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Project Aim

Historical Background and Project Aim

Lorsch Abbey was founded in 764 and with the construction of a scriptorium and a library it became one of the most significant centres of knowledge in the Carolingian era. In the 9th century the collection of manuscripts, which can be reconstructed with the help of Carolingian library catalogues, comprised around 500 works, which for those days was an extremely large number.

The 331 manuscripts, which were written or held in Lorsch in the Middle Ages, are today scattered worldwide, some as fragments, over shelf marks in 73 libraries. It was the aim of the project “Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital” to reunite this cultural heritage in a virtual form, and thereby to make it accessible to different fields of research. First steps were already taken in 2005 in cooperation with the Departments for Medieval Art History (Prof. Dr. Liselotte E. Saurma) and Medieval Latin (Dr. Tino Licht) at Heidelberg University and with the financial support of the Gisela und Reinhold Häcker Stiftung.

The project strived to digitize all manuscripts, which were once created in the Lorsch Abbey’s scriptorium and kept in its library, and has presented them in a uniform layout in the internet. Simultaneously, descriptions of all manuscripts were compiled and a separate manuscript database was set up. All Lorsch codices, fascicles, and fragments are described according to their codicological aspects and content, and are available for further research in the database.

Selection of Manuscripts

The selection of manuscripts presented in the “Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital” is based on the research of the renowned palaeographer Bernhard Bischoff († 1991), who compiled a profound synthesis on the history of the Lorsch scriptorium as well as the library with his work Die Abtei Lorsch im Spiegel ihrer Handschriften. The studies by Hartmut Hoffmann from 1986, 2004, and 2012, which complete the list of the codices Laureshamenses that have survived until today, have also been included here. Bischoff had included the results of Hoffmann’s first publication in his 2nd edition of the compilation of Lorsch manuscripts, published in 1989.

All manuscripts, which Bischoff and Hoffmann have localized in Lorsch, either as they were written in the scriptorium, or held in the monastic library, were integrated into the “Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital“. All manuscripts which definitely, probably and questionably (with corresponding notes in the descriptions) can be located to Lorsch have been included. This is primarily due to practical reasons, as the information on single manuscripts, in most cases, is distributed over numerous publications in different fields of research and it is difficult to collect and verify within a reasonable timeframe. Moreover, the works of Bischoff and Hoffmann most certainly comprise the largest part of known Lorsch manuscripts. And finally, the present focus on the work of two renowned manuscript researchers guarantees that the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch is built upon a firm basis, even if the localization of manuscripts in research is subject of debate.

Therefore, as an extension to the project “Bibliotheca Laureshamensis – digital”, a list is provided which will at least summarize the manuscripts, which were allocated to Lorsch by other scholars, and either dismissed by Bischoff and Hoffmann or unknown to them.

Digitization of Manuscripts

The project depended on the cooperation of 73 libraries and archives in Europe and the U.S., which are in possession of a Lorsch manuscript or fragment. In numerous cases the holding libraries digitized the valuable manuscripts and fragments in their own digitization centres. Subsequently the holding libraries provided the digital images of the manuscripts and fragments as JPG-images. The remaining Lorsch manuscripts were digitized by Heidelberg University Library.

By far the largest collection of Lorsch manuscripts, amounting to 133 items, which almost all once formed part of Heidelberg’s Bibliotheca Palatina, are today kept in the Vatican Library. In November 2010 Heidelberg University Library opened a digitization centre in Rome in cooperation with the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, on the grounds of the Vatican Library, in order to digitize all Lorsch manuscripts with a Graz Conservation Copy Stand. More >>

Manuscript Descriptions

The descriptions of the manuscripts are based on existing manuscript catalogues, and on basic secondary literature representing the present state of research. They contain, in particular references to the origin and provenance, the exterior, and to the script as well as the content of each manuscript. The compiled information is played into a database. Here the Lorsch manuscripts can be systematically searched and studied online. Furthermore, PDF-documents of the manuscript descriptions are linked to the presentation of the digital manuscripts. More >>

Project Completion

Thanks to the support of numerous national and international project partners the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch was successfully completed, according to plan, in 2014. Only minor updates and corrections were added in 2015.

All manuscripts which Bernhard Bischoff and Hartmut Hoffmann associated with Lorsch were digitized and catalogued systematically according to scholarly criteria. In total 287 primarily complete manuscripts – which are divided into 208 codices or rather volumes, a rotulus and 78 fascicles – as well as a total of 43 fragments and an ivory plate from a former book cover are concerned. 277 manuscripts were located by Bischoff, further 54 by Hoffmann. These 331 former Lorsch manuscripts are today spread over 309 manuscript shelf marks in 73 libraries, archives and museums in Europe and the U.S., and can now all be viewed in the Virtual Library. Almost all manuscripts were digitized from the original. Only six today lost or destroyed manuscripts were digitized from historical reproductions, for further two no reproduction could be found. In total the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch comprises 75,000 digital images. The descriptions for every single manuscript are available both as individual PDF-files as well as in a database where the entire manuscripts can be searched systematically. In addition to the project’s scope, further manuscripts whose connection to Lorsch is not based on Bischoff or Hoffmann, are compiled in a separate list of Further Manuscripts, which in future can also be updated with notifications from external scholars. Also for several of these manuscripts it was possible to provide digital copies. Furthermore, the decoration and illustration of the Lorsch manuscripts has been indexed and catalogued in detail in the image database heidICON.

The aim of the project has thereby been achieved; high quality digital reproductions as well as detailed descriptions of the medieval manuscripts are available to researchers and an interested audience free of charge in the internet. With the unification of all manuscripts from the library and the scriptorium of Abbey Lorsch we hope to encourage and support source-based research from the perspective of different disciplines and fields of interest, as well as studies on the entire, in particular for Carolingian times relevant, corpus of codices.

The efforts of Heidelberg University Library to provide access to historical sources from Abbey Lorsch are continued in the portal Archivum Laureshamense – digital, which was launched in mid November 2015 and is dedicated to publishing charters and archival material in a systematic manner.

Project Team

  • Alexandra Büttner (project coordinator, digitization)
  • Michael Kautz (manuscript cataloguer, database conception, texts)
Universitätsbibliothek HeidelbergUnesco Welterbestätte Kloster LorschBundesland Hessen