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Rare Book and Manuscript Library Exhibition Part of City-Wide Liturgical History Celebration

By Lauren Marshall


Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts used to worship God in prayer and in song will be on display at Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, 6th floor Butler Library, April 4 through June 28, with a Sunday afternoon viewing on April 7.

The Columbia exhibition is part of a city-wide exhibition entitled "Celebrating the Liturgy's Books: Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New York City," which highlights works in the collections of New York institutions, including Barnard College, Fordham University, the Hispanic Society of America, the Morgan Library and the New York Public Library.

The event is held on the occasion of the 77th meeting of the Medieval Academy of America. Click to view a virtual exhibition with digital images from exhibiting institutions and related music clips.

While Columbia's exhibit focuses mainly on European Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, the extremes run from a young monk's instruction book possibly compiled in the court circles of Charlemagne in the ninth century, up to a listing of mass memorials from 18th century Mexico. Method of production also displays a range from the expected medieval manuscript, written by hand, to a small selection of incunables, or early-print books, to two stenciled items. Among the incunables is Columbia's copy of the Canon of the Mass printed by Fust and Schoffer in 1458 (one of only three known copies).

Illustrated works depicting the science of "computus," the art of ascertaining time by the course of the sun and the moon, or the mechanisms for finding the date of Easter with obvious consequences on the liturgy, are on display.


Other exhibition highlights include choir book leaves bequeathed by George Arthur Plimpton and his daughter-in-law, Pauline Ames Plimpton. These oversize music manuscripts were intended for use by numerous singers at once, and had to be large enough for everyone to see. One miniature on a leaf from a gradual (containing the sung portions of a mass) depicts clerics in blue robes kneeling before Sts. Peter and Paul against a background of "broccoli" trees -- a scene set for a fairy tale.

One particularly interesting recent acquisition of the Rare Books and Manuscript Library is a mid-16th century lectionary, on paper, copied for and probably by the Franciscan nuns of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna in Rome that was purchased using the Paul O. Kristeller Fund.

For the Sunday, April 7 viewing, Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library will be open from noon to 4:30 p.m. Locations, dates and times of opening, and links to home websites for the participating institutions are available on the " Celebrating the Liturgy's Books" webpage.

Published: Apr 05, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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