The Batthyaneum Library, a branch of the National Library of Romania, is located in Alba Iulia (Gyulafehérvàr/Alba Carolina Carlsburg/ Weissenburg), a fortified city and capital in the medieval period and unique residence for the Catholic bishops of Transylvania. Housed in a former church of the Trinitarian Order, the Batthyaneum Library contains, in addition to book collections, historical archives and museum collections. The Library was founded at the end of the 18th century by Count Ignatius of Batthyan, Bishop of Transylvania from 1780 – 1789, himself a scholar, historian and astronomer. Perfectly attuned to the spirit of his century, he tried through his work to unite science with faith.
Batthyàny acquired the most important collection, over 8,000 volumes, from the Viennese Archbishop Christophoro Migazzi, and it included medieval parchment manuscripts, many of them illuminated, of rare historical and aesthetic value. The international reputation of the Batthyaneum Library rests in particular on this collection, though many of the 18,200 volumes belonging to the library are unique or extremely rare.
The manuscript collection consists of 1,775 bibliographical units and, although not numerically impressive, it broadly represents European and Transylvanian culture in evolution. Almost half of the holdings, 648 titles presented in 765 volumes, are valuable items dated before 1526; unfortunately they are described only in summary fashion, most of them at catalogue level.
Eventually, this collection came to the attention of several historians whose research focused especially on the 16th-17th century period, less so on previous centuries. Some of the manuscripts from Alba Iulia were displayed at the book exhibitions from Budapest in 1892 and 1896, and on this occasion they were included in the catalogues of those exhibitions. The manuscripts were the object of research and they were even included in an exhibition similar to the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900. Among those who studied and elaborated the catalogues were Andràs Cseresnyés, Károly Veszely, Antal Beke, Elemér Varju and especially Robert Szentivàny, whose catalogue even today remains an essential tool, along with subsequent contributions (Julius Sopko, Eva Mârza-Szelecka).
The Batthyaneum collection exhibits some unique characteristics, in respect of the columnar display of the text, the number of lines, or in being written by several scribes. Worthy of interest are the interlinear and marginal glosses, which may indicate the owner, and the ex-libris in the form of a coat of arms. Their analyses of form and technique allowed researchers to identify the scriptoriums, sometimes by text identifiers on the parchment, leaves inserted from other manuscripts with musical or literary content, such as the manuscript Ms. III70, Hadamar de laber, Jagd, s. XIV, with pages from The Song of the Nibelungs glued in. By studying the calendars purposely included in some Psalters, and in many cases completed by national saints from France, Bohemia or the Hungarian Kingdom, it was possible to retrace the circulation of the manuscript.
An aspect which deserves to be analysed is the ornamentation of the manuscripts from the Batthyaneum Library with fundamental themes from the Bible and the New Testament. Preponderant are themes from the life of Jesus, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mary and Saints, highlighting the portraits of the Evangelists Matthew and Mark from the Lorsch Gospels. Several hundred manuscripts are decorated with geometrical and vegetal motifs set out on friezes, in one or two columns, as a band or garland, with perfect chromatic refinement and in most cases illuminated in tempera or coloured ink. The page design is based on the rubrication and the capital letters in various forms and sizes, with anthropomorphic or fantastic animal shapes, ornaments with geometric, vegetal or animal motifs, each time executed in a different manner: on a gold or coloured background, monochromatic or polychromatic, outline or simple, in various colours and sizes, but with a deliberate alternation. These features assist the reader as well as enhancing the aesthetics of the page, including decorative bars. Bindings, mostly in wood covered with leather, with protective, decorative metal garnitures, and a simple binding in parchment with leather strips. Authentic bindings are very rare.
The value of the Batthyaneum manuscripts derives from their age, the oldest being an 9th century Carolingian manuscript: Evangelium secundum S. Matheum et S. Lucam/Das Lorscher Evangeliar, I Theil/Codex Aureus, Aachen, Schola Palatina, 810, a Dagulfo est illuminatus (R II 1), followed by Evangelium S. Lucae, textus scripturae artisque elucet-exaratus est in Germania meridionali, s. IX-X (R. I 161), unique in its Lilliputian size.
Those interested in manuscripts will find in Alba Iulia collections from all domains of religion, in the usual form of Lectionales, Psalters with calendar, the book of hours, breviarii, homilies and a large collection of Bibles. Greek and Latin classic literature is complemented by manuscripts of great value for the evolution of the vernacular languages (German, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, French, even Spanish), law and other academic writing.
Ergo, ad lectorem, Inter folia fructus (Robertus Szentivanyi).