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Codices Electronici Sangallenses (CESG) - Project Description

The Abbey Library of St. Gall, with its 2,100 manuscripts, is among the oldest and most significant manuscript libraries in the world. Half of the manuscripts, or codices, were produced in the middle ages, with about 400 volumes produced before the year 1000 A.D. UNESCO inscribed the Convent of St. Gall complex as a World Heritage Center in 1983. The goal of the "Codices Electronici Sangallenses" (Digital Library of St. Gall) project is to provide access to medieval and selected early modern manuscripts held by the Abbey Library of St. Gall via a virtual library.


Today, CESG forms one component of a larger successor project, e-codices – Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland. The goal of e-codices is to present all medieval manuscripts and a selection of early modern manuscripts in Switzerland via a virtual library. The history of the origins of CESG and e-codices is described in the article entitled, "Praktische Internet-Ausgabe und Aura des Originals".



Brief Historical Overviewof the Abbey Library of St. Gall

The Abbey Library has been in continuous existence for over 1,200 years. It is the only major medieval monastery library still standing at its original location. Its origins stretch back to the 8th century. Several hundred codices stem from the cultural heyday of the Abbey, the 9th to the 11th century. Abbots Ulrich Rösch and Franz Gaisberg revived the art of bookmaking in the 15th and 16th centuries and purchased book collections from various scholars. The last major influx of medieval codices came between 1767 and 1796, under the direction of the penultimate abbot-prince, Beda Angehrn. Although the Convent of St. Gall lost its abbey status in 1805, the library remained at the same location. It is now run and financed by the Catholic Administration (Katholischer Konfessionsteil) of the State of St. Gall. In 1983, the Abbey of St. Gall was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Center. Today, the Abbey Library is a scholarly library, open to the public and visited by researchers from all over the world. It also attracts many tourists with its world-famous Baroque reading room.


Completed sub-projects

The Virtual Abbey Library of Saint Gall

By the end of 2009, e-codices provided online access to all 355 of the manuscripts held by the Abbey Library of St. Gall written before the year 1000. The web application was also further developed to provide users with faster and easier access to database content. This sub-project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (New York).

Codices Augienses et Sangallenses dispersi

In many cases, the manuscripts originally held by medieval libraries have been removed to other locations. This is also the case with the St. Gall and Reichenau manuscripts. By means of a virtual manuscript library, however, scattered collections can be virtually reunified. Under the auspices of this subproject, a total of 40 manuscripts originally held by the Abbeys of St. Gall and Reichenau, now distributed among various collections in Switzerland, will be virtually gathered together by the end of 2009. This subproject was also made possible by support from the Mellon Foundation (New York).

St. Gall's Cultural Assets from Zurich

In the Toggenburg War of 1712, the last religious war of the old Swiss Confederation, the Prince-Abbot of St. Gall was defeated by the forces of Zurich and Bern. Following their invasion of the Cloister of St. Gall, the victors carried away library materials and other cultural assets, dividing them among themselves. After the peace agreement of 1718, most materials were returned, with the exception of a number of valuable manuscripts which remained in Zurich. After almost 300 years, the ongoing, more or less contentious cultural property dispute between St. Gall and Zurich was finally resolved in the spring of 2006. Among the requirements of the compromise were that Zurich return the manuscripts in question to St. Gall on long-term loan, and that the Canton of St. Gall digitize them and make them available on the Internet by the end of 2007. This digitization was funded by the Catholic church membership of the Canton of St. Gall and the St. Gall Bureau of Culture.

St. Gall's Treasure Trove of Monuments of the Old High German Language

Germanists like to refer to the Abbey Library of St. Gall as the "Treasure Trove of Memorials to the Old High German Language". In terms of both quality and magnitude, the St. Gall collection is unmatched as a source of significant documentation of the German language. Thanks to the financial support of the "Friends of the Library", thirteen important Old High German manuscripts were digitized in 2006: Cod. Sang. 21 (Old High German Psalter of Notker the German), 56 (Tatian's Gospel Harmony), 232, 242, 556, 643, 825 (Old High German translation and commentary on Boethius's 'De consolatione philosophiae' by Notker the German), 872 (Notker's Translation and commentary on 'De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii' by Martianus Capella), 904 (Irish Priscian Manuscript), 911 (Abrogans), 913 (St. Gall Vocabulary), 916 (St. Benedict's Rule), and 966.

