Page 116 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
more efficiently accomplished in the library’s manuscript vault
rather than in the library’s reading room.
After introducing me to the library staff, Father Boyle then
took me into the vault. It was below ground, in a concrete and
steel bunker which was built less than ten years earlier. It had
a large door not unlike a bank vault. It was chilly, the temper­
ature and humidity carefully controlled to preserve the man­
uscripts.
It was really not a proper work area. There were no chairs
to sit upon or desks, only waist-high consultation tables where
library staff leave the manuscripts until they re-shelve them.
The overhead lights were on timers, so that they turned them­
selves o ff automatically after fifteen minutes or so. And as far
as the eye could see in every direction there was steel shelving
upon which were thousands upon thousands o f manuscripts
bound in either white vellum or brown leather. The smell was
rich, even intoxicating.
The waist-high consultation tables became my work-stations
for the next several days. A major difficulty I faced was the
lack o f a complete catalogue o f the 801 Hebrew manuscripts
possessed by the Vatican Library. There are lists prepared as
long as two hundred years ago which abound in errors, the
partial catalogue which was begun by Umberto D. Cassuto and
published in 1935, and the hand-list compiled by David S.
Loewinger and Nehemiah Allony published in 1968 by the In­
stitute o f Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem.
Armed with these tools, I began to review all 801 pieces, seeking
what was beautiful or interesting.
After four full working-days I had compiled a list o f approx­
imately four dozen potential items for exhibition. Upon my re­
turn to the United States I discussed the selections with Dr.
Signer. Six months later, when Mrs. Signer’s health was better,
Dr. Signer joined me in Rome, where we spent a week at the
Vatican Library reviewing the list o f selections, deleting some,
and adding others. It was Dr. Signer’s desire that Latin and
Greek codices which demonstrated the influence o f Jewish
thought on Christianity also be exhibited, and as a result, vol­
umes by Philo, Jerome, Andrew o f Saint Victor, Nicholas de
Lyre, etc., appeared in the display.