January 19, 2022

Digitization Projects: Bodleian and the Vatican Libraries Publish Ancient Texts Online

This is the first release of digitized content from the project. More to come.

From the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries:

The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (BAV) have digitized and made available online some of the world’s most unique and important Bibles and biblical texts from their collections, as the start of a major digitization initiative undertaken by the two institutions.

This is the first launch of digitized content in a major four-year collaborative project. The project, which began in 2012 will span four years and will result in approximately 1.5 million pages being made available in digital format.

Portions of the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries’ collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts, and early printed books have been selected for digitization by a team of scholars and curators from around the world.

While the Vatican and the Bodleian have each been creating digital images from their collections for a number of years, this project has provided an opportunity for both libraries to increase the scale and pace with which they can digitize their most significant collections, whilst taking great care not to expose books to any damage, as they are often fragile due to their age and condition.

The newly-launched website features zoomable images which enable detailed scholarly analysis and study. The website also includes essays and a number of video presentations made by scholars and supporters of the digitization project including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, o.p.

Access the Material Online

See Also: 16 Videos About the Project (via YouTube)

Read the Complete Release Announcement

See Also: Oxford University, Vatican Libraries to Digitize Works (April 11, 2012) 

See Also: Imaging Techniques at the Bodleian (October 9, 2013)

Subject Areas to Be Digitized

Early printed books (incunabula)


With almost 8900 incunabula, the Vatican Library possesses the fourth largest such collection in the world. The Vatican Library in its early days played an important role in the development of early printing in Rome and surrounding area, together with members of the Roman curia, many of them otherwise known as distinguished humanists. Many of the first books printed in Rome between 1467 and 1473 are still preserved in the Vatican Library.


In terms of size the Bodleian’s collection of incunabula is probably the fifth-largest in the world, and the biggest collection held by a university library. This digitization project will focus on the Bodleian’s rare and unique copies including incunabula printed in England and Italy as well as some of its highly decorated works. To complement the digitization of its copy of Gutenberg’s Bible, the Bodleian Libraries will also feature a small collection of ‘printing firsts’ from around the world.

Greek Manuscripts


The exceptional importance of the Vatican Library’s collection of Greek manuscripts is due not so much to its size — though its collection of about 5,000 Greek volumes is rivaled in this respect by only a handful of other libraries — as to the quality of the materials it preserves. Examples: works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Hippocrates, manuscripts of the New Testament and of the Church Fathers, many of them richly decorated with Byzantine miniatures.


The collecting of Greek manuscripts by the Bodleian goes back to its founder. By the end of the 17th century the Bodleian was already established as the most important repository of Greek manuscripts in the British Isles. However, the majority of the Bodleian’s manuscripts of Greek classical authors date from the 15th and 16th centuries, some of them written in Italy by immigrant Greek scribes. The digitization of Greek manuscripts from the Bodleian will focus on the Barocci collection. 

Hebrew Manuscripts and Early Printed Books


The collection of Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican Library is one of the most important in existence, even though it is not one of the largest. Except for a few dozen items, all the manuscripts were written in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance from the 9th to the 16th centuries. Examples:

• a manuscript that is probably the earliest Hebrew codex in existence, a copy of the Sifra written towards the end of the 9th century or in the first half of the 10th century

• copy of the entire Bible written around 1100 in Italy

• In addition there are large numbers of volumes of texts in the fields of Biblical commentary, Halakhah, Kabbalah, Talmudic commentaries, liturgy and liturgical commentaries, philosophy, medicine, astronomy and other sciences as well as both Jewish and Christian polemical texts.

Hebrew books and manuscripts have been central to the Bodleian’s collections since 1601 – when Thomas Bodley, the Library’s founder, took a personal interest in them – and remain one of its great strengths.


About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.