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Medieval Bible reveals mysterious inscription

May 8, 2012 12:34 PM

Shortly after it was acquired in 2010, the library's medieval Bible was found to have a cryptic inscription on its first page.

On February 22, Dr. Scott Gwara, Department of English Language and Literature, and Paul Schultz, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, took the Breslauer Bible—acquired with generous funds from the Breslauer Foundation -- to Michael Toth and his colleagues. Toth is the program manager for the Archimedes Palimpsest Program, which is using digital imaging to restore an ancient text by early mathematician Archimedes. Fenella France, who is chief of the Library of Congress’ Preservation Research and Testing Division, also lent her expertise.

“They brought their equipment to a conference and they scanned the indecipherable inscription on the first leaf in order to decode it,” said Gwara, a medievalist. “They used two light sources that they broadcast through a filter and took photos of it. You photograph in infrared, which is on the low end of the spectrum, and then you photograph in ultraviolent, which is on the high end, and then you merge the two together. It produces the most beautiful images. You get a completely different image than you might through regular photography."

That's one of the processed images, above.

“Now it is a matter of reading the rest of the inscription," Gwara said. "It’s a slow process, but I’ve got to believe that somewhere out there is somebody who knows exactly what it is. We’re trying to share the inscription more widely so that someone out there might know what it is."

“Here’s what we do know: the Bible is from a town called Afford in England," he said. "We know it was given by Richard, written ‘from the gift of Richard.’ And the next word is ‘dec,’ as in ‘dean of a cathedral.’ We will continue to try to zero in on the reading.”