A Year of Discovery in the Vatican Film Library
By Benjamin Winter
Department of Theological Studies
CMRS Graduate Student Research Assistant, Vatican Film Library
I am a first year doctoral student in SLU’s Department of Theological Studies and for the past year have held a Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies Graduate Student Research Assistantship in the Vatican Film Library. Working in the Vatican Film Library (VFL) has been a tremendous learning experience. In the course of the year I have contributed to a digitization project, assisted with the journal Manuscripta, and learned the basics of manuscript studies and research techniques using primary sources. A major part of my activities was directed toward creating and curating a public exhibition of medieval manuscripts in the Vatican Film Library’s collections. This was a new challenge, but in all these activities I was guided by mentors who initiated me into the discipline of manuscript studies and showed me how to get the most out of a piece of original evidence and also the library resources available to assist me in doing this.
The exhibition I curated, “Keeping Time through Prayer: Liturgy in the Middle Ages,” focused on eight manuscripts drawn from the VFL teaching collection, including missals, breviaries, and books of hours and featuring liturgical calendars, the cult of the saints and lay piety, and instructions for the performance of worship. All are examples of how the celebration of the Mass was an essential component of medieval society, whether observed in the universal feasts of the “Church Year” or the highly varied devotional practices of local communities. I also composed a brochure to accompany the exhibit, which gave further details.
On March 19 I had the opportunity to present a curator’s talk about the exhibit to colleagues, friends, and the public. The experience was illuminating, since in addition to requiring me to give some background on the history of Christian worship and explain the relationships between the different liturgical texts in this context, I had to make these material texts accessible to an audience that was largely unfamiliar with medieval manuscripts. It was a new teaching experience for me. I would be happy to share this information with anyone who would like to see the exhibition, which is open to the public Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm, through August 31, 2015, in the reading room of the Vatican Film Library (Pius Library, Rm 105).