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Photo report: The treasures of the University Library

05 December 2018

Locked away in a vault in the Special Collections department are books that will not see the light of day. Literally, that is, for the UG's oldest documents typically don't like bright lights and moist air. Lying in a vault at a constant temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, a humidity level of 55% and reduced oxygen levels (from 21 to 18 percent, 15% at night) to delay the spread of fire, they are waiting for curator Alisa van der Haar to pick them up and take them to a special room, where they will be subjected to the prying eyes of researchers.

How a bibliophile would love to set up camp in this room with its serene calm for a month or so to lovingly caress all of these works. The letters written by Ubbo Emmius, the first Rector Magnificus; the atlases and maps, some of them still rolled up; the papyrus snippets from the 2nd century AD. The Bibles, dictionaries, travel logs and codes of law that formed the first library collection of the newly established University of Groningen, over 400 years ago. The lecture notes of former professors.
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Everything written before 1600 is stored here, alongside later manuscripts and other editions that are very special. Sometimes, pieces are added to the collection, through donations or purchases. After that, eternal life on the shelves of Academia awaits them – a final resting place. Or they are stored in tailor-made, acid-free boxes.

The uncontested jewel is Luther's Bible, a Bible from 1527 that simultaneously holds three versions of the New Testament: the Greek version, the Latin version by Church Father Jerome, known as the Vulgate, and the Latin version by Erasmus. This was church reformer Maarten Luther's personal copy, with his comments scribbled in the broad margin. Sometimes they were clearly addressed to the absent Erasmus: ‘Du bist nicht from’ (you are impious) or ‘Du bist ein Bübe’ (you are immature). The next owner of Luther's Bible was Praedinius, who added several comments of his own to the copy. One Bible, three international greats. Truly a treasure, stowed away in good old Groningen.

Text: Eelco Salverda, Communication UG/ Photos: Hesterliena Wolthuis

Last modified:12 March 2020 9.22 p.m.
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