Pre-Reformation Book Production and Use in Transylvania:

Surviving Manuscripts, Incunabula, Book Lists, and Indirect Sources

(financed by UEFISCDI, PN II-RU-TE-2014-4-1795, 216/1.10.2015)


Romania’s European integration cannot be reduced to its contemporary economic, political and social aspects. Identity is in the first place a cultural construct, with deep historical roots in the Middle Ages, when Europe first arose as a community. Latin Christian literacy unified Western Europe in an unprecedented way. The ability to read in Transylvania a book copied in Pontigny or printed in Venice, the internationalism of the religious orders, which established abbeys and convents in our region, the circulation of scholars and books were responsible for a cultural unity lost when the modern nation states were born, and regained only after the fall of communism. In this light, an important chapter in the intellectual history of medieval Transylvania – a term through which we loosely refer to the dioceses of Transylvania, Cenad, and Oradea, cf. map below– remains to be written. In its absence, the perception of both the synchrony, and the specificity of these regions within the rest of Europe can only be limited. Without a proper documented understanding of the past, the perception of our place in Europe’s cultural landscape will be flawed by unwarranted exaltation or ignorant depreciation.

It is our purpose to offer the first monograph in English on the history of books, libraries and literacy in our region, covering the period from the foundation of the dioceses of Transylvania (1009), Cenad (1041) and Oradea (after 1050) down to the Reformation (1530). The year 1530 has been chosen as a conventional divide for several reasons: in 1526 Hungary, including the dioceses of Oradea and Cenad, was conquered by the Ottomans; in 1529, the first printing press was attested in Sibiu; by the 1530s, the Reformation had spread to the Saxon cities of Transylvania – it was officially introduced in 1550[1]. The book will be a complete study of book production, ownership, use, and circulation in pre-Reformation Transylvania, accompanied by editions of extant medieval and early modern book lists, and a catalogue of all identifiable manuscripts and incunabula of Transylvanian origin or provenance (origin = produced in Transylvania; provenance = owned in pre-Reformation Transylvania). Sixteenth-century printed books will be considered only statistically, but will not be described and catalogued.

To quickly sketch the state of the question concerning the intellectual landscape of our region between 1009-1530, Transylvania boasted important Benedictine abbeys like Cluj-Mănăștur, founded in the second half of the 11th century. So far, only one medieval liturgical manuscript coming from Cluj-Mănăștur (Alba Iulia, Batthyaneum Library, MS I.1) has been identified, but a list compiled in 1427 (now Budapest, National Archives, DL 36403) lists at least 40 items, some of which may still be identifiable. To show how urgent the need of a fresh study of such a source is, it must be added that the list was transcribed only in 1889, yet no attempt has been made to properly edit it, to translate it, and to identify the books mentioned[2]. The Saxon communities from Sibiu and Brașov had a thriving intellectual life in the 14th and 15th centuries. An important document from Sibiu survives in the Batthyaneum Library: the Matricula plebaniae cibiniensis, which lists over 150 books – 65 of which can still be identified in Sibiu. There exists only a highly misleading edition, observing a strange order and quoting wrong folio numbers, published by Robert Szentivány[3]. The data mentioned by scholars is conflicting: Göllner mentions over 100 volumes available in 1442, Dincă over 150, whereas Szentiványi’s edition yields 296 items[4]. A fresh edition of the Matricula, from which the book holdings of medieval Sibiu can be reliably reconstructed is thus badly needed. A further book list from Brașov, compiled in 1575 but referring to medieval holdings, was transcribed with no attempt at book identification in 1887, and is also in need of a good modern edition, and a serious study[5]. CjM_1427_DL36403_2                                             List of books from Cluj-Mănăștur, 1427, Budapest, National Archives, DL 36403 Matricula Sibiu                           Matricula plebaniae cibiniensis, 1442, Alba Iulia, Bibl. Batthyaneum, MS II.135.

