The Archivist’s Nook: Conservation in Rare Books, Part III

Cicero, De Officius, 1499

Since our last update on our long-term conservation project, Special Collections staff has continued addressing the conservation and access challenges in the Catholic University’s Rare Books collection. As “Part I” and “Part II” of the conservation blog posts reported, our work with our partner Quarto Conservation has focused on books that varied in date range and geographic representation from medieval Europe to late colonial Mexico. Once again, we have yet another surprising spread of works to report on!

Our goal in Special Collections is to make sure that our patrons – whether they be campus guests or CatholicU community members – have access to the works they need to research and study. Thus, our guiding principle in conserving these books was to render them stable for both eventual digitization and in-person access, while preserving the original content and physical traits of the volumes themselves.

As we continue with our conservation efforts, we will continue to update our patrons on the work being performed. You may see examples of the before and after of each conserved volume below with brief summaries of the conservation work performed:

1. Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis Slavonice (Venice, 1512)

This small prayer book, printed in Venice in 1512, is the earliest known copy of a book printed in Croatian cyrillic. Three extant copies of the work survive in libraries today, and it contains numerous ornate wood cuttings and borders. The cover is contemporary to the textblock, likely full calf leather. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Access to this rare work was limited due to the poor condition of the volume. The binding was no longer intact, with zero spine linings remaining, and only one cover board remaining (but fully detached). With the binding gone, the textblock was loose, with the first few pages heavily worn. The pages themselves were also out of order. 

Before it was sent to the conservators, a Special Collections staff member carefully collated the text and documented the correct order of the pages. From there, the conservation team took over. The book was fully disbound, with the pages lightly cleaned. The front pages were repaired with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The sections were resewn with linen thread on three hemp cords. The spine was reshaped with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue, followed by airplane linen. (Originally used in early airplanes, this linen is lightweight and undyed with a tight weave.) New boards were created and attached, with a handmade paper cover. The original board was stored and a new clam shell box was created for the book.

2. The “Our Father” Album, Vatican City, 1865 (MS 220)

This work is a commercially-produced blank album, filled in with handwritten text. The text is the “Our Father” prayer written in approximately 30 languages, as spoken in the Vatican in 1865. Photographs are attached to the pages throughout, with hand drawn floral borders. .0

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before conservation, the binding on the book had failed. The spine cover was mostly detached, with the binding loose. In fact, the spine linings holding it together were mostly missing!

For this volume, the conservators disbound the book and removed the remaining sewing. The spine was cleaned and then resewn using linen thread. Furthermore, the spine was lined with Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste, followed by airplane linen. The original boards were reattached. 

3. Franciscus De Platea, Opus Restitutionum, 1437 (Inc 28)

This incunabulum (or books printed in Europe prior to 1501) by an Italian Franciscan was a popular work at the time, focusing on (as its full title indicates) restitution, usury, and excommunication. The copy held at CatholicU is in overall good condition, with a full leather binding over wooden boards and a relatively stable textblock.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unfortunately, before conservation, the front cover board was completely detached. Also, the back cover board was nearly detached, held only by a single thread. The leather binding was degraded and fraying, with early signs of red rot. Worm holes are present throughout the wooden boards and the textblock. (These are the type of holes caused by insects long-ago tunneling through a book, not the type of wormholes that tunnel through spacetime.) On a fascinating note, there is white wax residue on the front cover, likely from a candle dripping on the book. 

The conservation team cleaned the spine and relined it with wheat starch paste and heavy weight Japanese tissue paper and airplane linen. They then proceeded to reattach the front and back boards, backing up the boards and textblock with handmade laid paper and Japanese tissue. For the leather, they re-adhered the loose leather cover to the wooden boards and treated it to minimize the developing red rot. 

4. Cicero, De Officius, 1499

Another incunabulum that was in need of some love! This particular work dates from 1499 and is an ethical and political work by Roman orator and philosopher, Cicero. It is a heavily annotated book, with notes and manicules exhibited throughout the text. While the book itself dates from the tail end of the fifteenth century, its binding is from the nineteenth century.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before conservation, the front cover board was detached, making it difficult to access the textblock safely. While there are significant worm holes throughout the textblock, they do not pose a threat to the text if used with care. 

To resolve these issues, the conservators cleaned the spine of the book and relined it with wheat starch paste and Japanese tissue and airplane linen. These linings were left overhanging on the front side of the book to allow for the conservation team to reattach the nineteenth-century front board. Again, this reattachment was facilitated with wheat starch paste. Finally, minor page repair was performed, especially around worm holes that may catch and tear more. Largely, though, the worm holes were left untreated. 

While there are many details that this post did not address regarding the conservation efforts, we hope this sheds a little light on the process of conservation in the stacks.

