the new books’ bindings. Because these reused materials were now one with precious new books, they were not destroyed. In fact, they were lovingly preserved and saved in just such a place where future generations would be most likely to search them out. And among those future and very privileged generations would be us!

Sometime the 6th century, New Testament letters from The Apostle Paul were copied into a book at the Monastery of Great Lavra at the foot of Mount Athos. A few hundred years later, this book was taken apart and some of its pages reused as binding materials for spanking new books. These new books found their ways to far-off libraries in Moscow and Kiev. Two folios of St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy found their way to The Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin where they were discovered, survived the great fire of 1904, and were bound for safekeeping into a massive volume along with hundreds of other surviving pages.

Biblical scholars Garrick Allen and Kim Fowler were interested to learn more of the history of these wandering folios and tasked the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library to look at them with multi-spectral imaging to see what might be learned. When Emanual Zingg heard about the expedition to Turin (Just a few blocks from the rather more famous Shroud residing the the grand Duomo of Turin) he bought train tickets from Paris to Turin (which, due to train strikes in France turned into a butt-busting 10-hour bus ride…but that’s another story). As we began imaging, Emanual began searching for other materials that might be good grist for our multi-spectral mill. Our catalog of things to image quickly doubled and nearly doubled again with manuscripts ravaged by both fire and good intentions (Gioberti’s tincture, but that’s another story).

From the few preliminary results processed by Roger and Keith from the image data captured by Damian using the exciting new TE cooled 150 Mpixel Q15, it looks like the discoveries yet to come from this exciting expedition will be as rich as the great Piedmont cuisine that sustained our efforts and transformed our days in the dark basement of the Biblioteca Nazionale into cherished memories and a few extra pounds.

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