Spello celebrates a newly-restored 1645 Bible, in seven languages

(October 24, 2015) I had seen posters all over Spello advertising a presentation at the Palazzo Comunale, and a discussion of the restoration of one of the most important books in the community library. On that evening, the first restored volume of an twelve-volume “polyglot” Bible published in Paris in 1645, and in seven languages, was to be presented to the citizens of Spello. I arrived early to get a seat in front, with a few extra minutes to admire the meeting room, with frescoed ceilings and all of the usual trappings of an important civic event—including the city banner, and the Italian and European Union flags in a prominent place in front of the room.

Poster advertising the event

Poster advertising the event

Italian flag, Spello city banner, and the European Union flag

Italian flag, Spello city banner, and the European Union flag

The meeting room in Palazzo Comunale

The meeting room in Palazzo Comunale

The Bible was only a few feet away from my front row seat. I had time to photograph the open first pages, while the room filled with townspeople. The front table included the mayor (“sindaco”), who made some remarks about the importance of this Bible contained in the Spello archival library, and the extensive process undertaken to restore this first volume. The following speaker was Monsignor Fortunato Frezza, from the Vatican Library, and their expert on historical sacred texts. He spoke at length about the value of this, one of the first “polyglot” Bibles published, and one of only two copies remaining today of this particular Bible. It is an twelve-volume set, but this first volume took nearly five years to restore in a laboratory in Foligno. While there exist older printed polyglot Bibles, this one was the first to include seven languages—Hebrew, Sumarian, Chaldaica, Greek, Syrian, Latin and Arabic. Each page of the first ten volumes is printed in five languages, with the two remaining languages on each page in the last two volumes. He gave the history of all the significant historical and polyglot printed Bibles, many archived in the Vatican Library where he is the curator, and he included this Bible as one of the most important ancient Bibles still in existence.

First look at the newly restored first volume of the 1645 Bible

First look at the newly restored first volume of the 1645 Bible

Seven languages printed in the 11-volume Bible

Seven languages printed in the twelve-volume Bible

Front page--published in 1645 in Paris

Front page–published in 1645 in Paris

Mayor Moreno Landrini makes the opening remarks

Mayor Moreno Landrini makes the opening remarks

Monsignor Frezzi from the Vatican Library speaks about the Bible

Monsignor Frezza from the Vatican Library speaks about the importance of this Bible

One of the final speakers was Gaudenzio Bartalini, the head of the Bank of Foligno Foundation, which financed the restoration of the Bible. He introduced the young woman who did the restoration work, Irene Maturi. She presented a short program of PowerPoint slides showing the before and after photographs of several phases of the restoration, including the extensive restoration of the severely damaged leather binding.

Irene , the woman who did the restoration work in Foligno

Irene Marturi, the woman who did the restoration work in her lab in Foligno

After her remarks and presentation, the guests were invited to come up and see the Bible close at hand, and she and Mons. Frezza answered questions and showed some of the etchings contained in the inner pages of the Bible.

Getting to see the Bible after the presentation

Getting to see the Bible after the presentation

Irene talks about restoring the end papers, once badly damaged

Irene Maturi talks about restoring the end papers, once badly damaged

Five languages are printed on each 2-page spread

Five languages are printed on each two-page spread

One of the engravings we got to see

One of the engravings we got to see

Mons. Frezzi speaks to folks interested in more information

Mons. Frezza speaks to folks interested in more information

As the crowd slowly filtered out, the Bible was taken to the actual library, a room nearby, and placed on display for any others wanting a chance to have a close look. I had a chance to look around the civic library for the first time—and there are so many very old books in sad condition, needing restoration. It will take many years to complete all of the volumes of the polyglot 1642 Bible, will cost many Euros—and I doubt that there will be enough interest and funding to restore more of the old books on the shelves.

The crest ("stemma") of Spello, in the Library room

The crest (“stemma”) of Spello, in the Library room

Inside the Biblioteca Comunale, the civic library

Inside the Biblioteca Comunale, the civic library shelves

Moving the Bible to the Library

Moving the Bible to the Library

More people coming to get a close look

More people coming to get a close look

One of the engraved illustrations in the Bible

One of the engraved illustrations in the Bible

A better view of one of the engravings

A better view of one of the engravings

Unrestored volumes of the same Bible

Unrestored volumes of the same 1645 Bible

More archival books, damaged by time and the elements

More archival books, damaged by time and the elements

So many very old books here

So many very old books here

Long shelves of monastery and convent records

Long shelves of monastery and convent records

A page on display--hand-written by monks, and the illustration painted on the page, too

A page on display–hand-written by monks, and the illuminated letter “O” painted on the page, too

Sad condition of many important records.

Sad condition of many important records

Close-up, books needing restoration

Close-up, books needing restoration

Binding completely destroyed

Binding completely destroyed

I doubt that many of these books will survive without some intervention

I doubt that many of these books will survive without some intervention

As I was finally leaving, I ran into Paola Tacconi, a friend who runs a dress and macramé shop nearby. She needed to be in her store until closing time at 7, and was just arriving as the last guests were departing. I turned around and took her directly to the Bible, where she was able to put on cotton gloves and see the first restored volume herself, even turning the pages.

Paola Tacconi arrived just in time to see the Bible on her own

Paola Tacconi arrived just in time to see the Bible on her own

It’s clear that Spello has a very valuable resource in the archival writings, records and books contained in the Biblioteca Comunale, but there is little chance than many of them will ever be restored, and it is sad to think that time will only make these precious volumes more fragile and more damaged by humidity, insects and general decomposition.

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