To find out more about these books or the general Catholic University Rare Books collection, please contact us at: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

The Archivist’s Nook: One for the Ledgers – The Case of the Mystery Armor

The mystery armor…

Earlier this summer, this humble archivist was minding his own business, when who should walk into my world but trouble – cold, metal trouble…

While performing a standard inventory review in one of our storage rooms, I noticed a large metallic object on a shelf that was hidden behind a piece of furniture. Naturally I investigated further, and unearthed a tag reading , “Miscellaneous – breastplate and loincloth…” with no other details. Super helpful…and a mystery was afoot

Moving the mystery object to our reading room, I inspected and documented it. Obviously, it was some type of armor, but I am no military historian. Thus  with documentation in hand, I reached out to a colleague who knows more about these types of things than me. Within minutes, he replied, “WWI German body armor” with a photo showing this type of armor. So now we knew what the piece was, but how did it get to Catholic University and why? That was the next step in the investigation…

Our collections are rich in materials from the First World War. Not only was it a significant event in world history, but it represented a defining moment for American Catholics. The predecessor organization to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – the National Catholic Welfare Council – was founded in 1917 to unite and lend Catholic support for the American war effort, and many American Catholics saw the war as an opportunity to display their loyalty to a nation that often saw them as disloyal. So it would be no surprise that the University would have collected objects from the war, but from whom and when?

Fr. Dubois, ca. 1918.

This is where institutional knowledge came into play. I recalled that we had a large trove of WWI photographs and objects donated by a French soldier by the name of Fr. Leon Dubois, S.M. So who was Fr. Dubois?

A French priest, Dubois served in a group of French tank soldiers during the First World War. He may have served as unofficial chaplain to these soldiers, as the French government did not have official chaplains in its military at the time. In fact, clergy of all faiths could be drafted to serve in military units. While not formally sanctioned as chaplains, these recruited clerics would often perform rites for their compatriots during the war. Later in the war, some clerics would even volunteer to serve in order to be near the battlefield for performing these sacramental duties.

French World War I dagger issued to a tank crewmember.

While we do not know the full status of Fr. Dubois – was he recruited or did he volunteer – we can say that he may not have been directly involved in combat or eager to fight. A letter sent with one of his objects – a dagger given to members of his tank unit – indicates that the only action this weapon ever saw was battle in opening sardine cans.

After the war’s end, Dubois wrote to the then-director of Catholic University’s museum and long-time Semitics professor, Fr. Romain Butin, S.M. The letters seem to indicate some familiarity between the two French Society of Mary priests. It is through this correspondence that Fr. Dubois’s World War I collection came to be housed at Catholic University.

But what is in this collection from a French soldier that made me immediately think of it, when I learned that the mystery object was WWI German armor? 

Fr. Dubois’s collection includes both French and German equipment, ranging from German helmets and French gas masks to message papers for carrier pigeons. So looking into any notes from his collection would be the first place to seek answers. Fortunately, several of his donated objects have detailed records, including the date they arrived on campus – March 3, 1920.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With this information in hand, I could open our antique museum accession ledger, which recorded all new museum donations from 1900-1940. Seeking out the March 3, 1920 date, I soon found an entry for “Breastplate armor…Germany” donated by a Fr. Leon Dubois. The mystery of its donation was solved, and the armor could be fully recorded.

Original Catholic University Museum Ledger, March 1920 entries.

And thus another archival mystery was solved! A tale of war, transatlantic friendships, and faith under fire all coming together in an object sitting before me in the archives reading room. 

This object – coupled with the rest of Fr. Dubois’s collection – makes tangible the tragedy of the First World War and humanizes its participants. It will be secured in archival storage with full documentation, and it will be preserved for future generations.

With thousands of museum objects, hundreds of archival collections, and tens of thousands of rare books, Special Collections is a place of constant re-discovery and updating catalogs. While virtually all our materials are documented, they may exist at various stages in the documentation process from simply being recorded in an old ledger to being fully cataloged and listed online. But even the most documented objects need updates from time-to-time to account for new information, new contexts, and updated terminology

The job of the sleuthing, er I mean, processing archivist was done for today, but the work never ceases!

You may see the Fr. Leon Dubois collection finding aid here: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/archives/collections/finding-aids/finding-aids.html?file=dubois

Sources:

Boniface, Xavier. 1997. “AU SERVICE DE LA NATION ET DE L’ARMEE: LES AUMONIERS MILITAIRES FRANÇAIS DE 1914 A 1962.” Guerres Mondiales et Conflits Contemporains 47, no. 187: 103-113.

Boniface, Xavier. 1998. “L’AUMONERIE MILITAIRE CATHOLIQUE: LES INSPECTEURS ECCLESIASTIQUES (1917-1918).” Revue Historique des Armées no. 3: 19-26.

Fontana, Jacques. 1997. “LE PRETRE DANS LES TRANCHEES: 1914-1918.” Guerres Mondiales et Conflits Contemporains 47, no. 187: 25-39.

The Archivist’s Nook: Towering over Campus – A Century of Student Journalism

Oct. 27, 1922 issue, The Tower – First issue!

On October 27, 1922, the first issue of the CatholicU student-run newspaper, The Tower, was published. A four-page issue, it introduced itself to the campus with a focus on local events and academic fare. Named after the turret-like tower of Gibbons Hall – the paper’s first editorial offices – it has continuously operated for the past century, documenting campus life, debates, and changes. In a new exhibit, Special Collections is highlighting some of the ways The Tower has documented the history and culture of Catholic University. This exhibit can be seen in person in Mullen Library during the fall semester 2022 and viewed online here.

