I’m still a bit … emotional. I spent the better part of this afternoon in very peculiar company, with Cuthswyth and Kylian, Hieronymus and Duns, from Scotland. We will not come together in this form, in this lifetime again, that is for sure. If I weren’t too shy (and had my white gloves with me) I could even have touched them !
Cuthswyth abbatissa was the abbess of a nunnery, possibly Inkberrow (Eng.) near Worcester (Ger., Eng.). She lived between 650 and 700 and can be found in two contemporary documents. She possessed a book from Italy, the comment of St. Hieronymus (Ger., Eng.) about the book of Ecclesiastes (Ger., Eng.) – not the newest edition, it is written about 500 p.Chr.n. For reasons unknown she felt the need to write her name into this book. In fact she wrote “Cuthsuuithae boec thaerae abbatissan”, and repeated the “abbatissan” again in the line below. See for yourself here. Who says that in the early missionary time scribes were only males ? There is evidence for female scribes, see this article by Dr. J. A. KOSTER – who mentions of course Cuthswyth. And if all this “dating” is nearly correct it would make this humble piece of paper one of the oldest existing evidence or proof for written “English”. Beowulf was written down circa 975, but eventually composed in the 8th century.
The reason behind all this is that the Dombibliothek is finally digitized and available via the web (list here – enjoy ! ). The work will continue, but it is a milestone for the whole project.
And what we were allowed to see – in this form not again in my lifetime, it is more or less unrepeatable – were some of the cimelia. Access to the books is now possible via the web, the digital representations are state of the art (if your screen is calibrated the colours are true ; it is possible to take measures that are correct – the wizardry behind all this is impressive ; and yes, they made some backups, four to be precise) – and now they are allowed to rest. This evening they will be put back into the safe place and they will stay there. This public show was the last for years to come.
It was a bit emotional for me, when I slowly realised what I was seeing. They had no vitrine. It took place in the manuscript reading room, a place I visit since the early eighties. The books were placed on some higher tables on blue velvet. The head of the departement showed very carefully but full of pride some rare illuminations around – like a priest showing the sanctissimum, a monstranz … I had no idea what I was to see when I went there, so Cuthswyth was a bit of surprise.