CORDIS - EU research results

Books of the Medieval Parish Church

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BOMPAC (Books of the Medieval Parish Church)

Reporting period: 2021-01-01 to 2022-06-30

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. Thus our understanding of the beginnings of European book economy remains incomplete. 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 focusing on the medieval kingdom of Sweden.

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. It will achieve these goals by making innovative use of a little-used group of sources: fragments of medieval books surviving as covers of early-modern accounts from the kingdom of Sweden.
The project divides into two work packages. The first one (WP 1) seeks to connect the books surviving in fragments with their medieval home churhces. To do this, it examines the early-modern recycling of the medieval books with the help of a research database. For the first 18 months of the project, most of the work has concentrated on this WP 1. By manual dataentry, we have built a large dataset of c. 8100 spreadsheet rows the fragments preserved in the National Library of Finland. In addition, we have created another dataset (c. 23 000 rows) by parsing and refining medata given to the project by the Swedish National Archives. In addition, we have built several smaller suplementary datasheets. These have been combined in the project research database, first in its pilot version (12/2021) and now in a prototype stage (6/2022).

The preliminary results from this data have been discussed in several seminar presentations, and the first article on them is currently being written. The preliminary results indicate that we will indeed be able to connect a large proportion of the fragments to their medieval home churches. We will be able to understand the different ways in which the manuscript recycling operated and thus provide new information also on the sixteenth-century Swedish administration. This suggests that the original main goals of WP 1, as set out in the research plan, are realistic and will be achieved.

The second work package (WP 2) considers the origin of the medieval books used in the parish churches of the medieval kingdom of Sweden. This relies on palaeographical analysis of the fragment material. This part of the project started with background work by the PI in 2021 and gathered pace at the beginning of 2022 when the postdoctoral researcher responsible (together with the PI) for this part of the project joined the project team. By palaeographical analysis, new connections between the fragments have been observed, allowing us to reconstruct the medieval books out of the fragments more accurately. The first publication of WP 2 is currently being prepared on these findings. In addition, the project team has made research trips to study and document material for palaeographical comparison in the National Library of Sweden. This work has given rise to promising observations on medieval Swedish handwriting and manuscript culture, to be discussed in several presentations over the next six months.
Even in the early stages, we have made observations which go well beyond the state of the art.We can for the first time analyze the recycling of medieval books in the early-modern Swedish kingdom in quantitative terms (how many books, over which time period, where geographically etc.). While the systematic analysis is far from over, this work has already allowed us to reach some of the main goals of the project partially. That is, we can already connect a large number of previously anonymous books to specific geographical districts. At the end of the project, this part of the project is expected to provide a complete mapping of this kind for the fragments preserved in Finland and a substantial part of the fragments preserved in Sweden.

We have also made initial progress with the analysis of the origin of the books. By analyzing the handwriting seen in complete manuscripts produced in Sweden, we have promising hypotheses on the characteristics of Swedish 13th- and 14-th century handwriting. These still need to be validated, but if our preliminary observations are correct they will present a real breakthrough in the palaeographical analysis of the fragments.

Furthermore, bringing together the results of the recycling analysis with palaeographical analysis is yielding very promising preliminary results. It seems that, using these two approaches together, we can, for instance, connect a books brought from England to Sweden to a books that were copied using them as models (i.e exemplar). This opens avenues for invaluable case studies for palaeographical analysis, as we can then see how the local scribes reflect the style of the exemplar.

By the end of the project we are expecting a substantial number of published case studies on the production contexts of the medieval books, as planned in the research plan. In this respect as well, the early results suggest that the project's goals are well achievable.
Looking at a manuscript fragment through a looking glass.