With 100 years and 129 editors-in-chief (1), The Tower has gone through as many changes as the campus has experienced. It has altered its masthead dozens of times, changed its formatting and size, and even shifted to an online version in the past few years. But its dedication to documenting the thoughts and lives of Cardinals has remained unaltered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Far be it from this humble archivist to pontificate on the merits of student journalism, but I feel qualified to discuss the important role that campus newspapers like The Tower play in preserving and telling the history of the University and its inhabitants.

The Tower remains one of the key resources for studying the history and culture of the Catholic University campus, particularly the undergraduate experience on campus. With most of the student population changing approximately every four years, it is often difficult to document the lives of the ever-changing residents on campus. Student organizations rise and fall, issues of concern are debated and settled, and students matriculate and soon graduate. While our staff works to archive as much as possible, we cannot capture the full range of the ever-evolving student experience.

Having a weekly newspaper, written and edited by undergraduate students, is thus a rich source of information related to the culture of the campus. It provides ample documentation and reporting on social events, campus gossip, ongoing debates (both on- and off-campus), moments of change, and numerous stories that may otherwise be lost to history.

April 5, 2013, The Towel: The Tower isn’t always all business! The April Fool’s issue of the Tower reveals a humorous take on campus culture.

For example, several of our posts on this very blog have often relied heavily on The Tower’s past reporting. This includes stories on how the infamous 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast was received on campus, spooky traditions involving ghost cars and coffin parades, the student response to the U.S. entry into World War II, an occupation of Mullen Library, the 2001 Cardinals-Globetrotters matchup, a dress coming to Drama, and even an otherwise-lost tale about a young senator visiting campus to give a talk. Not to mention a blog dedicated to the history of The Tower itself!

Our reference staff frequently uses the bound Tower collection and digitized collection to address inquiries about campus history, and we have even found amazing photos for social media or to share photos and stories with alumni.

April 24, 1998 The Tower, editorial cartoon: A shout out that may be appreciated by generations of Tower staff.

While there are innumerable examples to share about The Tower, we encourage you to explore the online exhibit to see more such examples. You may also browse the digital Tower collection online here: https://cuislandora.wrlc.org/islandora/object/cuislandora%3A67501

And don’t forget to support the ongoing editorial staff and their work by visiting The Tower’s current site: ​​http://cuatower.com/

 

(1) An earlier version of this blog referred to the “editors-in-chief” as “editors-at-large”. Special thanks to John Koppisch, ’78 (editor-in-chief of The Tower, 1977) for pointing out this error.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Patron “Saint” – The Bookish Legacy of Msgr. Arthur Connolly

The man, the myth, the patron. Msgr. Arthur Connolly portrait, donated on his birthday (December 2) in 1930. The plaque reads, “Rt. Rev. Msgr. Arthur Theodore Connolly 1853-1933 Library Patron”

I am glad to place this collection where it will be of so much benefit to students of history, yet I must confess I feel as if I were bidding good bye to friends who have become very dear to me…I have grown to love them for the many hours of pleasure they have afforded me.

-Msgr. Arthur Connolly to Rector Bp. Thomas Shahan, April 25, 1917

Anyone who spends time in the Catholic University Special Collections will soon become acquainted with the names of consequential donors and collectors. Ranging from Fr. James Magner and James Cardinal Gibbons to Mercedes McCambridge and Dorothy Mohler, there are several patrons whose legacies ripple through our collections and the campus. Few of these donors span the full scope of our collections, with their bequeathed items in the museum, rare books, and archives. But one Boston-area priest’s influence  is present in the stacks of the archives and rare books, as well as in the paintings and sculptures displayed around campus – Msgr. Arthur T. Connolly (1853-1933).

Born December 2, 1853 in Waltham, Massachusetts, Connolly was the son of Irish immigrants. He was a product of public schools and later attended Boston College then St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland. From there, he would go on to study theology at the Grand Seminar in Montreal, Quebec. On December 21, 1876, Bishop Édouard-Charles Fabre ordained Connolly to the Catholic priesthood. (He would be given the title Monsignor in 1926.)

Relocating back to his native Boston, Connolly would remain a lifelong parish priest. His longest tenure was as the inaugural rector for the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Jamaica Plains neighborhood in Boston, serving from 1892 until his retirement in 1931. But beyond serving his parish community, Connolly was an avid collector and traveler. On multiple trips to Europe and South America, he acquired numerous books and art objects. Of particular note was his collecting of ivory artwork, religious manuscripts and incunabula, and Irish history and early American publications.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But beyond merely collecting, Connolly was a generous benefactor. His love of knowledge was only surpassed by his love of libraries! From 1916-1932, Connolly served as a Trustee of the Boston Public Library, acting as the Library’s Board President from 1923-24 and 1927-28. (There is even a branch of the Boston Public Library named after him to this day.) His engagement was not limited to his local libraries, as he donated thousands of volumes to his alma mater, Boston College. And in 1915-16, Connolly began the first of many generous donations to Catholic University.

This first shipment to the University focused predominantly on books intended for the general reference stacks in the campus libraries. A second wave of materials arrived in 1918, which included medieval manuscripts, early printed incunabula, and chromolithographic prints as well as Renaissance-era artwork sculpted from ivory. Over the next 15 years, Connolly continued to send books, art, and papers to campus. By the time of his passing in 1933, the Connolly Library – as it was called at the time – had amassed approximately 16,000 titles located in its own designated spaces in McMahon Hall and Mullen Library. Among the many, many special collections that existed in the Library from the 1890s until the 1960s, Connolly’s stood out as among the largest and most eclectic.