Pilot Project: Digitale Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (Digital Abbey Library of St. Gall)

In the pilot project (Running time: January 2005 through December 2006) 130 medieval manuscripts from the Abbey Library of St. Gall were digitized. This start-up project was made possible by the following financial supporters: the Paul Schiller Foundation, the UBS Cultural Foundation, the Ernst Göhner Foundation, the Otto Gamma Foundation, the Jubilee Foundation of Swiss Mobiliar Insurance, the Research Funding Foundation of the University of Fribourg, the Jubilee Foundation of the Zurich Insurance Group, and the Friends of the Abbey Library of St. Gall.


Scientific Manuscript Descriptions and Metadata

Three decades ago, before the age of electronic or digital access really began, the Abbey Library began production of a new descriptive catalog of all its medieval manuscripts. Up to that point, catalog resources for the collection as a whole consisted of a printed directory from the year 1875, the catalog of Gustav Scherrer, which included descriptions of codices 1-1725, but proved inadequate for modern scholars due to the rudimentary nature of its indexing.
The new cataloging according to the guidelines of the German Research Community (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft or DFG) was undertaken about thirty years ago. The product of this cataloging initiative resulted in the addition to the record of 480 manuscripts, which have been codicologically (as books) and paleographically (as calligraphy) examined and described in terms of their content and decoration. Among these are some 230 items produced during the middle ages. There is still a long way to go before the minimal goal of cataloging all the medieval manuscripts in the collection is reached.

Literature (see also

Scholarly descriptions in XML format using TEI-P5 standard

Scholarly manuscript descriptions encoded in a specialized XML format are employed as metadata for the digitized manuscripts designed for this purpose. The XML format used complies with the Text Encoding Initiative guidelines for the electronic presentation of manuscript descriptions (TEI-P5).
Compliance with this international standard enables the exchange of metadata with other digitization projects, meta-search engines, and portal sites. In addition the structuring of metadata according to the TEI-P5 standard allows the assignment of metadata information to individual fields or substructures, enabling users to perform focused searches with a dedicated software tool for Author, Title of Work, Incipit, Decorative Elements, and so on, (for more information about the various Browse and Search functions of e-codices, see New Web Application).
Furthermore, the utilization of XML guarantees the long-term usability of the current metadata, independent of the need to use a particular software or edition of that software.

Presentation of Metadata on the e-codices site

Each digitized manuscript is accompanied by the most recent available scholarly description. These descriptions follow the published descriptions on which they are based as closely as possible. Users can also view the XML format/TEI-P5 versions of all online descriptions and, when available and authorized by the publisher, PDFs of the print versions as well.

Selection of Descriptions

One scholarly description of each manuscript has been selected by the manuscript owner library as the "standard description". Other, usually older or more discipline-specific descriptions are designated as "additional descriptions". In the long term, e-codices seeks to include all possible print descriptions, and when possible non-print ones as well. Increasingly, e-codices also makes use of new scholarly manuscript descriptions written expressly for the website:


Conservation Guidelines

During the digitalization process, the manuscripts need to be protected against wear and tear in order to ensure handling stresses remain BELOW those experienced during an average use of the manuscript in the reading room or during an exhibition. The "Graz Model" camera table, designed by Diplom Engineer Manfred Mayer sets a new standard for low-stress manuscript handling during photography. The digitalization of each item must follow clearly defined criteria:

High quality color digital images not only supplement the black-and-white microfilm images available up to now, but also provide a great deal more information about the objects photographed. Use of these images reduces the need for handling of the original objects, thus protecting them from excessive handling over time.

Further Information

Find more information about the following topics on e-codices:



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