Public view for £15m medieval treasure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

An illuminated manuscript worth £15m, one of the most important literary treasures of the medieval world, has been saved for the nation after the British Library raised the money to keep it.

To enable better viewing by the public, the manuscript has been copied to create the biggest computerised touch-screen book in Britain. It was unveiled yesterday and will allow the public to see 30 pages of the Gothic decorations in close-up while listening to extracts of the musical plain chant inscribed in it.

The 694-page Sherborne Missal, which details the masses for all the main religious festivals, dates from the early 15th century and was commissioned by the Abbot of Sherborne. The book is believed to have been removed to Europe during the dissolution of the monasteries and surfaced in France in 1703.

The second Duke of Northumberland bought it a century later and it remained in the family until the current duke decided to offer it to the nation in 1998 in lieu of taxes. Beccause the manuscript was worth more than his £9.6m tax bill, the British Library had to raise the difference. The Heritage Lottery Fund offered a sizeable grant and the British Library announced yesterday it had finally paid the remaining £1.4m.

Dr Michelle Brown, the library's curator of illuminated manuscripts, said she was thrilled. "It is certainly the most lavish example of late medieval decoration to have survived the Reformation. It is a great masterpiece of Gothic art, coming at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The style is truly European."

Clive Izard, who devised the digitised manuscript for the British Library, said it was pushing the limits of what was possible using current technology. "We are trying to create an illusion that is as real as possible," he said.

The original Missal is also on display at the library.