Connolly’s bookplate. Motto: Patientem ovem agnus eucharistiae regit illluminat levat et coronat. (The Lamb of the Eucharist rules, illuminates, supports and crowns the suffering sheep.) Connolly seems to have commissioned this piece in December 1896 by Boston-based engraver Sidney L. Smith, whose initials (and the date) can be seen in the lower right corner.

In the early 1960s, these many collections would be reviewed and combined into the present Rare Books Library, which today is part of the broader Catholic University Special Collections. The Connolly Library remains a significant part of the collection, and his legacy can be seen by all visitors to Rare Books and campus. Researchers often encounter his handwritten notes and personalized bookplate in medieval manuscripts and early printed works, while visitors to campus may see one of the many donated sculptures or paintings he donated displayed in an office. 

Today, there are thousands of unique theological, historical, and literary works in the stacks from Connolly. These include 30 medieval manuscripts, 11 incunabula, and over a dozen pieces of art displayed around campus.

Connolly passed away on November 10, 1933. As a beloved local figure, his funeral would see over 3,000 people in attendance, including delegates from the Catholic Archdiocese and City of Boston. His legacy continues in the many collections he donated to his home city’s institutions, as well as to the Catholic University community.

To learn more about our rare books and museum collections, please visit our website: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/archives/index.html

Questions can also be directed to: lib-archives@cua.edu 

Special thanks to the Boston Public Library and Catholic University Special Collections for providing documentation on Connolly’s life and collections.

The Archivist’s Nook: Harlem Globetrotters at CatholicU

“Game of the Week
Men’s Basketball
Harlem Globetrotters at CUA
November 19, 7 p.m.
DuFour Center – Tickets $10”
The Tower, November 16, 2001

Harlem Globetrotters at Catholic University, November 19, 2001.

So exclaimed the student newspaper just days away from the 2001 matchup between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Cardinals men basketball team. But what does this mean? Why were the Globetrotters playing in Brookland? In what may come as one of the more surprising matchups in basketball history, the legendary exhibition team came to the campus 20 years ago this week to challenge the reigning Division III National Champions, the Cardinal men. 

The year 2001 marked the 90th anniversary of the men’s basketball team formally existing on campus. That same year, the team secured its first-ever national championship. While numerous Cardinal teams of all sports had performed well in the past – ranging from football triumphs to boxing achievements – this marked the first team national championship in the University’s history.

While sports were played around campus beginning as early as the 1890s, the first organized basketball games at CatholicU occurred in 1909-10 as a club sport. This was barely twenty years after the sport was first developed in Massachusetts by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. While initially only a club sport played amongst nearby DC universities, with Catholic’s first game being against Gallaudet – it would not be long until the sport achieved official status on campus. During the 1911-12 season, Catholic University would formally organize its first official team.

Original Cardinal lineup, 1911-12 season.

The coach was Fred Rice, a graduate student and CatholicU player with additional experience from his time as a law student at Georgetown, where he played basketball with the Hoyas from 1907-1910, before coming to CatholicU. The team ended their first season under Rice’s management with a 10-7 game record. Rice would go on to coach the Cardinals for the next 19 years, until the 1930 season. 

In the subsequent decades, as the nation and NCAA changed, the team would see itself going to Division I and Division II tournaments in 1944 and 1964, respectively, although they would fail to make the mark for championships both times. By the 1980s, women’s basketball would join the roster of official campus sports. And beginning in the 1981-82 seasons, the Cardinals would enter Division III.

Throughout the late 1990s, the Cardinals would soar high each season, only to fall short at the last moment. But that all changed in the 2000-2001 season. On March 17, 2001, the Cardinals would face off against William Paterson University in Salem, Virginia, fighting for the title of NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Champions. Under the direction of Coach Mike Lonergan, the Cardinals would emerge triumphant with a score of 76-62.

Mere seconds after the unveiling of the championship banner before the Globetrotters game.

Having earned the first team national championship in the University’s history, and finishing the season 28-5, the men’s basketball team was rightly feted! But even as the victory was being  celebrated, a new challenger was emerging. At the time, the Globetrotters would often challenge college teams to exhibition games, particularly championship teams. Catholic University, as defending champions of the 2001 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship was fair game for playing,  although this game would mark the first time that the Globetrotters had played a Division III team. Despite this, Catholic remained undaunted by the competition. The Tower claimed, “Although the Globetrotters will be the toughest game in Cardinal History, CUA basketball has faced tough competition in the past.”

In the leadup to the game, Catholic University unveiled its 2001 championship banner. And the game began! The Tower reports how the “‘Trotters Dazzle DuFour Crowds” with “reverse layups and fancy slam dunks” ending in a hard-fought victory over the Cardinal men. As the evening faded, the Cardinals and Globetrotters shook hands. The final score was 90-46, Globetrotters. 

Post-game teams shot, 2001.

CUA handled their loss gracefully however. “It was great to have a huge crowd out to watch us,” said head coach Mike Lonergan. “I hate losing though, even if we’re playing the Lakers,” he added with a grin. – The Tower, November 30, 2001

Footage of the game and photographs are held in the Athletic records in the University Archives. 

