The medieval treasure had been hidden in downtown Indianapolis for years.
Two bound manuscripts of the Bible, with ornate illuminations and fluent script, had been painstakingly created by monks in the 14th century. For more than 700 years, the books had made their way from Europe to Indiana, eventually ending up in the possession of an Indianapolis resident.
And finally, the tomes became part of the Indiana State Library collection.
“It’s kind of a historical coincidence that we even have this,” said Seth Irwin, curator at the Indiana State Library. “But it’s here. It is part of the State Library collection. Everyone owns it; it is public property.
Known as the Darlington Bible, the books were rediscovered in the State Library, restored and repaired over the summer to make them available to the public.
Library officials have scheduled a special program today that investigates the origin of the book as well as the movement of the manuscript from medieval Spain to Indiana. Experts in medieval Bibles as well as restorers of historical texts will place the manuscript in the larger context of medieval Bibles.
“Anyone who wants to come in and watch them is welcome,” said Marcia Caudell, supervisor of the Reference and Government Services Division at the Indiana State Library. “We don’t have anything in this library that people can’t look at, unless it’s in the lab. We can tell you where to watch it, but you can walk in and see it.
By carefully turning the book’s goat or sheep parchment pages, it’s easy to feel the weight of the story in the tomes.
The manuscript is an outlier among medieval Bibles; the linework is much thinner and more complex compared to other books created at that time, said Rebecca Clendinen, a student at Queens University in Kingston, Ont., who worked on the books during her internship this summer.
Moreover, the Bible is written in Italian Latin. Normally these types of manuscripts were written in French Latin, Clendinen said. And this Bible goes from one language to another almost page after page.
“Usually if you have a multilingual manuscript, you will have sections that are in different languages. You’ll have Italian in one section, then French, then Spanish,” Clendinen said. “This one, scattered page by page, you have these different languages.”
Beautiful illuminations – colorful hand-drawn decorations and illustrations included in the Bible – stand out against the deep black script.
“It is, to the medieval scholarly world, it is unknown. It is brand new. There has never been any scientific study of it, as it had lived in private hands for at least the 200 last few years,” Irwin said. “It also hasn’t seen much use, which is why the pigments are in such good shape.”
As the library reviewed the Bible, they contacted David T. Gura, curator of ancient and medieval manuscripts at the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library as well as a concurrent associate professor at the university’s Medieval Institute. .
For two days, Gura studied and examined the manuscript. His research uncovered some of the secrets of the Bible.
“It’s an untapped piece that in the world of medieval scholars has never been studied,” Irwin said. “There isn’t much medieval material that hasn’t been examined.”
Much of Darlington’s Bible history is unknown. The volumes were created in the 1300s and have been bounced at least twice, Irwin said. The Bible had been in private hands for 200 years, until it entered the collection of Frank Darlington Sr., an Indianapolis resident.
After Darlington died in 1953, his son donated the Bible and much of his father’s book collection to the Indiana State Library.
When the Bible was acquired, the State Library displayed it in an opening exhibit. But afterwards it was returned to the closed stacks of the library, where it had been largely forgotten, Caudell said.
“It was not unknown to us. Every once in a while someone would come and watch it, but not just anyone with that knowledge of the medieval text,” she said.
Over the summer, Irwin, Clendinen, and others from the library curator’s office worked to repair the binding of the Bibles. Parts of the spine were completely worn out, and restorers had to remove the old spine and create a new one using Japanese fabric, Western paper, cloth, and goatskin.
Aside from some water and insect damage over the years, the manuscripts are in very good condition, Irwin said.
“We didn’t do anything inside the book. Luckily it is in beautiful condition so there has been no loss of pigment or flaking,” he said.
Bounced back and ready for storage in specially designed padded protective boxes, the manuscripts are available to the public for examination if they wish, Irwin said.
The first chance to see it will be today during the free program called “The Mystery of the Darlington Bible”. Gura, Irwin and Caudell will all feature on the Bible. People will also be able to see it on display.
The manuscripts will then return to a protective warehouse. But since the state library is a public institution, scholars and residents of the state have the opportunity to examine it at the library itself.
“It’s related to Indiana because of the donor, but we’re not an exhibiting institution. We hope other institutions might want to use it for exhibits,” Irwin said. “It’s a public good now. Everyone owns this. It’s the Indiana Bible. We hope it will get more attention and be studied further.