A book does not just carry and preserve text, it also embodies the complex journeys it has taken through time and across space, from the author’s desk or printer’s press, to the reader down the street or in a foreign land who now owns it. Ohio State’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Library is home to thousands of textual artifacts testifying to the diverse paths they’ve followed from the distant past to the present. Featured here is a single example from our collections—a mid-15th century prayerbook that traveled from France to the Holy Land and back again in the early 18th century (Spec.Rare.MS.MR.Cod.51)—that exemplifies the journeys each of our books has taken before finding permanent homes in Columbus.

View of the book binding with paperclip for scale

Housed in a pasteboard binding clearly showing the wear and tear it has sustained through the years, this manuscript was originally composed ca. 1450 and packaged a series of Psalms, prayers and commemorative devotional readings for personal use. By the 18th century, this little book had passed into the hands of Marie-François Heraux, a French nobleman from Poitiers, who took it along with him on a trip to Egypt and the Holy Land in 1734. 

 

2-page spread of 15th- and 18th-century layered manuscript text (folios 50 verso – 51 recto)

Heraux likely took the prayerbook with him as a spiritual comfort, and after his journey decided to use the margins of its vellum pages to record his personal travel narrative. He had much to say, and covered 121 pages of the earlier prayerbook with his own small handwriting on a variety of topics, including botany, Jewish and regional history, literature he read along the way and details of the places he visited.

 

Folio 94 recto

In addition to his travel narrative, Heraux also drew three maps of the regions he visited. The first is small, showing the area around Berseba, Israel, near Gaza. Interestingly, one of the sites mentioned is the hermitage of St. Hilarion, a fourth-century holy man revered as the founder of Christian monasticism in Palestine. The text beneath the map mentions a fountain of clear water that spouts gold sand and fine diamonds, and another fountain spouting excellent red wine, silver sand and ruby stones.

 

Folio 94 verso

The second map depicts the area of the Nile delta in Egypt, along with the northern portion of the Red Sea. The map features the Nile at the far left and the Red Sea at the lower right, with various locations sprinkled between, including the sites of the ancient cities of Memphis, Heliopolis, Goshen (here rendered as “Gessen”) and Tanis.

 

Folio 132 verso

At the end of the manuscript, Heraux added his third map, featuring the Dead Sea and its environs, including the River Jordan, the Judaean Desert, the stone city of Petra, and, located in the center of the Dead Sea, the burned and swallowed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

For More Information

To learn more about the collection, visit: library.osu.edu/rbml.

Email: thospcol@osu.edu

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