Learn more about the rich history, as well as detailed account of the 2001 championship game, in Chris McManes’s centennial history of CUA men’s basketball – Flight of the Cardinals: A 100-year History of CUA Men’s Basketball

The Archivist’s Nook: To Our Honest Readers – Curses in Rare Books

A friendly curse written in The works of Jonathan Swift, 1756-62.

Working in the Special Collections stacks, you often see messages from the past. Notes from long-past authors or readers, who have scribbled in the margins or front leaves of books. Some notes are merely the thoughts of a reader or a dedication, but at other times, there is a note directed to you – the person holding this book – a warning from centuries past. A curse! 

“Steal not this book my honest friend for fear the gallows should be your end”

So warns a handwritten note in a 1756 edition of The Works of Jonathan Swift. Written in the same hand as the note of its later owner, “Wm. Davis’s Book Coolmore [possibly Culmore, Ireland] May 2nd 1817…”, it stands out as one of the known curses that exist within the Catholic University rare books collection, but not a surprising find.

Modern special collections libraries have all manner of security features to protect their holdings from theft, flood, fire, and more. These protections come in many forms – from alarm systems, specialized access policies, disaster plans, etc. But one thing that is perhaps missing from today’s library is curses. A long-common practice, dating back millennia, book curses were another means by which creators and owners of books wished to protect their manuscripts. The labor-intensive process of creating books prior to the invention of the printing press made books an extremely valuable – if not vulnerable – piece of property. One could limit access to a collection or chain up the books, but why not add a final threatening note to ward off would-be miscreants? 

These stacks are secure…but spooky in the dark.

While the curses could be written by the later owners of a book – such as is the case in early modern printed books – in the medieval period, it was often the scribes themselves who added a final warning to their texts. After spending countless hours copying a text, a scribe may have wanted to guarantee that his work would be respected and protected by adding a few lines of warning to any would-be book thieves or desecrators. 

While these warnings could be simple pleas to one’s conscience, they could also call forth cruel punishments or God’s wrath (or the executioner’s rope) upon anyone who plucked or mistreated the work in question. But the spirit was the same – protect the hard labor and valuable material that constituted the book. In an age before the printing press – and even well past its widespread use in Europe – books were valuable and expensive objects that might not be easily replaced. The loss or desecration of one could snuff out a person’s only copy of a work or eradicate months (or even years) of hard work by a dedicated scribe.

Beyond a warning from the nineteenth century in our collection, we also hold a 1460s German Passionale, a collection of martyrology narratives. This handwritten manuscript from the late medieval period is cataloged with the note that it has a “book curse” on its first folio. No further details or translation were offered, so our staff went to work. (We had to know what actions we should avoid, lest we receive the curse…) 

While it still remains somewhat of a mystery to us – and we welcome additional feedback – thanks to the dedicated work of History doctoral candidate, Nick Brown, and several graduate students*, we are much closer to identifying what spell may have been placed upon our staff. Here is an approximate transcription and translation:

Concordes ineunt Lybie deserta leones,

Sevaque concordi tygris depascitur ore.

Nec lupus ipse lupum, nec aper male vulnerat aprum;

Non aquilis certant aquile, non anguibus angues.

Soli homines proprio grassantur sanguine. Soli

Exercent trepidas per mutua vulnera cedes.

 

Dic quibus in terris, et eris mihi magnus Apollo,

Tres pateat celi spatium non amplius ulnas?

A close-up of the possible curse, Passionale Sanctorum, 1460 (Ms 141).

The lions go peacefully together into the deserts of Libya,

And the fierce tiger grazes with a docile mouth.

The wolf does not harm another wolf, nor does the boar harm another boar;

Eagles do not contend with eagles, nor does the snake contend with the snake.

Only humans go after the blood of their own kind. Only they,

Through wounding each other, bring about restless murders.

 

Speak, and you will be great Apollo to me, in what land

Does heaven extend no more than the space of three measures?

Our working theory is that the “curse” is a later addition, and not from the original scribe. While the date of the “curse” is unclear, we are are certain that the passage is referencing two distinct sources, circulating in the late medieval/early modern period. The first is a passage on animals,”taken from De vita solitaria et civili, a collection of poems attributed to Theophilus Brixianus. There was a fifth-century bishop of Brescia by this name, but it looks like all we know about him is that he was bishop and martyr. Perhaps the “curse” author wanted to open the work with a quote attributed to an early Christian martyr, as a link to the passion narratives in the text (and on the theme of the humans shedding blood)?

A blessing, hanging in our archival stacks.

The last two lines of the “curse” are from Virgil’s Eclogue III, and is called the Riddle of Damoetas. The rediscovery of Virgil is a significant theme in the early Renaissance, suggesting a familiarity with the scribe to his works. While it may not be a “curse” per se, it does open up a fascinating window into the literary diet of its author, as well as the broader social milieu under which they operated. This passage may have been written during a time of early literary humanism and classicism in the Italian and/or German sphere. As the riddle itself remains unresolved, is the scribe offering his own answer to it in the context of the example of the passion narratives? Take your own guess!

