Scholars at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University recently realized that the microfilm copies the library has of two early medieval Spanish Bibles are actually the only ones in existence.
That’s big stuff, considering that the Bibles, Codex Complutensis I and Codex Complutensis II, were practically destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. The Bibles are the best examples of Latin Vulgate texts of the Gospel of St. John, said Theresa Vann, the library’s director of electronic cataloguing.
Apparently the owner of the Bibles, the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, had their contents photographed in 1907. Vann said she thinks someone made the microfilms from those photographs in the 1950s.
So how did they wind up at the library at St. John’s?
Vann said it’s possible that when the library ordered copies of those microfilms in 1979, it accidentally received the originals instead. Not only that, but staffers thought the microfilms were of the remaining shards of the Bibles — not the entire manuscripts.
It wasn’t until an English scholar with an interest in the Bibles asked the library’s staff to look into the microfilms that they realized the situation: They had the only full copies in the world — and the Universidad Complutense had none.
The library has since digitized the films and sent copies to the university in Madrid.