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Saturday, October 25, 2014

500-year-old books on display at Ellis

The ancient books were donated anonymously.

Oct. 12, 2004

A rare set of books donated to MU has students and library staff talking. A 16th century set of writings was anonymously donated to MU and is now on display in Ellis Library's rare books collection.

When Michael Holland, the university archivist and interim head of special collections, received news of the rare set of books donated to the library, he said he was perplexed by the ambiguity of the collection.

He said library staff did not know what to make of the donation because the donors of the books preferred to keep their identity confidential.

There also was nothing distinctive about the collection, at least not by appearance.

After much research, Holland said he was delighted to find out the books, entitled "Loci Theologi Reverendi," written by theologian Martin Chemnitz, contained three volumes in Latin revealing theologian Martin Luther's commentary on justification by faith.

The 16th century writings are one of only five copies in the world. The University of Oxford, Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, the Institut Protestant de Theologie in Paris and Harvard University are the only other institutions that have the original work.

As Holland and his colleagues sought more information concerning their new treasure, they also discovered details about the former owners of the books. The donors' great-grandfather was a Lutheran minister who first purchased the collection, Holland said.

Although generations after him maintained possession of the books, the family did not put them to much use, Holland said.

Holland said the donors ultimately decided it was in their best interest to donate the books.

"The donors probably decided to remain anonymous because they didn't want the attention to be centered around them," Holland said. "They just figured that we were entitled to have the rare set since they were not in use at home."

Before the third volume of the collection was set out for display ' the other two were difficult to read because of worn pages ' the books were being preserved in the library vault with closely monitored temperatures.

People can view the collection under the surveillance of a security camera, and they also are required to wear protective gloves when handling the books.

"Only a couple of curious students came to look at the books when we first got them, but we knew to expect more attention from the exhibit," Holland said.

The archaic set of books is just a small sample of MU's vast collection, ranging from 9,000 to 10,000 in storage.

The books will be displayed throughout October and then put back in a protective vault because too much light exposure could result in deterioration.

Meanwhile, the collection continues to pique the interests of library guests.

"The pictures are beautiful to look at, especially if you don't recognize the texts," library information specialist Kelli Hansen said.

People can attend the exhibits to catch a glance of books that have altered history in some way or another.

"I love books so the exhibit really holds some significance to me," senior Shivon Tannan said. "I think it will further establish MU as a prestigious institution."

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