A bargain hunter went to an estate sale in Maine in search of a KitchenAid mixer, a bookshelf, or some vintage clothing. But he walked away with something much more valuable: a 700-year-old treasure.
Instead of a kitchen appliance, Will Sideri stumbled upon a framed document hanging on a wall. It had elaborate Latin script along with musical notes and gold flourishes. A sticker identified the paper as from the year A.D. 1285. Based on what he’d seen in a manuscripts class at Colby College, the document definitely looked medieval.
At $75, the framed piece was a bargain. An expert on manuscripts says the document could be worth thousands.
After spying the unusual manuscript, Sideri contacted his former Colby College professor, Megan Cook, who teaches medieval literature. The professor reached out to another academic who’d researched the document. They quickly confirmed the authenticity.
The parchment was from The Beauvais Missal. A missal is a collection of prayers and readings read by Roman Catholic priests and others during Mass. This particular book was used in Beauvais Cathedral in France and dated to the late 13th century. Cook was familiar with The Beauvais Missal because there’s another page in Colby College’s collection.
The full missal was once owned by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher, before being sold in the 1940s. Much to the dismay of today’s academics, someone divvied the book up into individual pages.
The practice of selling off separate pages was common in the early 20th century. “Thousands of unique manuscripts were destroyed and scattered this way,” says Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America and a professor of manuscript studies at Simmons University in Boston.
Davis has painstakingly researched The Beauvais Missal and has tracked down more than 100 individual pages across the country. All told, the missal numbered 309 pages in its original form. According to Davis, the page Sideri bought is worth upward of $10,000.
Sideri’s find is of particular interest to scholars because of both its age and condition. Cook says the page is far better than the other page in the Colby collection.
But Sideri says he has no intention of selling it. He says he likes the history and beauty of the parchment—and the story of how he stumbled upon it.
“This is something at the end of the day that I know is cool,” he says. “I didn’t buy this expecting to sell it.”
(A 700-year-old manuscript used in Beauvais Cathedral in France. Will Sideri via AP)