Outside the Carpathians, the dioceses of Oradea and Cenad also boasted a number of important abbeys: the Cistercians of Pontigny founded a daughter abbey in Igriș in 1179, and endowed it with books, a list of which survives in the Annotatio librorum Pontiniacensium, kept in Montpellier[6]. The Premonstratensians opened a branch at Dealul Orăzii before 1131[7], the Dominicans had important convents in Cluj, Sibiu, and Brașov, while the Franciscans left a lasting mark in Maria Radna and Șumuleu Ciuc[8]. Oradea became famous in the 15th century through the activity of the Italian bishop Andrea Scolari (1409-1426), and especially of János Vitéz (1445-1465), who established the most famous humanistic library in the region, imitated and envied by Vitéz’ disciple, King Matthias Corvinus[9]. Concerning manuscript identification, the work that has been done only suggests how much must still be undertaken. Thus, 65 MSS produced in Sibiu, but uncatalogued so far, were identified in the Brukenthal Library during our work for the Census of Medieval Western Manuscripts in Romanian Libraries[10]. Among the over 500 manuscripts from János Vitéz’ library in Oradea, only about 40 have been identified in Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, but also in the Vatican, London, and even Yale University Library![11]. Isolated manuscripts produced in Transylvania or by Transylvanian scribes can be identified in many European collections. Such is Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. MS 4260, copied by a certain ‘Petrus de transilvana (sic!)’ (fol. 284v), spotted incidentally by our research. Finally, we have indirect knowledge of book ownership, but also of burnt books and scattered libraries. Such is the case of Alba Iulia: in 1277, and again in 1307, Saxon colonists storm the city, ‘burning and taking away all the ornaments, books etc.’[12] In more fortunate cases, we hear about book donations rather than book destruction, but cannot find the books either: in Brașov, the vicar Nicholas Sibelinder gave 14 books to the parish library in 1424[13], and the Dominican prior, Thomas Siculus, received a donation of books from Vienna in 1461[14]. Can an estimate of losses be made, in order to complement the landscape of what has been preserved?


To sum up, the main questions we aim to answer are: what libraries and scriptoria existed in the medieval dioceses of Transylvania, Oradea and Cenad; where were books produced; what kinds of books were produced; who owned books; what kinds of books were owned; where did they come from; what texts were read; how much was lost, and what was preserved; where do locally produced manuscripts survive; how does the situation compare to that in neighbouring areas (Hungary, Poland, Bohemia), and in Western Europe?[15]

To answer these questions, we shall investigate all direct and indirect sources: mentions of libraries and books being locally owned or produced; mentions of book losses; iconographic sources featuring books; surviving booklists and inventories; actual medieval manuscripts in Romanian and foreign collections.

The importance of our project lies in the cultural, patrimonial and intellectual relevance of the chosen topic. We will bring to light – often, for the first time ever – manuscripts and incunabula relevant for the beginnings of literacy in our region. We will show what was written, copied, read and owned in medieval Transylvania, thus putting our region on the map of medieval European culture. To the present day, there exists no book-length study of this topic in any international language, leave alone a full investigation and edition of the sources – book lists, documents – or a catalogue of the extant manuscripts of Transylvanian origin or provenance. Through our study, the medieval intellectual history of the region will be known to home and international scholars. In cultural terms, this contributes to our country’s complete European integration: only through scholarship can we become part of European cultural history, not just a member of a political Union.

The difficulty of our task lies in the nature of our sources – handwritten medieval books and documents – and in their geographical dispersion. Our palaeographical expertise will easily bridge the first problem, and allow us to study and edit the medieval book lists we are dealing with, and to describe the manuscripts. As concerns the wide geographical area we have to cover, which in principle means all Central and Western Europe, we shall begin by studying the indices of manuscript catalogues of Western collections in search of references to Transylvanian person and place names, and we shall examine all findings in situ. Where for various reasons, such as their old age or minimal descriptions, catalogues are inadequate, we shall visit the collections if there is a high probability of discovering manuscripts of Transylvanian provenance (e. g. Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich).

