Priceless fragment of 8th century document found in library in Moravia

Historians working in the library of a Benedictine monastery in Rajhrad near the city of Brno have made an extraordinary discovery. By accident they found a fragment of a manuscript most likely dating as far back as the 8th century. If its age and origin are indeed confirmed, the fragment will be treasured as one of two oldest documents owned by cultural institutions in Moravia.

The tiny parchment fragment with Latin writing is believed to be part of the so-called "Pseudoisidorian Decretals", actually a forgery written in the 8th century and containing texts posing as letters and decrees of bishops from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The decretals were falsified in order to uphold the pope's supremacy over the emperor. The priceless parchment was discovered by accident on the binding of an 18th century book in the Benedictine library in Rajhrad. Historian Jindra Pavelkova made the discovery.

"We discovered it by accident. We were looking for a different book and there was some problem with the shelf mark. So we were looking down the shelf and there it was in the second row. Because this fragment is part of the binding of the book, it was quite visible."

It was common practice in the past to use old manuscripts to make bindings as parchment was expensive. That's why fragments of old documents are often found in more recent books, strengthening the binding from the inside or outside, like in the case of the Rajhrad fragment. Jindra Pavelkova explains how the age of such documents can be assessed.

"The age of a manuscript can be determined using two factors: one is the content of the document and the other is the form of the writing - letters changed over the centuries and from the way the scribe wrote or drew the letters we can tell the age because each letter had a different form in different periods."

The parchment is in a good condition and will not be removed from the 18th century book as it is now its historic part. In cooperation with historians from Masaryk University in Brno the librarians in Rajhrad will examine other books coming from the same source for possible other fragments. The precious finding will be displayed at the Benedictine monastery in Rajhrad in December.