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Books of the Medieval Parish Church

Project description

How did parish churches acquire their books in the Middle Ages?

Books have evolved remarkably through the ages, from clay tablets and papyrus scrolls to the modern paperback and today’s e-books. The EU-funded BOMPAC project will shed light on how the production of manuscript books became a commercial activity during the Middle Ages – a development that ultimately culminated in the invention of the printing press. More specifically, the project will study the role of the parish church in the culture and economy of the manuscript book between 1150 and 1500. It will focus on medieval Sweden, where many of the books were imported from abroad. The Swedish recycling of parchment books as covers for tax accounts in the 16th and 17th centuries created the biggest collection of manuscript material from medieval parish churches anywhere in the world, making such a study possible.

Objective

Book production became a market-orientated craft long before the invention of printing. In the late-medieval manuscript economy, the parish churches formed one of the biggest entities on the demand side. However, at present we know next to nothing about how they were provisioned with books. BOMPAC is a response to this gap in scholarly understanding. It offers the first substantial study of the place of the parish church in the culture and economy of the manuscript book, c. 1150–c.1500.
BOMPACs contribution to the topic will be twofold. It will, firstly, provide an extensive case study concering one medieval kingdom – Sweden – comprising more or less two modern countries (Sweden, Finland). Secondly, preliminary research indicates that many of the books used in the parishes of medieval Sweden were imported from abroad. Thus, the project will directly break new ground in the study of the international book economy of the later middle ages.
Parish church book provision remains poorly known because such books very rarely survive as complete physical items. BOMPAC will go around this limitation by innovative use of a hitherto understudied corpus of manuscript fragments. In Sweden, the parchment books of the parishes were recycled as covers for tax accounts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This operation was systematic and resulted in a massive collection of c. 50 000 leaves from c. 12 500 books, probably the biggest collection of material from medieval parish church books anywhere in the world.
Only recent cataloguing and digitizing efforts have made this material accessible for research. In BOMPAC, it will be studied with both statistical and palaeographical methods. A database-driven approach is used to produce a reliable big picture of how the books were distributed in the medieval period. Palaeographical and codicological case studies will show us the modes and routes by which parish churches acquired their books.

Host institution

HELSINGIN YLIOPISTO
Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 808,00
Address
YLIOPISTONKATU 3
00014 Helsingin Yliopisto
Finland

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Region
Manner-Suomi Helsinki-Uusimaa Helsinki-Uusimaa
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
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Total cost
€ 1 499 808,00

Beneficiaries (1)