So while we cannot say for sure how many of our books are definitively cursed, we think it safe to say that we will treat all our books with the utmost respect (and caution). Not just as professional curators of these treasures, but lest some vengeful reader/writer past unleash their curse upon us! 

And even if our books are cursed, our reading rooms are not! In fact, they are blessed, and are open to appointments. Contact us at this link: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/archives/about/contact-us.html

*In addition to Nick Brown, special thanks to Patsy Craig, Jon Dell Isola, Jane and Luke Maschue, and Alex Audziayuk. They double-checked the translation and aided in the research of the Passionale’s “curse”.

For more information on book curses:

Drogin, Marc. Anathema: Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses. Totowa, NJ: Allanheld & Schram, 1983.

O’Hagan, Lauren Alex. “Steal not this book my honest friend.” Textual Cultures 13, no. 2 (Fall 2020): 244-274.

More on Virgil’s riddle:

Campbell, John Scott. “Damoetas’s Riddle: A Literary Solution.” The Classical Journal 78, no. 2 (1982): 122–26. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3297061.

The Archivist’s Nook: On Movies and all that Jazz – The Talkies and their Catholic Critics

An early Technicolor film, The King of Jazz (1930) is a film that the IFCA film reviewers were fascinated with due to its production elements around sound and color, as well as its direction. Courtesty: Wikimedia Commons.

The magic of the motion picture leaves one a little breathless sometimes. And to those of us who see feature, short, travelogue, newsreel in the studio there is a tremendous sense of awe at that which motion picture accomplished for our entertainment. Of course, there are pictures we do not like…

Rita McGoldrick, Feb. 2, 1933

Fans of our blog are probably familiar with the story of Catholic film critics through the work of the Legion of Decency/Office of Film and Broadcasting records. But that organization was not the only Catholic critic show in town in the 1930s. Alongside the Legion, there operated the Motion Picture and Broadcasting Committee of the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae (IFCA). Operating from the end of the Silent Film era through the early Talkies period, IFCA produced monthly radio and printed reports that filmgoers around the nation could tune in and subscribe to. The majority of these reports were written and performed by the Committee’s chair, Rite McGoldrick. These reports reveal the underlying moral and educational mission of IFCA, as well as the presence of cinephiles among its leadership.

Founded in November 1914, IFCA promoted the activities of Catholic teachers, religious sisters, and the alumnae networks of American Catholic colleges and universities. As part of its educational mission, IFCA focused on promoting charitable examples and combating examples of bigotry in media and in the classroom. They established eight departments, including education, literature, social service, motion pictures, bureau of sisters scholarships, religious activities committee, and the De Paul Missions Committee. 

IFCA Seal, ca. 1930s.

Formed in 1927, the Motion Picture Bureau (later Committee) rated films, denoting which were suitable for schools and general audiences with ratings as either ‘good,’ ‘very good,’ or ‘excellent.’ As stated in the March 1928 Quarterly Bulletin of IFCA, the guiding questions it asked of each film were: “What are suitable motion pictures for children?” and “How are we going to get the proper motion pictures to them?”

But their work goes beyond simply rating films. The Legion of Decency, another Catholic film review organization, would form later in the 1930s with the intent of reviewing and influencing the work of the film industry. In the process, the Legion would review almost any film and intervene in film production to modify films it deemed improper. The IFCA Committee, on the other hand, took a different approach. As stated in their November 29, 1929 broadcast:

To forbid people to attend the movies would be to shut out of their lives a very interesting form of entertainment which they might receive from legitimate movies. The happy plan of reviewing and classifying the movies and the talkies has been evolved by the Motion Picture Bureau of the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae. Each month this body publishes a list of plays to which Catholics may go without offending God….

First page of the August 1930 Endorsed Motion Pictures newsletter from the Committee.

Their monthly newsletter of recommended films, supplemented by a monthly radio address given during the early 1930s by Committee chair Rita McGoldrick, only discussed films that the Committee deemed appropriately moral and educational. (Unlike the Legion, they would not even think of discussing horror films!) And while their focus was on education, this did not mean that the reviewers limited their enthusiasm for newsreels or documentaries. They would express excitement over murder mysteries – The detective story lovers – and there are millions of us! – are going to have a fine time (McGoldrick, May 22, 1931). McGoldrick also would comment positively on genres ranging from jazz musicals and Rin Tin Tin movies to “Dogville Comedies” (or barkies). Educational and moral value could be seen by the reviewers to be contained in virtually any film type… so long as it wasn’t gangster movies!

But the Committee’s records do go beyond simple film reviews. Reading through them may remind a modern reader of their favorite film podcast or social media personality. In addition to discussing their recommended films, IFCA Committee members would excitedly report—in an almost casual, conversational tone—on the trends in the film industry, make predictions about how the industry may develop, share news of their favorite stars signing up for projects, and generally nerd out over the latest technological and production achievements seen on the silver screen.

Legendary director, Cecil B. DeMille, in a letter exclaiming the educational and family-friendly value of a particular film. The studio, UFA-Films, forwarded this letter to the IFCA Committee, with a note detailing the educational value of their productions. Quite a letter of recommendation!