The project’s objective output will be a book in English containing the following elements: a. a monograph study on the history of the book and literacy in pre-Reformation Transylvania (1009-1530). The study will canvas all identifiable sources: book lists; indirect references to books and libraries being copied, owned, read, bought, sold, donated, destroyed etc.; iconography; extant books. b. an edition of the extant documents according to modern standards, and accompanied by an English translation; c. a catalogue of extant manuscript books of Transylvanian origin or provenance, and of incunabula of Transylvanian provenance, in Romanian and foreign collections. We exclude manuscripts imported to Transylvania in subsequent centuries, such as the purchases made in the 18th and 19th centuries by Bishop Ignatius Batthyány, Count Samuel Teleki, Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, the Romanian scholar Timotei Cipariu, and others. No incunabula were printed in Transylvania, as the first printing house was established in 1529.

The project is new and original in many respects; it is also overdue. This can be shown by addressing each part of the project separately:

a. There exists no monograph on the history of the book in pre-Reformation Transylvania, leave alone one in an international language. The project leader, Dr Adrian Papahagi, has sketched the problem in a cursory study[16]. Parts of the topic, with special reference to Sibiu, have also been addressed by project member Dr Adinel Dincă, in an international conference paper[17]. All other studies are ancient, partial, and linguistically inaccessible to a wide international readership, as already shown.

b. There exist no modern reliable editions of the known surviving book lists regarding pre-Reformation collections, as explained above. c. The only full Census of manuscripts in Romania was done by our team, thanks to a previous UEFISCDI grant (TE 290/2010). However, the Census also includes modern manuscript purchases, which are irrelevant for the history of the book in pre-Reformation Transylvania. There also exists a general catalogue of incunabula in Romania, but it fails to identify those that were locally owned in medieval times[18].

c. Finally, there exists no handlist of manuscripts of Transylvanian origin or provenance kept in foreign collections. We shall thus produce the first such reference work. Our research will have a significant impact on the understanding of literacy and learning in pre-Reformation Transylvania. In other words, it will put our province on the map of European medieval cultural history. It will bring to light the book heritage of our region; it will enable local and foreign scholars to access the books; it will offer a contemporary description of those books, and a reliable philological edition of book lists; it will allow other scholars to access the sources for a multitude of purposes (intellectual, economic, social, art and literary history). It is the constant purpose of the CODEX Centre to work as a facilitator for other scholars as well, by producing reference works, rather than speculative studies: after the Codicological Vocabulary and the Census of Medieval Manuscripts in Romania, we would like to offer an instrument for reconstructing the book history of our region for a multitude of purposes, ranging from patrimonial care to intellectual history.

