Manuscripts from German-Speaking Lands includes a ninth-century manuscript of the four gospels in Latin, written at Fulda Abbey (Bodleian MS. Laud Lat. 102). The manuscript came to the Bodleian Library in 1637 from the Cathedral Library of Würzburg as part of the collection of Archbishop Laud, Chancellor of Oxford University. It is significant for its mixed scribal heritage and has been included in a new catalogue describing the exchanges between England and Germany from the 8th to the 21st centuries.
After more than three centuries of scholarly use and with at least two historic repair campaigns, the sewing-structure had deteriorated and the binding had broken down to the point where it was necessary to temporarily withdraw the manuscript from use by readers. The manuscript required a full rebinding, which involved documenting then dismantling the old binding; removing glue and restoring flexibility to the leaves; repairing damage; then resewing and binding in oak boards and alum-tawed skin, using structural features appropriate to the date of the manuscript.
The objectives of the project were to repair and rebind the manuscript so that it can be consulted safely in the Special Collections reading room for research purposes, that it is in a good condition to go through the process of digitization, and that it is safe to be exhibited within the Library and loaned to appropriate venues if requested. In addition, the conservation of this manuscript in the workshop was an opportunity for junior members of staff to observe and assist an expert book conservator at the bench, thus developing their own knowledge and skills. Sabina Pugh, who completed this work just before her retirement, is one of the most experienced book conservators in the country and holder of the Balfour of Burleigh Tercentenary Prize for Exceptional Achievement in the Crafts. This was a wonderful final project for Sabina, and she was able to use the opportunity to transfer some of her knowledge and skills to newer book conservators during the teaching opportunities created by the project.
The remains of the deteriorated binding were removed and repairs to spine-folds were made to enable the sewing of the new binding. Very little repair was made to the leaves themselves: notably, the split in the copper-green ruling on folio 1 was not repaired, after much discussion and examination. The risks of attempting a functional repair to this painted area of the prime display leaf outweighed its assessed vulnerability: with the old glue and restrictive binding removed the leaf was able to flex more naturally from the spine rather than hinging on the damage, and no evidence was found to suggest the split had extended in recent times. The damage will of course be closely monitored and the treatment reviewed should the need arise.
The textblock was re-sewn with linen thread on four double linen cord supports. New parchment endleaves with alum-tawed joints were sewn at each end of the text-block. Kiln-dried quarter-sawn oak boards were prepared with slight chamfering on head, tail and foredge. They were shaped to the textblock and the linen sewing supports laced through channels drilled through the edge of the boards. Endbands were sewn at head and tail and laced through the boards, and the spine lined with Japanese paper and alum-tawed calfskin. This project used a new refinement for non-adhesive calfskin spine lining, mechanically attached to the board edges with oak trenails. A covering of alum-tawed calfskin was then pasted to the boards, and indigo-dyed linen thread was saddle-stitched underneath the endband core and through the covering leather across the width of the spine.
This project was generously funded by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and a number of Friends of the Bodleian.
Nicole Gilroy is the Head of Book Conservation at the Bodleian Libraries.