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English Resources at the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library


Matthew Z. Heintzelman, Associate Director, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library (Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota)

[Online Note: Since this article appeared in 2002, the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library Site has undergone significant design changes. These are not reflected in the images and tables which are found in this essay; for more up-to-date information readers are asked to visit the site iteself, http://www.hmml.org]


I. Introduction

When first invited to prepare an article on the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library (HMML) for the Old English Newsletter, I was uncertain how to address adequately the needs of Old English scholars. After all, the Library offers a plethora of source materials in Latin and vernacular languages from Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and elsewhere—English manuscripts are not as common at the Library. However, the broad set of resources available at HMML for the study of early English language and history made it clear that a detailed account was in order. The following article is an invitation to each reader to look at ways in which the Library could be useful to his/her individual research needs. While HMML's collections cannot meet the needs of everyone, it can do so for many scholars of medieval England.

The Hill Monastic Manuscript Library (originally the Monastic Manuscript Microfilm Library, or MMML) started in 1965 as an initiative of Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. It began as a response to the devastation—both cultural and physical—of the Second World War. At its heart lay the conviction that the evidences of handwritten culture—each document being unique—needed to be preserved through the creation of a second copy. The goal was

...to safeguard these valuable documents against deterioration and possible destruction; and to make them available for consultation by American scholars by collecting them in microfilm form in a convenient center in the United States. [1]

In 1964, the University sent its first field director, Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, to Europe to find a site to start microfilming. After initial rejections in Italy and Switzerland, he turned to Austria, where, in April 1965, he began filming manuscripts at the Abbey of Kremsmünster. Over the next seven years, HMML filmed over 30,000 manuscripts in Austria. Already at that time it became clear that the original mandate to be "monastic" might not encompass the Library's actual scope, with the filming of several thousand manuscripts at the Austrian National Library, as well as at provincial and municipal libraries. Since that time, HMML has moved on to film in Malta, Spain, Ethiopia, Portugal, Germany, England, and Switzerland (see Figure 1). The Library is currently working at the Royal Library in Stockholm, Sweden, and investigating possible filming opportunities in Eastern Mediterranean areas and Eastern Europe.


Country: Manuscripts Filmed by HMML

Figure 1: Summary of HMML Filming Projects

  • Austria: Over 30,000
  • England: Ca. 700
  • Ethiopia: Over 7,600
  • Germany: Ca. 15,000
  • Malta: Over 16,000 documents and records
  • Portugal: Over 2,050
  • South Africa: 129
  • Sweden: Eventually, more than 1,000
  • Switzerland: Over 1,000

Recommendations from researchers concerning endangered collections that need to be filmed or digitized are always welcome. Ultimately, HMML would also like to collect microfilms or other images of manuscripts that scholars are no longer actively using, as a way to provide a safe repository for copies of manuscripts. In addition to its filming projects, HMML has also purchased several thousand microfilms from England, Italy, Hungary, and elsewhere. The Library offers its collection without charge to on-site researchers. In addition to the microfilms, there is an extensive collection of printed manuscript catalogs (including those for collections that HMML has not filmed), and digital resources, such as In Principio.

Since 1975, HMML has resided in an underground facility (the Bush Center), next to Alcuin Library at Saint John's University. Its collections, including purchased microfilms, now comprises over 90,000 manuscripts, mostly preserved on archival black-and-white film. [2] The purchased sets—described below—are especially important for libraries from England.

While it is not possible for HMML to make copies of purchased microfilms, it is allowed (with the previously obtained permission from the owning library) to make copies of and printouts from microfilms which it has produced itself. It is currently implementing a process for digital delivery of such images, with the aid of a microforms scanner. In the 1980's, HMML filmed at the following libraries in England: Durham Cathedral, Durham University, Ushaw College, Syon Abbey, and Saint Hugh's Charterhouse (Parkminster). The charges for making microfilm copies and printouts appear on the HMML website (http://www.hmml.org), or scholars may contact the Library for the latest information. The Library staff also endeavors to answer any reasonable queries concerning materials in its microfilm and reference collections.

With the arrival of its new executive director, Dr. Katherine Gill, the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library is moving decisively into digital preservation and access to manuscripts—while retaining its long-term commitment to archival microfilm. Her previous work with the Matrix Project (http://www.matrix.csbsju.edu) demonstrates the usefulness of an online resource center, dedicated to women's religious communities of the Middle Ages. HMML has always worked to provide access to its collections through printed concordances, handlists, and catalogs. Now it is seeking to create an entire information center for the study of manuscripts and manuscript cultures.


