The Vercelli School of Medieval European Palaeography
The Vercelli School of Medieval European Palaeography (VSMEP) is a collaborative graduate studies initiative which began in April 2007, when M.A. students from University College London (UK), the University of Jena (Germany), and the Universities of Urbino and Vercelli (Italy) first came together for a joint seminar on European palaeography at the Biblioteca Capitolare in Vercelli (Italy). Since then, annual seminars in the same format have taken place with various other European universities participating. In 2013 an official research collaboration between the University of Göttingen and the Biblioteca Capitolare in Vercelli has implemented the school. In 2016 University College London has joined the Vercelli School through a formal M.A. collaboration with the University of Göttingen.
This unique teaching initiative includes an expert introduction to original medieval Western manuscripts from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries within the historic setting of the Vercelli Cathedral Library, and it teaches their understanding, cataloguing, editing, and preservation. One main aim of the international project is to re-create the atmosphere of multi-cultural exchange in medieval Vercelli and its university, in which pilgrims and students from all over Europe came together, their cultural heritage still being traceable in the numerous books and artefacts that were given to the unique local libraries and museums. Another aim is to combine the "classical" humanities research skills with the most recent state-of-the-art technology, such as digital imaging, multispectral photography, and XRI in order to facilitate the preservation of this cultural heritage. The Vercelli meetings also include excursions to important historical sites on the Via Francigena, one of the main medieval pilgrimage routes through Western Europe. The annual seminars, conducted by leading palaeographer Prof. Winfried Rudolf (first from London and Oxford, then from Göttingen) have since seen more than 150 participants from twenty different nations across the globe. The annual costs of the Vercelli Classroom have been in the area of ca. 8,000 EUR per annum. Important results of the research collaboration so far are:
- The education of more than 150 graduate students in the rare skills of medieval manuscript reading, dating, cataloging, digitizing, and exhibiting; the teaching of multispectral and XRI technology
- The first identification and dating of more than 200 manuscripts and fragments in Vercelli libraries
- The first discovery of a hitherto unknown prayerbook of English origin in the year 2010, followed by the publication of a collaborative collection of essays by graduate students (2012)
- The discovery of hitherto unknown fragments of Middle Dutch poetry in the Vercelli State Archives (2012) and their publication
- The discovery of an unknown booklist, recording the lost library of the chapter at Santa Maria Maggiore in Vercelli in the tenth century (2014)
- The discovery and identification of unique rotuli containing the earliest known versions of works by Joachim of Fiore (2011) and the publication of their first description
- The full multispectral scan of the Vercelli Book, one of four major manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon poetry, by students of the Vercelli Classroom in collaboration with experts from the Lazarus Project (University of Rochester, NY, USA)
- The raising of funds of EUR 4.000,- for the restoration of five medieval parchment rotuli through public fundraising events (2012-2014) under participation of students and teachers of the VSMEP.
Public impact of VSMEP has been achieved through the designing and advertising of various exhibitions in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo in Vercelli. Student research has further been presented at several fundraising events during which valuable funding for the restoration of the Vercelli manuscripts could be raised. Students and teachers of the project have also participated in high impact workshops for local high schools in Vercelli and have performed ancient texts of the Anglo-Saxon Vercelli Book in public reading events at the Cathedral of Vercelli. From its beginning the collaboration has received coverage across all important media. The VSMEP stimulates and furthers intercultural exchange and has become a living manifestation of the European idea in that the study of the joint interests of medieval European scholars and pilgrims and their mobility in the past unite and inspire young people from Europe and beyond today.