(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.