II. Electronic Initiatives

Over the last several years HMML has also participated in projects to create online resources for medievalists. The most notable are In Principio and the Electronic Access to Medieval Manuscripts project. The first, a database of Latin incipits for identifying manuscript texts, is published by Brepols (Leiden, Netherlands), with the collaboration of Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes and others. Scholars working on-site at the Library have access to this database to aid their research. More information about this product is available at http://www.brepols.net. HMML also has smaller incipit cardfiles in other, vernacular languages, including English.

The project to provide Electronic Access to Medieval Manuscripts (or "EAMMS") has resulted in a relational database with short records for nearly all of the manuscripts filmed by HMML since 1965. Currently this database contains entries for over 78,000 manuscripts and is available on the worldwide web at no charge. To reach the search screen for the database, go to the HMML website (http://www.hmml.org) and select the option for "Search the Manuscript Catalog." This will display the form for searching or browsing the database (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Search Options for the HMML online catalog (partial view)

One can search this database using author names, titles, libraries, shelfmarks, etc. It only includes those manuscripts actually filmed by HMML. Since the records for each manuscript were gathered at the individual libraries in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa, the spellings of names and the language of the record may vary. It is recommended that one search for authors, for example, with truncated unique character strings ("Augustin" rather than "Augustine" or "Augustinus"). It may be necessary to search various spellings of the name separately, in order to collect a complete list of entries. The database is currently maintained in Microsoft Access, and Boolean operators will not work. Search strings are best kept to the shortest, unique form.

The truncated strings work best in the author and title fields. Searching for specific shelf marks can be helpful, but only if its precise format is used. Note that incipits have not been added for the majority of texts in the database, and that this is not linked to In Principio, which has a much larger set of incipit entries. Eventually, the Library plans to standardize the author, title, language, and date entries, which will result in greater accuracy in searching.

It is also possible to browse the catalog of particular libraries either with the library or the city name, but not both. This option appears at the very bottom of the search screen. Since the list of entries for some libraries may be several thousand items long, this option is best reserved for smaller libraries. At this point the HMML search screen does not allow for browsing at a specified point in the list from a library (as one could, say, do with a printed catalog).


HMML Manuscript Details

Figure 3: Results for a text search in the HMML online catalog

  • ShelfMark: Codex Vindobonensis Palatinus 780
  • Source: 14103
  • City: Wien
  • Library: österreichische Nationalbibliothek
  • Manuscript Folio: 75 f.
  • Physical Issues:Folio
  • Century: 14th century
  • Part Folio: 75 f.
  • Author: Augustinus
  • Supplied Title: De civitate Dei (excerpta)
  • Language(s): Latin
  • Text Folio:1a-3a

Searching by author and/or title will produce an alphabetized list of titles with their respective authors, which provides links to brief descriptions of the manuscript (see Figure 3). Basic information includes the rough date of the manuscript, the total number of folios, the size, the folios for a particular text, the HMML source (i.e., "project") number, and the language of the text. From the text description, the user can select the shelf mark link, which will display an overview of the contents of the entire manuscript.


IIIa. English Collections: English filming project

HMML's policy has always been to film entire collections of manuscripts that pre-date 1600. Thus, there is no special focus on a particular subject area, but rather a broad sweep of materials from all fields from medieval and renaissance collections. As each manuscript is filmed, it is given a "project number" (in the online catalog, this is called the "Source" number) which becomes the reference number within the HMML collection. The manuscripts from the five collections filmed in England in the 1980's all have the word "England" before the project number (e.g. "England 435").

As with other collections from English libraries, there are good printed bibliographic resources for Durham Cathedral, as well as Saint Hugh's Charterhouse, Ushaw College, and Syon Abbey. [3] Durham University Library maintains a descriptive list on its website (see below). In addition, as a result of the project to provide Electronic Access to Medieval Manuscripts, there are also online records for all of the manuscripts microfilmed by HMML. As explained above, copies of these manuscripts can be made for researchers upon the receipt of permission from the owning libraries. Here I will provide an overview of the English collections filmed by the Library, with special reference to items appearing the catalog by N. R. Ker. [4]

Durham Cathedral. In 1985-86, HMML filmed 371 manuscripts (England 1-England 371) at the Dean and Chapter Library in Durham. Ker 109 (England 255) is a bilingual Rule of Saint Benedict, with the Old English text following the Latin. Also of interest is a glossary of herb names (Ker 110) with Latin and Old English forms. In all, the collection includes six items from Ker:


Ker Number: HMML Project Number

Figure 4: Anglo Saxon manuscripts listed in Ker from the Durham Cathedral Library

  1. 105: England 47
  2. 106: England 14
  3. 107: England 229
  4. 108: England 240
  5. 109: England 255
  6. 110: England 10

Durham University. After filming at the Cathedral, HMML filmed 85 manuscripts from the University Library (England 372-456). One item (England 390) is in Ker (no. 110*): Bede's Death Song. Along with smaller collections, this set includes many manuscripts from the collection of John Cosin, Bishop of Durham. Detailed descriptions of many of these manuscripts reside at the website for the Durham University Library (http://www.dur.ac.uk/library/asc/misc/medmss.htm).

St. Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster. Parkminster was established in 1870s and early 1880s to replant the Carthusian Order in Great Britain. They have collected a moderately large set of manuscripts from Carthusian sources and authors. HMML filmed 162 manuscripts (England 501-England 662) in 1989-90. [5]

Ushaw College Library (Saint Cuthbert's). In 1985-86, HMML filmed 42 manuscripts at Ushaw College (England 459-England 500), a Catholic seminary in Durham. [6] The collection includes several bibles, books of hours, psalters, as well as individual works by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and Eberhard of Bethune. Most of these are later manuscripts (twelfth to sixteenth centuries), but two fragments (each a bifolium, at England 499 and 500) are listed as being from the eighth and ninth century.

Syon Abbey, South Brent, Devon. HMML also filmed 55 manuscripts and fragments from the Brigittine house at Syon Abbey. [7] The Abbey's history extends back to 1415, but between 1539 and 1809 the community lived in the Low Countries and Portugal. A large part of this collection is dedicated to the history of the Brigittines in England (the Canon Fletcher manuscripts), but there are also books of hours, breviaries, and other manuscripts of Brigittine origin. The Fletcher manuscripts now reside at the Exeter University Library (http://www.ex.ac.uk/library/special/welcome.html).


IIIb. English Collections: Purchased Sets of English Microfilms

HMML does not have authority to provide copies or printouts from purchased microfilms, although copies of these microfilms can be ordered through the owning libraries. The Library can, however, make these available to scholars who visit the Library, and it currently provides access to these films through a card catalog at the Library. However, in some cases it is possible to describe complete sets in very broad terms. Other purchased microfilms from English libraries that are not on this list (e.g. at Oxford, London, etc.) were purchased for specific projects and it is necessary to contact the Library to inquire about specific shelf marks. Many of these individual films are from Ethiopian manuscripts.

Cambridge, Queen's College. HMML purchased a complete set of The Mediaeval Manuscript Collection from World Microfilms, that contains 30 manuscripts, mostly dating from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. These include works by Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Bede, among others. Ker reports two Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from this collection (Ker 80-81), but only one of these is in the set: eleventh-century fragments from Ælfric's Lives of the Saints (Ker 81). These manuscripts have been cataloged by M. R. James, although a few in the set only appear in an earlier catalog by T. H. Horne (1827). [8]

Cambridge, Trinity College. This is one of the larger purchased sets at HMML—nearly 1,500 manuscripts. World Microfilms originally published The Medieval Manuscript Collection including some Post-Medieval Manuscripts in a set of series (I Law; II Medica; III Mathematica; IV Illuminated Manuscripts; V Literature; VI Secular manuscripts; VII The Bible; VIII Theology). The manufacturer's lists of items in each category are available at HMML, although the Library's cardfiles are arranged by the item number from the catalog by M.R. James, which is the best source for an overview of this collection. [9] While some numbers in James were omitted, all of the Anglo-Saxon entries in Ker (83-95) are included in this set.

Cambridge, University Library. While HMML does hold a large number of manuscripts from the University library at Cambridge, the largest portion of these are from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, and thus are probably not helpful to most Early English scholars. In addition, there is a set of 144 items from Harvester Microform, titled Chronicles and Documents of Medieval England, c. 1150 - c. 1500. Since this is largely an archival collection, it is not surprising that it does not contain much that is in Ker (outside of a single entry—no. 14). A list of the shelf marks in this collection is available at HMML.

Canterbury, Christ Church Cathedral. This is another set of documents from Harvester Microform: Chronicles and Documents of Medieval England, Part 6, Registers. Much of interest here concerns vacancies in the Canterbury diocese and elsewhere in England/Wales, as well as manorial and estate records (back to the seventh century). This set may be of greater interest to historians because HMML also holds a collection of registers from Canterbury among the items from Lambeth Palace (see below). There are brief descriptions of each film's contents in the HMML cardfiles.

Hereford, Cathedral. HMML acquired a relatively complete set of manuscripts from the Hereford Cathedral Library, including three items listed in Ker: number 119 is document material, number 120 contains glosses, and number 121 is Cædmon's Hymn). [10] This collection does not appear to be as widely held in American libraries as those from World Microfilms and Harvester.

