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Rare Books

Along with two reference book collections and an art collection, HMML administers three collections of rare printed books and manuscripts at Saint John’s University, each named according to its provenance. All printed books in the various HMML collections have been (or are being) cataloged and are cited both in the university library’s online catalog and in OCLC WorldCat. Images of items in the Arca Artium Art Collection are available through vHMML Museum.

The HMML Reference Collection (ca. 25,000 titles) covers all aspects of manuscript studies, paleography, and related areas, while the Arca Artium Reference Collection (ca. 20,000 titles) focuses on art, architecture, liturgy, printing, and book history.

The three rare book and manuscript collections at HMML bring together approximately 11,000 printed works from the 15th century to the present. These include the Saint John’s Rare Books (ca. 5,000 titles), the Arca Artium Rare Book Collection (ca. 5,000 titles), and the HMML Rare Books (ca. 600 titles). All three collections include a large number of manuscripts and manuscript fragments, as well as archival materials, dating from the 6th to the 20th century. In addition to medieval and early modern European codex manuscripts, there are more than 50 Ethiopian and 25 Arabic manuscripts, as well as the Kritzeck Collection (documents signed by rulers and popes), the MacGregor Collection (early modern legal documents from Italy), and the Steiner Collection (manuscripts and documents from Spain). Notable European manuscripts include seven 15th-century Books of Hours (Bean Mss. 1 and 2, Gavin Mss. 1 and 2, Kacmarcik, Mabon, and Bethune), two large antiphonaries, the 14th-century Bethune Breviary, and a complete Latin New Testament from ca. 1300.

While HMML holds numerous Biblical manuscripts or manuscript fragments (some glossed) which represent medieval traditions, the deepest resources are in printed Bibles from the 15th to the 20th centuries. These reflect the historical development of Biblical studies during the late medieval and early modern eras. Along with the first octavo-sized edition (1491) and volumes from the Glossa Ordinaria (1480), there are first editions of Biblical texts in Syriac (1555), Arabic (1590/1591), and Slavonic (1581), as well as early Bible editions in English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, and several other languages. Along with the polyglot (or multilingual) Psalter from Genoa (1516) and Erasmus’ Greek-Latin New Testament (1519), HMML has complete sets of polyglot Bible editions from Antwerp (1569-1573) and London (1655-1657).

Other particular strengths of the rare book and manuscript collections are:

  • extensive holdings related to the history of the Benedictines and other religious orders, including Martin Luther’s attack on monasticism (1521) and 16th-century printings of the Rule of Benedict, as well as the first editions of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues (with the life of Benedict) in Latin (1472), Italian (1475) and French (1509);
  • a wide variety of printed works and manuscripts for liturgical studies, in particular for the Mass and the Divine Office, from the 15th century onwards: Missals, Psalters, Breviaries, Antiphonaries, etc., as well as early studies of Eastern Christian liturgical practices (by Assemani et al.);
  • religious and European history, including canon law, the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, along with early printings of the Qur’an (1543, 1694 and 1698); as well as several important works from early modern England, like the 2nd folio edition of Shakespeare’s works (1631);
  • printing history from the 15th to the 20th centuries, including over 70 incunabula, 800 16th-century books, and a large number of books from the 17th and 18th centuries, along with modern fine press books by artists like William Morris, Eric Gill, Bruce Rogers, and many others.
  • the collections also offer manuscript facsimiles for teaching, works in classical languages (especially 16th-century editions of Latin literature), and rare or unique materials in areas like the history of Malta, the Knights of Malta, Ethiopia, and Eastern Christianity (including works in Syriac and Armenian).

Use of Special Collections
The Saint John’s Special Collections are available for research, group presentations (especially for college- and graduate-level classes), and exhibitions. Please contact HMML ([email protected]) to learn more about using the collections.