Some times [sic] we wonder if you, our Radio audience, are interested in some of these technical details that go into the production of the finished picture that we accept so casually as an evening’s entertainment? To those of us who are reviewing all of the pictures and who are in intimate contact with the producing agencies, the science, vision, genius that go into productions of these greater pictures is a never-ending wonder. Rita McGoldrick, Feb. 28, 1930

They commented on advances in sound technology and the experimentation of studios in bringing it to theaters. They also reported in 1930 on the promise of full-color features, as they broke down the technical processes behind Technicolor. And they made predictions about how sound and color—as well distribution—may impact the industry over the 1930s.

The radio broadcasts, which began in 1928 continued until at least 1933. However, the monthly newsletters denoting “endorsed motion pictures” continued until 1940. At that stage, much of the work that the Motion Picture Commission had been performing became increasingly covered by the film reviewers and censors with the Legion of Decency. 

The records of the Motion Picture Committee are available in the IFCA records onsite, but have also been digitized. The files include correspondence and monthly reports from the Committee.  You may see the digital collection here.

The Archivist’s Nook: Conservation in Rare Books, Part II

First folio of MS 126. Image of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, often pictured with the devil in chains.

This past academic year, Special Collections staff continued our long-term project of addressing conservation issues within the Catholic University’s Rare Books collection. As “Part I” of the conservation blog post reported, we began by looking at four of our late medieval European manuscripts. While we continue to prioritize our handwritten manuscripts, this time, the date and geographic range of Quarto’s efforts varied from medieval Europe to late colonial Mexico! 

Our goal in Special Collections is to provide both our external and campus patrons with access to the works they need to research and study. And thus, our number one goal in conserving these manuscripts was to render them stable for both eventual digitization and in-person access, without damaging the text or any original materials in the binding.

As this project progresses, we will continue to keep the campus community informed about the ongoing conservation work and what materials are now safe for full access! And thus, without further ado, we present the five most recently conserved works:

MS 115 – Exposed textblock on the top. Bottom: the rebound textblock.

1. Quadriga Spirituale, ca. 1500, (MS 115)

This work faced real challenges with its binding. The original binding had become quite loose, with tears throughout. The conservators stabilized the binding using wheat starch and Japanese tissue. The binding was preserved and stored in a separate box with a foam insert to mimic the original textblock (the pages inside the covers and binding) and support the binding.

The endbands (the cords affixed on a book spine to provide structural support) of the textblock were stabilized, with the spine stabilized through Japanese tissue and new alum tawed (a calf leather prepared with a liquid solution to create a white appearance) sewing supports sown in. The text was covered with a handmade non-adhesive paper binding to protect the spine and text.

2. Instruccion del Estado del Regno de Mexico, 1794 (MS 121)

MS 121 – The exposed textblock (left). After stabilization, the covered work (right).

This volume lacked any binding, leaving the textblock fully exposed. The spine was loose, with tears in the page caused by abrasive iron gall ink used in the original writing. Iron gall ink was a widely used ink in European works until the nineteenth century, made of iron salts and tannic acids. The conservators worked to stabilize the spine and remove – but conserve for our records – some of the abrasive papers and glue in the spine. They cleaned, stabilized, and mended the tears caused by the ink on the first few pages of the text. A paper binding was created to cover and protect the work.

3. Meditationes Beati Bernardi Abbatis, ca. 1400 (MS 126)

The text’s binding and end cover boards (front and back) were loose, with the boards completely detached from the textblock. This binding was a nineteenth-century addition to the original text.

MS 126 – Left: Detached cover boards. Right: Cover boards reattached to the textblock.

The conservators cleaned the spine and end boards, stabilizing them. They then carefully reattached the endsheets (blank sheets often bound at either end of a textblock to protect the text) and end boards to the textblock. Utilizing microscopic analysis, they reviewed the ink of the text to see if any stabilization was required and noted that none was currently necessary. 

4. The interior Christian or a sure guide for those who aspire to perfection in the spiritual life, 1796 (MS 262)

The leather cover was worn along the spine, but the most grave concern about this work was that the binding and textblock was split down the middle of the spine. The work was literally falling in half, with the two halves stiff and difficult to open.

MS 262 – One the left image, the split in the spine is visible. One the right, the mended spine.

The conservators stabilized the leather front and back cover boards, as well as cleaned the interior of the text. They gently lifted the leather spine and added new sown bindings to stabilize the textblock and make it accessible to readers again. The original spine was removed and safely stored with our records, with a new paper spine created to cover the binding.

5. Theologiae polemicae, 1733 (MS 264)

MS 264 – Top shows the red rot damaged cover, with the loose pieces on the spine. Bottom: the new cover.

This work’s leather cover was heavily damaged through red rot. The spine of the cover had completely disintegrated over the years, leaving the threads of the binding exposed. However, the threads were heavily compromised, offering no support to the text and thus rendering the pages loose. Some damage was noted along the pages that had been in close contact with the leather binding. The binding is original to the text, but was so damaged that it needed to be replaced (but with the threads and cover boards kept). 

The conservators unbound the text and carefully paginated the pages to maintain proper order. The spine was cleaned and tears throughout the text mended with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. The textblock was resewn, with new endsheets added to protect the original pages. A historically similar binding with boards was created to protect the text.

To find out more about these books or the general Catholic University Rare Books collection, please contact us at: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

Our digitized manuscripts may also be viewed at this link.

