The Catholic University of America

Jan. 25, 2007

Media Studies Sleuths Investigate Rare Bibles

CUA students Ashley Young, left, and Maureen Martin study a display of rare bibles at the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library.

A hundred CUA students are testing their knowledge of "incunabulum" and "rubrication" as they view an exhibit of rare bibles today at the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library.

The bibles - part of Catholic University's collection of about 70,000 rare books - are on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The one-day exhibit at the library's May Gallery includes labels identifying the bibles as well as challenging questions, which the students will answer as an assignment for Media and History, taught by CUA professors Lisa Gitelman and Lisa Lynch.

The exhibit is open to the entire CUA community. (Hint: Incunabulum is Latin for "from the cradle," and, in this instance, refers to a book printed before 1501. Rubrication is the decorating of text with red ink, as was often the case with the first letter of a paragraph.)

The exhibit introduces students to the history of print culture "with some specificity, authority and inherent interest," says Associate Professor Gitelman. The exhibit coincides with the students' reading of Paul Gutjahr's "An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880," a required textbook for the course.

Organized by Gitelman and Lenore Rouse, curator of rare books and special collections, the exhibit includes two incunabula that are both Latin bibles; two Book of Hours, both circa 1500, one a manuscript and the other a printed version; and a miniature bible printed in 1895 that measures 1 inch by 1.7 inches.

The tiny Bible - given by a CUA alumna last November - is the most recent donation in the exhibit. The manuscript Book of Hours was donated by Monsignor Arthur T. Connelly of Boston, who gave the library many of its most valuable books in the first quarter of the 20th century.

One of the exhibit's most unusual books is Volume 5 of Plantin's polyglot bible. Polyglot (Greek for "many languages") refers to the bible's five languages - Syriac, a Latin translation of the Syriac, St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate, Greek and a Hebrew version of the Syriac. A famous Belgian printer, Plantin produced the eight-volume bible for Spain's King Philip II between 1569 and 1572.

"It's great to see faculty making creative use of materials from CUA's rare book collection," says Rouse. "These tangible pieces of history can engage parts of the mind that are immune to lectures or required reading."

For answers to the exhibit questions, contact Gitelman at or Rouse at For more information about the university's rare book collection, contact Rouse.


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Media contact(s):
· Chris Harrison, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600,
· Katie Lee, CUA Office of Public Affairs, 202-319-5600,