L. & A. Birkenmajer Institute for the History of Science, PASc

Institute of Art, PASc


A guide to medieval manuscript books in Polish collections



Browse by collection:



Manuscripta.pl is an ongoing collaborative project, which attempts to bring together bibliographic information concerning extant medieval manuscript books (and book fragments) in Polish repositories, to register Polonica (books of Polish provenance) in foreign archives, and to record all traces of lost (destroyed or missing) manuscript books relative to Polish collections. Our general guidelines are set by the consecutive editions of the great work by Paul Oskar Kristeller (and collaborators)—Latin Manuscript Books before 1600—except that our aim is to go deeper into manuscript details. Our initial goal is to concentrate on the smaller repositories—those that do not employ staff trained specifically to deal with medieval manuscripts. The big repositories, like the Jagiellonian Library, or the Wrocław University Library, have specialists who provide excellent information about their holdings, and are setting the standards of medieval manuscript description in Poland. Hence, these collections, at least for the time being, will be treated only in general.

Since something is better than nothing, we decided to introduce in the first place the information on individual manuscripts that is already available. This means that a lot of unreliable data is included! Our initial goal is to accomplish a “head count” of codices, to find out how many manuscript books are actually extant, and where are they located. We will proceed to ameliorating our contents as quickly as possible, but it will take time. Therefore, the users are strongly advised to consider the data furnished by our website as preliminary not final. This warning does not apply to the manuscripts, as yet very few, which have received an MSPL number. This number is unique, and the intention is to rule out all the confusion with respect to shelfmarks that reigns in the literature concerning Polish medieval manuscripts (e.g. the manuscripts of the Cracow Chapter Library, one of the most important repositories in Poland, are cited either by their inventory numbers, or by the numbers appointed to them in the Polkowski catalogue). The manuscripts with MSPL numbers have been personally inspected by members of our team, and the data was rechecked. It should be firm. These manuscripts should also have a more thorough description available through a hyperlink.

The Manuscripta.pl is a project based at the L. & A. Birkenmajer Institute for the History of Science, PASc. Starting with January 2017, the Institute of Art, PASc, has joined in as an institutional collaborator. The majority of the team-members are employees of the former Institute, but, we have managed to solicit the assistance of professionals not only from the Institute of Art, but from research institutions based in other cities too. We are all deeply convinced that scholars working on medieval manuscripts all over the world need an information tool that will facilitate their access to Polish materials.

Apart from P.O. Kristeller’s magisterial opus, and the complementary article by Anna Kozłowska (1993), all the available printed guides are in Polish — regrettably, still a language not widely used outside Poland. Moreover, the transformation of Poland, after 1989, brought about — and still is bringing about — organizational changes (e.g. renaming) in cultural institutions, which are particularly difficult for foreign researchers to sort out. Another factor is that the number of medieval manuscripts in Poland, paradoxically, is increasing. Research and cataloging work conducted in state-owned and Church libraries, every now and then, result in “discoveries” of previously overlooked materials. If, in the late nineteen-eighties, after the publication of the first guide by D. Kamolowa — Zbiory rękopisów w bibliotekach i muzeach w Polsce, Warsaw, 1988 — we assessed that the overall number of medieval manuscript books in Polish collections hardly exceeded 7,000, now it is estimated at ca. 8,000. This number does not include the fragments to be found in the majority of the older libraries, and the fragments retrieved from old bindings in all repositories, nor the bindings of incunabula and old prints that consist of reused medieval materials. Thus, we have concluded that a constantly updated website would be much more efficient from the point of view of the user than yet another printed guide, available only in specialized libraries, and soon out of date. Further, we have decided that our purposes would best be served by presentation in the English language.

The website we are offering is still in its early stages of construction. We are constantly negotiating with various governmental agencies to assist us financially in the acquisition of professional software (database) for the rapidly growing amount of data. The Mansucripta.pl team invites all persons willing to collaborate in the enhancement of the website to send their comments and additional data to the email address available at the “contact” page.

The Manuscripta.pl team includes the following scholars:

Manuscripta.pl collaborators:

  • Dr. Michał Broda, University Library, Wrocław
  • Mr Jan Hieronymus, Berlin (information technology)
  • Dr. Michał Kulecki, Central Archives of Historical Records, Warsaw
  • Ms Agata Larczyńska, Polish Academy of Sciences, Gdańsk Library
  • Dr. Jan Paweł Woronczak, University Library, Wrocław
  • Ms Krystyna Wyszomirska, Nicolaus Copernicus Public Library, Toruń

L. & A. Birkenmajer Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences, 72 Nowy Świat, room A16, 00-330 Warsaw, Poland


Instytut Historii Nauki PAN im. Ludwika i Aleksandra Birkenmajerów, ul. Nowy Świat 72, pok. A16, 00-330 Warszawa, Polska