Lincoln, Cathedral. This set from World Microfilms contains over 240 manuscripts and consists of six series: I Illuminated Manuscripts; II Law and Administration; III Secular Manuscripts; IV Theology; V Biblical studies; VI Sermons, homilies, liturgy, and saints' lives. The records at HMML are maintained in the numeric order from the printed catalog by Woolley. [11] The illuminated manuscripts have been filmed in color. Two fragments from Ker (nos. 124-125) are within a larger set of fragments in the collection.

London, Lambeth Palace. HMML has purchased two sets of microfilms from the collections at Lambeth Palace: The Medieval Manuscripts (over 600 manuscripts), and the Registers of the Archbishops of Canterbury, 13th to 17th Centuries, both of which are published by World Microfilms. The first set is divided into eight sections: Old English and French; Law; Illuminated Manuscripts; Humanistic Studies; Theology; Biblical Studies; Liturgy; and Patristics. Items 275-83 from Ker are included. While there is a copy of the listing from the publisher in the HMML files, the Library's files reference the item numbers from the catalog by M.R. James. [12] A brief overview of the contents of the Registers appears on pp. 266-67 of the catalog by H. J. Todd. [13]

London, Westminster Abbey. This is a smaller collection from World Microfilms, containing about 45 manuscripts and fragments on twelve reels. [14] These are mostly later manuscripts, and none are listed in Ker.

Longleat, Glastonbury records. HMML obtained a set of 30 microfilms from Cedric Chivers Ltd., containing a large collection of documents pertaining to Glastonbury Abbey. These documents have their own published index and they are mostly later records. [15] The HMML card file is in manuscript number order.

Salisbury, Cathedral. Approximately 200 manuscripts (filmed by the University of Southhampton) from the Cathedral Library in Salisbury are held at HMML.16 Four items appear in Ker (nos. 378-81), including various glosses and scribbles.

Wells, Holkham Hall. The 197 manuscripts from Holkham Hall were not published as one set, and thus the only listing of HMML's holdings is in the Library's card files. The films are from EP Microforms, now Microform Imaging, Inc., and HMML does not have a published catalog for this collection at this time. Ker lists no manuscripts from this collection.

Winchester, Cathedral. Of the 22 manuscripts filmed, one is in Ker (no. 396, or Winchester no. 1). The set was published by World Microfilms, with two color films containing the Winchester Bible (twelfth century). The publisher's description of these manuscripts is available at HMML. Also included is a tenth-century version of Bede's Historia.

Winchester, College. Warden & Fellows' Library. Nearly 70 manuscripts, none of which appear in Ker. A detailed listing of the manuscripts filmed is available at HMML. Works include those of Avicenna, Josephus, Hippocrates, Jacobus de Voragine, as well as bibles.




[1] Monastic Manuscript Microfilm Library, Progress Report, no. 1, Jan. 1965, p. 1.

[2] Until relatively recently, there has not been not a reliable archival-quality color microfilm. Since the Library's focus has always been to create security copies that will survive for hundreds of years, it has largely worked with the more stable black-and-white format.

[3] N. R. Ker and A. J. Piper, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, 4 vols. (Oxford, 1969-1992).

[4] N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957).

[5] Ker and Piper, Medieval Manuscripts, vol. 4, pp. 7-154.

[6] Ker and Piper, Medieval Manuscripts, vol. 4, pp. 505-51 (some manuscripts omitted).

[7] Ker and Piper, Medieval Manuscripts, vol. 4, pp. 335-49.

[8] M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts in the Library of Queen's College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 1905).

[9] M. R. James, The Western Manuscripts in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge (Cambridge, 1900).

[10] Arthur Thomas Bannister, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Hereford Cathedral Library (Hereford, 1927); Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Hereford Cathedral Library by R. A. B. Mynors and R. M. Thomson (Cambridge, 1993).

[11] Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Lincoln Cathedral Chapter Library, compiled by Reginald Maxwell Wooley (London, 1927).

[12] M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Library of Lambeth Palace: The Mediaeval Manuscripts (Cambridge, 1932).

[13] Henry John Todd, A Catalogue of the Archiepiscopal Manuscripts in the Library at Lambeth Palace. With an Account of the Archiepiscopal Registers and Other Records There Preserved (London, 1812).

[14] The Manuscripts of Westminster Abbey by J. Armitage Robinson and Montague Rhodes James (Cambridge, 1909).

[15] Glastonbury Abbey Documents at Longleat: index to court and compotus rolls on microfilm (Bath, 1982).

[16] A Catalogue of the Library of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury, by E. M. Thompson and S. M. Lakin (London, 1880).