Doing online manuscript research is not that difficult, if you know where to look. In this short overview, I will present some of the most useful websites for doing such a task. The information we are looking for requires little prior knowledge. Still, it might be useful to have some basic understanding of codicology and palaeography when looking at scans. For that purpose, I recommend reading the first chapter (esp. pp. 9-61) of Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham’s Introduction to manuscript studies from 2008 (see email). It provides basic information on the materials used for the production of medieval manuscripts, their assembly, and scribal practices.

The information we need, is fairly basic. We need it to establish if a manuscript should be considered for further research. It consists of the following categories (hereby using the manuscript Sélestat, Bibliothèque humaniste, Ms. 132 as an example):

City, library, shelfmarkSélestat, Bibliothèque humaniste, Ms. 132
Time of origins. IX med.
Place of originMainz
Size169x101 mm
Folia (or pages)153 ff.
Digital ms.
Digital catalogue
ContentsExpositions on Mass, Faith (Q/A), baptism, florilegium priest, episcopal statutes, prayers and blessings, penitentials
Notes (literature, features, etc.)Composite manuscript, from f. 96v different hands

Below I will explain some of the categories listed in the above, except for those that are self-explanatory. All information should be added to an Airtable, to which I will give you access as soon as possible.

Time of origin

The period in which a manuscript was put together, is often described in some kind of shorthand. Since most manuscripts cannot be pinpointed to one specific moment in time, it serves as an indication. For instance, ’s. IX med.’ means middle of the ninth century. ’s’ stands for the Latin saeculum, the roman numeral represents the century and ‘med.’ stands for the Latin medium (you can also use in. (incipit) or ex. (explicit) to refer to its beginning or end). Using the same procedure, ’s. VII in.’ means the beginning of the seventh century. You can also use parts of a century to describe the time of origin. For instance, ’s. VIII 1/2’, means the first half of the eighth century, just as ’s. V 4/4’ refers to the fourth quarter of the fifth century.

Digital ms. and catalogue

Over the past years, more and more manuscript have been digitized. To access these scans, however, is not always easy. In some instances national platforms exist, such as the Swiss e-codices, but in most cases scans have to be downloaded from the websites of the libraries or archives themselves. Take, for instance, the manuscript Sélestat 132, discussed in the above.

A good place to start looking for manuscripts is by using a list put together by Albrecht Diem (Syracuse University), for the Early medieval monasticism (EMM) project. While we are not that invested in early medieval monasticism, the list is extremely valuable, nonetheless. It serves as a first step in the process of obtaining a scan or additional information on a manuscript.

In some instances, you will not find the manuscript via the EMM list. Then it can be good to use other platforms to search for manuscripts. The ones I use most often are listed below. When trying to find more obscure manuscripts, Mirabile is particularly useful (search by using the shelfmark only!), as it contains many references to digital repositories, catalogue entries, and in some cases even has a basic bibliography.

Overview of useful links:


The manuscript we are interested in for this project, are books that could have been used by local priests. Since you will not find a manuscript with a description saying ’this book has been used by priest XY’, another procedure has to be used to determine if a manuscript could have been a priest’s book. Naturally, this is not a fool proof method and depends on many different factors. A good start, however, is to see if it contains any (preferably more) of the following texts:

  • Episcopal statutes (capitularies issued by bishops addressing the priests in their diocese)
  • Canon law (collections of conciliar decrees, but also Scripture and patristic material)
  • Expositions (short texts explaining basic aspects of Christianity, such as baptism, Mass, the Faith itself, the structure of the Church, the ecclesiastical offices, etc.)
  • Penitentials (collections of punishments used to obtain salvation after confession)
  • Liturgy (descriptions of the liturgical procedures of baptism, Mass, burial, etc.)
  • Sermons (texts used by someone to preach)

It is important to note that each type of text either concerns the priest’s own education, that of the laity, or the administering of pastoral care. Priests’ books are manuscript that were used in one or more of these processes/activities. Another aspects that seems tellings, is the precense of Carolingian authors (Hrabanus Maurus, Walafird Strabo, Theofuld of Orléans, Haito of Basel, Amalarius of Metz, etc.), often in the form of short expositions on specific subjects.


This is a category meant for anything that might make the manuscript interesting. It could refer to its codicological aspects (it being a composite codex, missing various pages, dirty parchment), its connection with other manuscripts (it might be copy of an earlier exemplar), or its palaeographical aspects (a wide variety of hands, many corrections, glosses, marginal annotations). You could also list secondary literature here, in which the manuscript or parts of it are discussed.