July 28, 2021

The lost "Bible" of Cardinal Cisneros

The lost "Bible" of Cardinal Cisneros


For decades the manuscript BH MSS 22 was a bibliographical ghost, a legend that all the researchers mentioned, but nobody could consult. A "Bible" in Greek, copied in Italy, with reddish-yellow calf leather binding and copper clasps that had served as the basis for the "Polyglot Complutense Bible" (1517) and which history had forever linked to a word: «Burned».

At the beginning of November of 1936, the national troops reached Madrid and the assault of the capital began. A battle that led to a front of trenches. The shortage of supplies and the intense artillery fire that punished the area forced the international brigadistas, who had been entrusted to defend the Complutense University, to supply the lack of sandbags with books and documents. The libraries of the faculties were looted and one of the great bibliographic treasures, and essential foundation of the Renaissance in Spain, disappeared in the immensity of the war.

At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, a blackened volume appeared in a warehouse belonging to the Institute of Historical Heritage, with the pages stuck together and shrunk by the flames. "In the center there was a gap," says the conservative Javier Tacón, "and the beginning and the end were affected by the fire. At the bottom of the folios were traces of earth and fungi, which indicated that it had wet or was in contact with moisture. A first analysis suggested that the specimen had been used to protect a window and that it had been hit by an explosion or a shot. The first images were taken; 58 photographs that gave rise to an initial examination. In 2017, when it was restored, and under the observation of Felipe G. Hernández Muñoz, of the Complutense University, and Carlos A. Martins, of the University of Coimbra, it was confirmed not only what was already known, it dealt with the lost "Bible" of Cisneros, but it also conserved between 70 and 80 percent of the manuscript: 223 folios of the 307. "For me it has been very special to help recover this book, which is of enormous value historical and heritage. I am not Spanish and I loved having contributed to the history of Spain with something so important, "says Carlos Martins. «We have rescued a jewel. It has been like entering into dialogue with the copyist and the people who knew this work more than 500 years ago, "says Felipe Hernández.

From Venice to Spain

Cardinal Cisneros, a man of faith, devotee of God and politics, initiated a Renaissance humanism that started from the creed, but departed from the medieval legacy. His tutelage protected the birth of the University of Acalá, a Renaissance stronghold that sheltered the most prominent men of letters and sciences. Under his auspices, one of the largest cultural enterprises in Europe began: the "Polyglot Complutense Bible", which aspired to fix the text of the Sacred Scriptures in their original languages ​​- Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – and in Latin. For this project the Lordship of Venice was entrusted with a "Bible" that would collect the following books of the Old Testament: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezra, Esther, Judges, Ruth, Kings, Judith, Book of Wisdom and Maccabees . A parchment in classical Greek and a letter from the beginning of the 15th century that was used to prepare the second and third volumes of the "Polyglot" and which historians would know as a manuscript BH MSS 22.

The task fell to Juan Severo de Lacedemonia, a right-handed copyist of Greek origin who wrote it in the Marciana Library of Venice (his signature is still noticeable on the last page). Some marginal notes reveal that they come from the pen of Marco Musuro, partner of the great printer Aldo Manucio, and also of humanists of the stature of Hernán Núñez, Alonso López «el pinciano» or Demetrio Ducas, who holds the title of being the first professor of Greek of the University of Alcalá. This copy became one of the first titles that integrated the bibliographic collection of the university center, which, when moving to Madrid, would become the most important library in Spain after the National. From its arrival it became a jewel appreciated and valued by generations of intellectuals, thinkers and writers, and was consulted in abundant occasions. "It is crucial that it has reappeared, because this will allow us to study the variants that may exist in a text such as that of the Scriptures," explains Carlos Martins. «All the manuscripts of the" Bible "-says Felipe G. Hernández- bring changes and these are relevant to the criticism, because they allow us to determine what kind of family, of all the biblical genealogy we know today, belongs». From now on, the manuscript BH MSS 22, which has been lost for so many decades, will be available to the public. More than five hundred high-definition images have been removed and soon they will be online so that historians and curious people who wish to consult it can access it. These photographs allow each of the pages to be expanded to a high degree of detail. This option allows to observe with meticulousness the glosses annotated to the margins, for example, and the wounds that the past has left in this parchment, because the history of a book, as someone said, is not only the text that transmits, the intellectual backpack , but the nicks of time and its avatars.

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