- The Rediscovered Manuscript A Story of Friendship
Many skills are required for research and many virtues too: patience, humility, audacity, prudence… But I would like to illustrate a very important dimension of our activity: friendship. Actually, our session at the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, with Sean Field and Timothy Johnson, under Wayne Hellmann’s chairmanship, is exactly the illustration of what I want to say.1
On September 15, 2014, I received an email from Sean Field, in which he told me about a manuscript on sale on Sandra Hindman’s site, Les Enluminures. In the excellent description on line by Laura Light, I was immediately attracted by the mention “THOMAS OF CELANO (?), Vita et miracula sancti Francisci”: “The opening sections of the Vita agree with the Legenda S. Francisci, readings for Matins for the feast of St. Francis in a Breviary in the Vatican (Vat lat. 8737), printed by Lemmens, 1908. […] The concluding sections of our Vita are found in another source, known as the Umbrian Legend (edited Dalarun, 2007). […] The text in this manuscript, therefore, represents an important discovery regardless of whether it was compiled by an unknown author, using these two sources, or if it is in fact the original version of a hitherto unknown Life by Thomas of Celano, that was itself the source for the other two texts.”
As soon as I deciphered the dedicatory letter which was reproduced on line, I understood that the second hypothesis was the right one: we were facing a complete Legend written by Thomas of Celano under Elias’ generalate (1232-1239), a Legend of which the readings for Matins of the Vatican Breviary (plus the readings of another breviary of the same Library I discovered in 2007) and the entire so called Umbrian Legend were only excerpts. Actually, all the fragments which were already known represent only 40 % of the complete text now exhumed, which runs from Francis’ birth to the translation of his corpse in the Assisi basilica and includes more than seventy posthumous miracles. It is true that, since 2007, I had been expecting such a discovery. It is true too that Sean could [End Page 231] have kept to himself and benefitted from the information he was the first to notice. I told you this story is one of friendship.
As Sean suggested to me, I called Isabelle Lemasne de Chermont, director of the Department of the manuscripts at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. I told Isabelle that this item was very important and should be preserved in a public library. Since she is a good friend, she trusted me. The volume was bought by the Bibliothèque nationale de France from Les Enluminures in December 2014. In January 2015, I announced the discovery of the Life of our Blessed Father Francis by Thomas of Celano that I had transcribed in the meanwhile. Many newspapers in the international mass media celebrated the news. The French translation was published in February, the Latin edition in the Analecta Bollandiana in June. In July, the entire manuscript, now identified with the shelf number nal 3245, was made available on line on the site Gallica of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in a high definition reproduction. Spanish, Italian, English translations of the Legend are already published, the English one by Timothy Johnson with Sean Field’s and Solanus Benfatti’s help. It will be published soon in many other languages.
Since Sean and Tim will discuss and comment on the Rediscovered Life, I would like to present the manuscript itself and give an idea of the rest of its content, for the legend makes up only an eighth of the volume. I will suggest some hypothesis too about its long history.
The volume is very tiny (120 x 82 mm), made of 122 folios of parchment. The hide is sometimes quite poor and the cutoffs of the leaf can be the irregular cutoffs of the hide, with pieces of skin which were not commonly used for making books. Some leaves bear holes previous to the script. The 122 folios are distributed in thirteen quires, eight of which at least were originally made...