(Photo: Bodleian Libraries Youtube video screencap)
The Vatican Library and Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University have collaborated on a major digitization project to bring some of the world's oldest and rarest biblical texts online for people around the world to see.
"It's too dangerous to have unique exemplars of anything in one place," explained Dr. Leonard Polonsky of the Polonsky Foundation, who funded the $3.3 million project. "Digitizing enables us to secure all of this material and of course make it broadly available. It's an opportunity you can't resist."
The aim is to bring 1.5 million pages of ancient texts, including Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, to the online platform within the next three years. For now, a select few works are available for online viewers, including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the first major book printed with moveable metal type in the Western world, CNN reported.
"I envision how useful it will be to scholars and many other interested people," said Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library. "Moreover, I see the common fruit of our labor as a very positive sign of collaboration and sharing that is a trademark of the world of culture."
The official website for the project notes that the selection process "has been informed by a balance of scholarly and practical concerns," and has been aided by conservation staff at the Bodleian and Vatican Libraries who have worked with curators to assess the significance of the content and the physical condition of the items.
The libraries have also agreed to digitize whole collections where possible, in order to preserve the integrity and completeness of the manuscripts.
"While the Vatican and the Bodleian have been creating digital images from our collections for a number of years, this project has provided an opportunity for both libraries to increase the scale of their digitization services," the website explains.
"In both cases, this has meant significant investments in the equipment, infrastructure and people that make digitization possible. Over the course of this project, both libraries will also be revealing information about their digitization techniques and methods."
Major Christian leaders like Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby have hailed the project, suggesting that seeing the ancient texts online can inspire worship.
"By being able to have access to a digitized collection, this really open the texts to a far wider range of scholars than have been able to get at them in the past and is of huge international significance as a resource," the leader of the Anglican Communion said.
He added that the practice of digitizing ancient texts could "indirectly have an impact on our liturgy of worship and practice of faith."
The Vatican has also been busy with other restoration projects as of late seeking to offer the online world a window into the ancient Christian way of living. The Roman Catholic Church partnered with Google and its Street Views feature earlier this year to bring an inside look into early century Christian catacombs in northeast Rome, holding paintings and frescoes of notable biblical events, such as Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.