A remarkable bible returns to Utrecht

During this teaching term, a group of Utrecht University students is researching a very special document. A manuscript from the Utrecht St. Mary’s Curch is back in Utrecht after more than 176 years of wandering. Utrecht University Library, which manages the St. Mary’s Church collection, was able to purchase the rare work earlier this year.

Uitsnede uit fol. 1 r. van de Mariakerkbijbel uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Detail of the recently acquired 'St. Mary's Church Bible'.

Usually the university library does not aquire early documents, let alone a valuable medieval manuscript. But when the opportunity to purchase a handwritten bible from St. Mary’s Church presented itself, an exception was made. The collections from the Utrecht collegiate churches, including St. Mary’s Church, have been managed by Utrecht University Library since 1844. To be able to add this 'St. Mary's Church Bible' to these collections was an opportunity not to be missed.

Source for research and education

The reunion of this manuscript with the rest of the St. Mary’s Church collection after so many years was not an end in itself. The primary reason for the purchase of the bible is its value for research and education. Research will be conducted from various disciplines to find out more about this hitherto relatively unknown work. Six master's students have the scoop. Led by Professor of Medieval History Marco Mostert and curator of manuscripts and early printed works Bart Jaski, they examine the work in the Medieval manuscripts course.

A rare purchase

A medieval manuscript from one of the Utrecht cloisters and chapters being up for sale is an extremely rare event.

The painting 'View of the Mariakerk in Utrecht' by Jan Weissenbruch from the collection of Museum boymans-van beuningen.
View on St. Mary's Church by Jan Weissenbruch, collection Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen.

We are familiar with almost all those manuscripts, because they are in the depots of the university library. This is how this happened: just after Utrecht got a protestant city council, the new city library was founded in 1584. The libraries of the Utrecht (Catholic) monasteries and chapters were confiscated and taken to the Janskerk for citizens to read. In 1636, the city library also became the university library, which is why the medieval manuscripts and printed books are still in its collection today.

In 1844 the libraries of the Utrecht chapters were transferred to the university library as well. However, the confiscation by the city council had been slow, and many manuscripts had already been sold and lost. In the end, all medieval manuscripts of the Utrecht cloisters and chapters could be traced back, wherever they might be in the world. But they are seldom offered for sale. The only and last time that a complete manuscript was bought by Utrecht University Library was more than a century ago in 1912. The acquisition of this bible stemming from St. Mary's Church can rightly be considered a rare purchase.

More information

Would you like to know more about this special bible that has returned to Utrecht? Read the detailed background story by curator Dr. Bart Jaski.

View the St. Mary's Church Bible digitally

All approximately seven hundred medieval manuscripts in our collection are digitally accessible externe link and thus widely available for research purposes. The university library has digitized this new work immediately upon receipt. View the St. Mary's Church Bible digitally.