Ancient Bibles go online in Bodleian-Vatican library tie-up

Illustration from a 10th century Greek bible The 10th century Greek Bible Reginensis Graecus 1 held at Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana is famous for its "splendid" miniatures
Detail from the Bodleian's Gutenberg Bible Fewer than 50 copies of Gutenberg's Bible survive today, and the Bodleian's copy is one of only seven complete examples in the British Isles
Illustration from the Kennicott Hebrew Bible The Hebrew Kennicott Bible owes its name to the English Hebraist Benjamin Kennicott, who was the librarian of the Radcliffe Library in Oxford

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Ancient Bibles and Biblical texts from the Bodleian and Vatican libraries have been digitised and made available to the public for the first time.

Europe's first printed book, Gutenberg's 1455 Bible, is among texts accessible on a website in the project run by Oxford and The Vatican City.

New technology has enabled zoomable high-resolution images of the early manuscripts and books for research.

The £2m project will digitise 1.5m pages over the next three years.

Homer, Sophocles and Plato

Ancient texts

  • The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V
  • The Bodleian, the principal Oxford University library, was founded in 1602, making it one of Europe's oldest
  • Many of the first books printed in Rome between 1467 and 1473 are preserved in the Vatican Library
  • The digitisation project will focus on the Bodleian's rare copies of early printed works from England and Italy

The selection of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts as well as other early printed books are held in the network of University of Oxford libraries and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV).

They have been described by a Bodleian spokeswoman as "some of the world's most unique and important" Bibles and Biblical texts.

BAV holds manuscripts of the New Testament and of the Church Fathers, many of them richly decorated with Byzantine miniatures.

The website, in English and Italian, is supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who features in one of the website's video interviews about the importance of the project.

Richard Ovenden, interim Bodley's librarian, said: "We hope that through digitising and making openly accessible some of the most significant books in our collections we will increase their potential for research and broader understanding of these ancient texts."

The Vatican Library prefect, Monsignor Cesare Pasini, said he was "very pleased with the website" and that the collaboration was "a trademark of the world of culture".

At a later phase, manuscripts held at BAV to be digitised include works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hippocrates.

Dr Leonard Polonsky, whose foundation has funded the project, said he hoped that the collection of digital texts would "make a contribution to the advancement of modern scholarship".

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