The Archivist’s Nook: On Presidents and Parades, Part II: Bush and Biden

Image of Msgr. John A. Ryan behind US President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his January 20, 1945 Inaguration.

In January 1945, Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration was held on the White House lawn. The ongoing Second World War called for a scaled-back ceremony. Catholic University faculty member Fr. John A. Ryan was present and provided the benediction at this event. The 1945 swearing-in, highlighted in our records on past inaugurations, provides a precedent for the scaled-back ceremonies that occurred this week.

Typically the city of Washington bustles with the excitement of a presidential inauguration, with thousands of spectators gathering along the National Mall, hoping to catch sight of the new (or re-elected) President. But this year’s inaugural ceremonies were smaller due to COVID-19. So while we can’t safely attend a typical inauguration in DC this year, we can reflect on the person at the center of it all and how they are represented in the history of Catholic University. The inauguration of Joseph R. Biden represents the second time a Catholic has been sworn into the highest office in the United States, and also now represents another chapter in the long history of visits by presidents (current and future) to the Catholic University campus.

Then-Senator Joe Biden in today’s Aquinas Hall, 1978.

Like his fellow Catholic Commander-in-Chief, John F. Kennedy, Biden also paid a visit to Catholic University as a young senator! While Kennedy came to campus in 1956 to receive the Cardinal Gibbons Medal, Biden’s three known visits all involved speaking to students and parents about contemporary politics and the role of Catholic faith in 1970s America.

In September 1973, during his first year in the Senate, Biden was invited to campus by the Graduate Student Association. Addressing a crowd in Caldwell auditorium, Biden spoke about the state of American politics and the many critiques of politicians. In February 1974, Biden would again return to campus as a guest speaker during a Sunday brunch on Annual Parents’ Visitation weekend. Unfortunately, we have no reports on what he told the assembled parents over their waffles and coffee.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush, with then-CUA President Rev. William J. Byron, S.J., 1989.

In November 1978, the inaugural National Conference of Catholic College and University Student Government Leaders was held at Catholic University. A student-led conference, its 85 attendees from across the nation met in the then-Boy’s Town Center (today’s Aquinas Hall, and home to our archives!). The conference was opened by Biden, who provided a discussion on “a Catholic’s posture in contemporary America.” The student newspaper, The Tower, reports that the attendees listened to Biden discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in the politics of the late 1970s.

While Biden’s three visits to campus represent the last time a (future) President came to campus as of this writing, other Presidents such as George H.W. Bush would show their support for the school. President Bush would attend the inaugural Cardinal’s Dinner – a fundraiser for the University – which was held off campus in 1989. And perhaps there are guests and students who have walked the campus recently who will someday serve in the Oval Office?

Learn more about all the Presidential visitors to campus by checking out our video here.

The Archivist’s Nook: CatholicU’s First Residents: A “Grotesque” History

Ever notice these two on top of Caldwell? They seem be just as surprised to be up there!

While walking across campus, have you ever looked up? The first residents of campus are still present, peering down…

Since the very opening of the University, every generation of Cardinals has studied and graduated under the watchful eyes of Caldwell Hall. And we do mean eyes, as the exterior of the building has been home to dozens of stone faces since the opening of the building in 1889. Walking along the west side of the façade, you can find numerous “grotesques” peering out. Grotesques, similar to gargoyles, are stone faces adorning a structure. While gargoyles are specifically designed to serve as water spouts, grotesques primarily decorative.

How many faces can you see here?

While we have little information on why the designs on Caldwell were selected, we do know that on March 9, 1888, the Baltimore-based architectural firm of Baldwin and Pennington contracted the stonework of the building to Bryan Hanrahan. Presumably Hanrahan made the decisions on the designs himself, likely with consultation with University officials. But as is often the case with gargoyle or grotesque designs, the artist may have drawn inspiration from the faces, stories, and peoples that surrounded them.

Is it just me or is that Grover Cleveland?

While we can’t say for sure what inspirations there may have been for any of the visages, this author has a sneaking suspicion that one of the faces was inspired by then-President Grover Cleveland. After all, Cleveland did attend the cornerstone-laying of Caldwell Hall in 1888, giving ample opportunity for the artist to see him up close (and providing a connection to the building). 

There are perhaps too many faces – both inside and outside – of Caldwell to catalog in one blog post! But some of the highlights include an figure sticking out their tongue and a person hiding behind a book (see the image at top). While the interior of Caldwell may appear more dignified, with only a few stern faces holding up the columns in the main stairwell, the exterior is a “grotesque” landscape!

But Caldwell is not the only ornamented structure on campus – several other buildings have design features that may be missed at first glance. Look closely at McMahon Hall for the ornate stone vine work that traces the building. Or the next time you pass by the doorway into Mullen Library, look for the Zodiac symbols that grace its entrance (just one of many engravings on the library’s exterior). You will even find figures looking out across campus in and on numerous other buildings on campus – some of which this author may not even be aware of! There is hardly enough room in this post to detail them all, but perhaps you can explore a sample of them yourself via a scavenger hunt by following this link

While one face is the most noticeable here, how many can you see?

And do share any faces you find hidden among the stones! Learn more about one alumnus, Jay Hall Carpenter, and his own work with sculpture and grotesques at the National Cathedral in this Mullen Library exhibit!