[1] C. Rother, Siebenbürgen und der Buchdruck im 16. Jahrhundert, Wiesbaden, 2002, 28-30; I.-A. Pop, Th. Nägler (eds), Istoria Transilvaniei. Vol. I (până la 1541), Cluj-Napoca, 2003, 329-30.
[2] K. Tagányi, ‘Adatok a hazai középkori könyvtárak történetéhez: V. A kolozsmonostori konvent könyvtára 1427-ben’ [Data on the domestic history of medieval libraries: V. The Cluj-Mănăștur convent library from 1427], Magyar Könyvszemle 14 (1889), 88-91. Zs. Jakó, A kolozsmonostori konvent jegyzőkönyvei (1289-1556) [Protocols of the Cluj-Mănăștur Convent (1289-1556)], Budapest, 1990, vol. I, nr. 24, omits the book list.
[3] R. Szentiványi, Catalogus concinnus librorum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Batthyáneae, Szeged, 41958, 158-69.
[4] C. Göllner, ‘Din istoricul unor biblioteci feudale ale sașilor din Sibiu’ [From the History of Some Feudal Libraries of the Saxons from Sibiu], Studii și cercetări de bibliologie 5 (1963), 221-29; A. C. Dincă, ‘The Lost Libraries of Transylvania: Some Examples from the 15th and 16th Centuries’, paper presented at the 75th World Library and Information Congress, Milan, 23-27 August 2009, http://conference.ifla.org/past-wlic/2009/78-dinca-en.pdf.
[5] J. Groß, ‘Zur ältesten Geschichte der Kronstädter Gymnasialbibliothek’, Archiv des Vereins für siebenbürgische Landeskunde 21 (1887), 591-708.
[6] E. Bósz, Az egresi ciszterci apátság története [The Story of the Cistercian Abbey of Igriș], Budapest, 1911; F. L. Hervay, Repertorium historicum ordinis Cisterciensis in Hungaria (Bibliotheca Cisterciensis 7), Rome, 1984, 90-97; Ș. and V. Turcuș, At the Edges of Christendom. The White Monks’ Arts and Institutions in Transylvania (The Twelfth-Fifteenth Centuries), tr. C.-V. Borbély, Cluj, 2012, 141-53.
[7] S. Jakó, ‘Oradea în istoria bibliotecilor noastre medievale’ [Oradea in the History of Our Medieval Libraries], in his Philobiblon transilvan, Bucharest, 1977, 13-71.
[8] J. Karácsonyi, Szt. Ferencz rendjének története Magyarországon 1711-ig [The History of the Franciscan Order in Hungary until 1711], 2 vols, Budapest, 1922-1924, I, 292-94; E. Muckenhaupt, A Csíksomlyói ferences könyvtár kincsei [The Treasures of the Franciscan Library from Șumuleu Ciuc], Budapest/Cluj, 2000, 95-96.
[9] K. Csapodi-Gárdonyi, ‘Die Bibliothek des Erzbischofs Johannes Vitéz’, Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 48 (1973), 441-47.
[10] A. Papahagi, A. C. Dincă, with A. Mârza, Manuscrisele medievale occidentale din România: Census [The Western Medieval Manuscripts in Romania: A Census], Iași: Polirom, forthcoming.
[11] V. Fraknói, ‘Vitéz János könyvtára’ [János Vitéz’s Library], Magyar Könyvszemle 3 (1878), 1-21, 79-91, 190-201; K. Csapodi-Gárdonyi, Die Bibliothek des Johannes Vitéz, Budapest, 1984.
[12] F. Zimmermann, C. Werner (eds), Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen in Siebenbürgen. I: 1191 bis 1342, Sibiu, 1892, nr. 314, p. 254: ‘comburendo et auferendo omnia ornamenta, libros, etc.’.
[13] J. Groß, ‘Zur ältesten Geschichte der Kronstädter Gymnasialbibliothek’, Archiv des Vereins für siebenbürgische Landeskunde 21 (1887), 591-708; 597.
[14] G. Gündisch, H. Gündisch, G. Nussbächer, K. Gündisch (eds), Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenbürgen, vol. VI, Bucharest, 1981, nr. 3256.
[15] For an example of a modern quantitative approach, see E. Buringh, Medieval Manuscript Production in the Latin West. Explorations with a Global Database, Leiden/Boston, 2011.
[16] A. Papahagi, ‘Lost Libraries and Surviving Manuscripts: The Case of Medieval Transylvania’, Library & Information History 31 (2015), 35-57 – forthcoming.
[17] see note 6 above.

[18] E.-M. Schatz, R. Stoica, Catalogul colectiv al incunabulelor din România, Bucharest, 2007.

Project Team


Dr Adrian Papahagi, Facultatea de Litere, UBB Cluj – team manager

Dr Adinel Dincă, Facultatea de Istorie, UBB Cluj – research fellow

Mr Cristian Ispir, King’s College, Londra – doctoral research assistant

Mr Raoul Weiss, Facultatea de Litere, UBB Cluj – doctoral research assistant


Since the project started, in October 2015, the team has fulfilled the following tasks:

  1. gathering and processing secondary bibliography;
  2. editing the medieval book lists mentioned in the project (cf. supra);
  3. identifying medieval manuscripts and incunabula of Transylvanian provenance in the following collections: Cluj (BAR, BCU); Bucharest (BAR, BN); Sibiu (Brukenthal Museum, Archives); Brașov (Honterus Archiv); Târgu Mureș (Teleki-Bolyai Library); Alba Iulia (Batthyaneum Library); Paris (Bibl. Nationale); Rome (Vatican Library; Bibl. Nazionale); Vienna (Schottenstift; ÖNB); Salzburg (St. Peter; Universitätsbibliothek); Güssing (Franziskaner); Melk (Stiftsbibliothek); St Florian (Stiftsbibliothek); Budapest (Széchenyi Library; Academy Library); Cracow (Jagellonian Library); Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek); Frankfurt am Main (Universitätsbibliothek); Göttingen (Universitätsbibliothek); further research is needed in 2017, especially in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Italy, and in Romanian collections with the exception of those mentioned above.

