St. Bonaventure University

Scholars delight to work in Bona's research-level collection of medieval manuscripts

The Franciscan Institute Collection at St. Bonaventure University is unique in North and South America and can only be matched by a few European libraries. It supports research on campus and by various scholars worldwide.

Pictured_Dr. Iulian Mihai Damian in the Rare Books WingOne such international scholar is Dr. Iulian Mihai Damian from Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, who was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for the research project “John Capistrano and the Borders of Fifteenth-Century Christianity.”

Throughout the fall 2022 semester, Dr. Damian made use of the “Capistrano Archive” housed at the Franciscan Institute. He also examined a number of medieval manuscripts in the Rare Books Wing, using the collections of Holy Name, Franciscan Institute and the university.

The Capistrano Archive includes the vast correspondence — more than 700 letters — of St. John of Capistrano, a Franciscan priest who traveled widely on missionary journeys as well as corresponded with a number of popes, monarchs and military leaders. Days before his death in 1456 in Hungary, Capistrano requested that all his books and writings be taken back to the Franciscan friary in his hometown of Capistrano, Italy.

Through the centuries, a large portion of his writings was copied or published before it deteriorated. In 1952, German scholar Ottokar Bonmann began devoting his scholarly energy to it. After his death in 1977, the Franciscan Institute took possession of Bonmann’s work.

“St. Bonaventure is the best place to be to get the full picture of John Capistrano,” Dr. Damian said. “The collection is quite something.”

He pointed to a 1490 humanistic renaissance manuscript as an example of the priceless works he studied here (the largest of the books pictured with him, above right).

“The owner of this text prepared it in a very decorative way and made notes in the margins. It’s very personal and a more authentic offering about the author, whose poem is dedicated to the Franciscan saint James of the Marches,” he said. “The most interesting point is that St. Bonaventure University has the only existing copy of this work in the world.”

He noted the ease with which he could find material here and complimented the highly specialized work environment he enjoyed throughout his sabbatical.

When asked what the community could do to help support such research, Dr. Damian noted that access and preservation should be a top priority.

“Preservation of the collections and providing access to them are important,” he said. “Several manuscripts are in need of restoration or you risk losing them. These could be the only copies in the world or one of a few. It’s important to understand how fragile they are.”

From his research at Bona's, Dr. Damian plans to publish a new book on Capistrano and Central Eastern Europe.