Vatican, Oxford put ancient manuscripts online

Rare, fragile ancient manuscripts such as the 600-year-old Gutenberg Bible can now be viewed by almost anyone online.

Homer, Plato and Sophocles manuscripts among 1.5 million pages on the way

The first volume of a 10th century Greek bible is among the texts from the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford and the Vatican Library that are now online. (Bodleian Libraries/University of Oxford)

Access to the Gutenberg Bible and other rare, fragile ancient manuscripts has just gotten easier.

The Vatican Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library put the first of 1.5 million pages of their precious manuscripts online Tuesday, bringing their collections to a global audience for the first time.

The two libraries in 2012 announced a four-year project to digitize some of the most important works in their collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books.

The 2 million pound ($3.3 million) project is being funded by the Polonsky Foundation, which aims to democratize access to information.

The Vatican Library (above) and Oxford University's Bodleian Library put the first of 1.5 million pages of their precious manuscripts online Tuesday. (The Associated Press)

"We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity," Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday inside the frescoed library. "And we want to conserve them."

Among the first works up on the site Tuesday, at http:/bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk are the two-volume Gutenberg Bibles from each of the libraries, the first-ever books set on type-face in the mid-1400s by printer Johannes Gutenberg in Germany, heralding  the age of the printed book in the West.

The online collection also includes an illustrated 11th century Greek bible and a beautiful 15th-century German bible, hand-colored and illustrated by woodcuts.

Ancient Greek manuscripts by Plato, Homer and Sophocles are expected to go online soon.

The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 and is one of the most important research libraries in the world. It has 180,000 manuscripts, 1.6 million books and 150,000 prints, drawings and engravings. The Bodleian is the largest university library in Britain, with more than 11 million printed works.

Pasini said the Vatican was embarking on similar digitization projects with libraries in Azerbaijan and China, among others.

'We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity,' said Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican, seen here with a 10th century digitalized Bible. (The Associated Press)

With files from CBC's Megan Williams

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