The entire budget for this period has been spent, as follows (amounts expressed in Romanian Lei):

Personnel: 42,555 (2015); 153,768 (2016)

Indirect: 6,449.87 (2015); 31877 (2016)

Travel expenses: 444.13 (2015); 35,318.39 (2016)

Logistics: 0 (2015); 23,428.39 (2016)

Total: 49,449 (2015); 244,392 (2016);

Grand Total 2015-2016: 293,841

The quantifiable results proposed have been attained: the team gave papers to several international conferences, and published a series of articles, as detailed below.



Adrian Papahagi, ‘A Medieval Manuscript Fragment Signed by Janus Dubravius at the Library of the Romanian Academy in Cluj’, Historica Olomucensis 48 (2015), pp. 273-76.


Adrian Papahagi, ‘Qui scripsit scripta, manus eius sit benedicta: Scribes and Colophons from the Medieval Dioceses of Oradea and Transylvania’, Transilvania 4-5 (2016), pp. 2-15.

Adrian Papahagi, ‘Gothic Script and Humanistic Fashion in Fifteenth-Century Oradea: The Palaeography of John Vitéz’s Book of Letters (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. 431)’, Philobiblon  21 (2016), 5-15.

Adrian Papahagi, ‘An Eleventh-Century Fragment Of The Opus Imperfectum In Matthaeum In Beneventan Script (Cluj, Romanian Academy Library, Cod. Lat. 8)’, Mediaeval Studies (Toronto) 78 (2016), 277-83.

Adinel Dincă, ‘Consemnări istoriografice într-un manuscris transilvănean din anii 1432-1433 (Biblioteca Muzeului Brukenthal, Sibiu, MS. 683)’, Studii și Materiale de Istorie Medie 34 (2016), 157-70.


Adinel Dincă, ‘Notă asupra unui fragment manuscris medieval din Sibiu: Vincent de Beauvais, Speculum historiale‘, Anuarul institutului de istorie “George Barițiu” din Cluj Napoca. Series historica 56 (2017), forthcoming.


Conference attendance


Adrian Papahagi – 30-31 October, International Conference on ‘Bibliology and National Patrimony’, 9th edn. (Alba Iulia, Univ. 1 Decembrie); Paper: ‘Les livres des diocèses médiévaux de Cenad, Oradea et Transylvanie à travers les inventaires anciens (XIIe-XVIe siècles)’.
Cristian Ispir – 8-9 April 2016, The Oxford Medieval Graduate Conference on Wonder, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, UK; Paper: ‘”Videbatur aliquid novi nonnullis portendere”: the marvellous and the war over Magna Carta’. Conference programme.
Adrian Papahagi – 30 June-2 July, International Medieval Society, Paris, Yearly Conference on ‘Words’ (Univ. of Paris I); Paper: ‘Des mots en marge des mots: Lire la Consolation de Philosophie du IXe au XIe siècle’. Conference programme.
Adinel Dincă – 10-13 November, UBB Cluj, International Conference “CLUJ/KOLOZSVÁR/KLAUSENBURG – 700”; Paper: ‘«Biblioteca orașului Sibiu» în evul mediu: evoluția unei confuzii istoriografice’. Programme.
Adinel Dincă – 2-4 June, UBB Cluj, International Conference “Bullaria, Monumenta, Repertoria: Editing Late Medieval Documentary Texts preserved in the Vatican and Roman Archives”; Paper: ‘All Roads Lead to Rome … – Some Thoughts on the Past and Future of Editing Medieval Curial Sources in Romania’. Programme.
Adinel Dincă – 19-20 January, Accademia di Romania, Rome, International Conference “Storiografia medievistica in Romania: l’ultimo quarto di secolo”; Paper: ‘Le fonti scritte: edizione e studi’. Programme.
Adrian Papahagi – 11-12 April, University of Huddersfield, UK, International Conference “The Material Culture of Religious Change and Continuity: 1400-1600”; Paper: ‘Surviving the Stripping of the Altars: Medieval Manuscripts in Sixteenth-Century Transylvania’. Programme.