Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Papal letter finds home in WRA Archives

Archivist Tom Vince with Papal letter
When the Mary B. Eilbeck Graphic Arts Collection was established by WRA Board of Trustees member and school benefactor William D. Shilts in 1962, he intended for the school to acquire examples of printed materials from every age. For many years this collection, which honored the first librarian of the school, Mary B. Eilbeck, who served from 1924 to 1945, was housed in the Lucien Price Room on the upper floor of Wilson Hall. Although most of that collection was disbanded in the late ‘90s, a few items remain and are housed in WRA Archives.

One of the most interesting items is the Papal letter on 27 pages of vellum manuscript, written in Latin, signed and dated by Pope Martin V (1417-1431). The folio manuscript was written for the Congregation of San Bernardo in Spain which had split from the Cistercian Order in 1425. Although we are uncertain about exactly when this came to the WRA Library, it is certain that either art instructor Bill Moos or history legend J. Fred Waring acquired this item as they were the two faculty members authorized to find and purchase such treasures for the school.
View from the 27-page vellum manuscript

What makes this late medieval manuscript even more interesting is that Pope Martin V was the pope who succeeded Gregory XII, the last pope to resign prior to the recent resignation by Benedict XVI. The references to the last time a pope had resigned are to this leadership change nearly 600 years ago. Pope Martin V was a member of the distinguished Colonna family, a man of integrity, a former Papal diplomat, and brought an air of stability to the papacy which had been subject to schism and scandal. Pope Martin began the restoration of the city of Rome and ushered in the Renaissance style. His letter to the monks in Spain is unfinished, which may account for the reason why it was on the market rather than in the Vatican Library.

The appraiser who examined this manuscript in 2009 declared it to be “unique and important” as well as “an excellent calligraphic example of medieval writing with many flourishes above and below the text and with much marginalia”. Although its value is nominal, we consider this item to be one of the amazing treasures of the school. It has never been translated into English, a project some student of Latin may wish to do one of these days.