Fragmenta Iguvina and Books within Books

Leonardo Costantini
University of Bristol

The parchment fragments in Hebrew from the archive of the Biblioteca Comunale Sperelliana (Gubbio, Italy) are perhaps among the most impressive ones that our team has uncovered thus far while working on the project Fragmenta Iguvina.[1] The fragments are still in situ, as they were mostly used as external covers of large early printed texts which are now being preserved in the library’s archive (cf. images 1 and image 2).

During my initial visits to the archive in winter 2015 and 2016 I was already struck by the remarkable size of these fragments in Hebrew and by the quality of the parchment, thus we have decided to digitise them as soon as the project commenced. Given that our team’s expertise is in Latin and Italian vernacular, we have welcomed with much gratitude the support of the Books within Books project. This made it possible for us to learn that two fragments had already been identified by Elena Lolli and published in the Books within Books database. The fragments in question are two large leaves in situ (cf. images 3 and image 4), employed as top covers of their host volumes, namely Albericus de Rosate, Pars Prima and Pars Secunda super Digesto Veteri (Lyon, 1545). As Dr Lolli’s identification confirms, these fragments were produced in the XIII and XIV centuries, respectively: fragment II 10F 12 comes from Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, while fragment II 10F 13 is part of a bifolium from Barukh ben Isaac’s Sefer ha Terumah, which deals with kosher wine.

While several more fragments in the Biblioteca Sperelliana are yet to be found and identified, some of them will require more advanced digitisation techniques to recover the text they transmit, as the parchment leaves have often been washed and—in some instances—even scraped. To enhance the legibility of these damaged fragments we have attempted to digitise them under UV light (365-380 nm), using a Nikon reflex with a macro lens (Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 AI-s) and a UV cut filter applied to the lens. To do so, we have followed a helpful guide written by Mauro Manaresi, who applied this technique with very positive results when he was carrying out the digitisation of damaged fragments in Hebrew from the library archive of the Biblioteca Comunale in Santarcangelo di Romagna, and from the State Archive in Foligno.[2] I already had the opportunity to test the potential of this digitisation technique during my research project on the medieval fragments from Ripon Cathedral preserved at the Special Collections of the University of Leeds,[3] and the results we have obtained with the Sperelliana fragments are encouraging (image 5). It is our hope that these pictures enable scholars to read at least part of those fragments, which would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. Our objective is to progressively digitise the other fragments, employing UV light when necessary, to implement more sophisticated techniques should additional funding in support of our project become available.

The discovery of further fragments and the possible identification of leaves from the same manuscripts in Gubbio, or perhaps in nearby cities in Umbria and central Italy, would finally enable scholars to reconstruct a cultural patrimony that has been dismembered and forgotten for centuries. These discoveries will not only be of interest to palaeographers and codicologists, but also to scholars working on Medieval culture, society, and religion, since they will perhaps cast more light on the intellectual presence and activities of Jewish communities in Italy during the Middle Ages.

Leonardo Costantini

Description of the images

Images 1 and 2: bookshelf in the archive of the Sperelliana Library, where the host volumes with the fragments in Hebrew have been discovered. Photos by courtesy of Eliana Gasbarri and Laura Rogari.

Image 3: Gubbio, Biblioteca Comunale Sperelliana, II 10F 12, top cover (cf. Fragmentarium, link: https://fragmentarium.ms/overview/F-y5sx [accessed on: 30/08/2021]).

Image 4: Gubbio, Biblioteca Comunale Sperelliana, II 10F 13, top cover (cf. Fragmentarium, link: https://fragmentarium.ms/overview/F-cfbx [accessed on: 30/08/2021]).

Image 5: Gubbio, Biblioteca Comunale Sperelliana, III 42G 12, top cover (the fragment awaits identification and is still unpublished).


[1] Link to the description of our project: https://fragmentarium.ms/partner-projects/gubbio [accessed on: 30/08/2021]. As discussed in the paper, two of these fragments (II 10F 12 and II 10F 13) have been identified by Dr Elena Lolli and published in BwB.

[2] Link: https://www.nikonschool.it/experience/fluorescenza.php [accessed on: 30/08/2021].

[3] Link: https://leedsunilibrary.wordpress.com/2018/09/24/discovering-the-unknown-ripon-fragments/ [accessed on: 30/08/2021].


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