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The Penn Libraries maintain a strong collection across most areas of interest to scholars of the Middle Ages.

The collections are located primarily in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, including the Ormandy Music Center and the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and the Fisher Fine Arts Library.

Collection Description

Manuscripts: Codices, Fragments, and Documents

The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at Van Pelt Library holds approximately nine hundred manuscripts from the medieval and Renaissance periods.

The pre-modern manuscript holdings of Penn Libraries consist of two major collections, both of which are housed and available for consultation at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts: ms. codices, acquired over time as part of the general special collections holdings, and the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection (LJS), donated to Penn Libraries in 2013. Both collections are fully digitized and can be browsed on the Colenda platform. Open-access metadata and full-resolution digital images can found via the OPenn repository.

For more information about Manuscript Studies at Penn, see the Manuscript Studies collection page.

Facsimiles and Microforms

In addition to a small but growing collection of manuscript facsimile volumes held in the Fisher Fine Arts Library and medieval facsimiles and microfilm codices in the Ormandy Music Center, the Libraries own a large collection of medieval manuscripts on microfilm that was initiated in the late 1960s with a Council on Library Resources grant to establish a national clearinghouse of such material at Penn. Though this plan proved unsustainable, the collection continued to grow in response to local needs. The strengths of the collection, which numbers approximately a thousand manuscripts, reflects the wide range of research interest of faculty and graduate students over the past forty years and includes Greek and Latin lexical works, Old English glosses, Middle English literature, Old French poetry, Welsh law, manuscripts of Alcuin's De Fide, etc. A listing by country/repository/shelfmark is available at

Henry Charles Lea Library 

(Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, 6th floor)

The Henry C. Lea Library, located in the Kislak Center on Van Pelt's sixth floor in a reconstruction of the original library of the Philadelphia publisher and medievalist scholar Henry Charles Lea (1825-1909), the collection consists of primary materials for the study of the late medieval and early modern period. It focuses on the history of religion with a special interest in the institutional, legal, and ecclesiastical bases of Church organization and governance and, most especially, the Inquisition in Europe generally, Spain particularly, and Spanish America. Witchcraft and magic are also subjects that the Lea Library collects extensively. A secondary Lea specialty is the history of Italian city-states. In particular, the Florentine Medici-Gondi archive, comprising manuscript materials from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries, documents the business activities of the family firm specifically as well as commercial, social, and familial relationships of the period in general.

Medieval Studies Seminar Room 

(Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, Room 405)

The Medieval Studies Seminar provides researchers with a non-circulating selection of primary texts as well as major commentaries, criticism, dictionaries, encyclopedias and manuscript materials. The room houses the entire Patrologia Grecea and Patrologia Latina and the series Corpus Christianorum, Sources Chretienne, the Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile and the Henry Bradshaw Society collection. A few titles in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica are shelved in the room while the rest of the series is in the Van Pelt stacks. Individual works have been added to the room at the request of faculty. The room has a large table that seats eight as well as a networked computer workstation and a micofiche and microfilm reader. All Seminar books are cataloged in Franklin.

Related collections

The University's membership in the Center for Research Libraries provides long-term access to a number of large collections of medieval manuscripts, including those of Trinity College (University of Cambridge), Pembroke College (Cambridge) and the Rawlinson Manuscipt Collection (Bodleian Library, Oxford). Also, the Free Library of Philadelphia (Rare Book Department) has an important collection of some 255 codices and 2,000 illuminated leaves ( to which Penn scholars have ready access.

Special Collections

Describe notable or rare collections here (in paragraph form).