Digitizing a medieval inquisitor

Does being familiar with historical sources, with special collections, old editions, archival records and buildings in their original or restored state, ever satisfy you completely? Writing for a virtual public I more and more realize how special it is to have historic material near at hand. Within half an hour I can walk to monuments from many centuries. On bicycle or by bus and train even more is within easy reach. Yet often you are not in a position to see the originals. Today the web brings many things to your home or even to your portable computer that normally would only visualize before your eyes after a voyage or prolonged research.

Let’s take medieval texts as an example. Often you had to be quite happy when the university library in your town had an edition of particular texts. Virtual libraries make it possible to consult many editions on your screen. On my website for legal history I have created a page on medieval procedure with sections on the officials, the lawyers heading the diocesan tribunals created in the thirteenth century, on Guillaume Durand, the author of the Speculum iudiciale, an encyclopedic treatise on medieval procedure, on the Rota Romana and other tribunals at Rome, and on the medieval inquisition. Even if one is not particularly interested in the subject it simply had to be included. In this section you will find mainly a list with source editions and modern studies on the subject by historians specializing in medieval and legal history.

Pointing to websites with clear and reliable information on the medieval inquisition proved to be rather difficult. The clarity offered by many popular sites runs often completely against reliability. Among the few safe guides are the pages at the University of Notre Dame on their collection concerning the medieval inquisition, and the webpages of Jean Duvernoy with a list of his editions and transcriptions of sources on the inquisition in the Languedoc. For further research I can mention in particular the Henry Charles Lea Library at the University of Pennsylvania.

Duvernoy offers transcriptions of several important manuscripts with inquisitorial sources, mainly from the Doat collection at the Bibliothèque nationale de France of seventeenth-century transcriptions of medieval sources from Toulouse, many of them no longer existing. Pride of place is taken by the transcriptions of the manuscript Toulouse, Bibliothèque municipale, 609, with the records of the inquisitions held by Bernard de Caux in the Lauragais during 1245 and 1246. I feel quite happy to have Duvernoy’s transcriptions of the manuscript at Toulouse, since long recognized as a very important source. Scholars like Mark Gregory Pegg in his studies The corruption of angels. The great inquisition of 1245-1246 (Princeton-Oxford 2001) and A Most Holy War. The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (Oxford, etc., 2008) have studied the manuscript in situ. You might guess how much surprised I am to find a digitized version of Toulouse 609 at the Bibliothèque numérique of Toulouse’s city library. The Bibliothèque Municipale at Toulouse has digitized a substantial number of medieval manuscripts. Interestingly the library has partnered with the French national library for this digitization project, and thus you can find these manuscripts at Toulouse also through the services of Gallica.

Looking at the manuscript on my screen I encountered a few difficulties in getting a detailed view of the written text. The enlargement could have been better. Creating a PDF, one of the services shown at the website’s viewer, did not work with the browser I normally use. After downloading an image of a random page the original photograph turned out to have a rather less sharp resolution than needed for normal decipherment of a medieval manuscript. When your eyes have adjusted to the script reading will certainly go easier, but I had expected a better technical quality. I do not at all like to quibble about these matters, but they do matter. When I first found out about the collection concerning the medieval inquisition at Notre Dame I hoped they would have digitized their copy of Philipp van Limborch’s Historia Inquisitionis (Amsterdam 1692) who printed as an appendix the famous record on the Montaillou inquisition by Bernard Gui and Jacques Fournier, the future pope Benedict XII, from the manuscript only much later identified with London, British Library, Add. 4697. I have not yet spotted a digitized version of this edition. For now having digital access at home to a manuscript that has been so often studied, a real treasure of medieval legal history, is just most welcome.

A postscript on the Bibliothèque numérique of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Toulouse and the quality of digitization: I have looked here at more images of digitized manuscripts. It seems that the pictures taken of illuminated pages are generally of a better quality than those of text pages. The digitized images of music scores, including autographs such as Gabriel Fauré’s Berceuse for violin and orchestra (Res. Mus. B. 557) and music editions from the sixteenth century (e.g. madrigals by Philippus de Monte), are really sharp. Among the digitized manuscripts of legal interest are a collection of conciliar canons (Ms. 364) and letters from and to Jean de Boysonné (1505-1559?), a lawyer and poet at Toulouse (Ms. 834). The four thousand photographs taken by Eugène Trutat (1840-1910) are not always presented in their original dimensions, but his images of places like Moissac and for example an Italian fresco with the judgment of Solomon (TRU C 1906) have historic value.

Read also Changing your search angle, the sequel to this post!

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