A trove of literary riches, rarely seen, arrives in Washington from England
Five hundred years ago, Corpus Christi College was established at the University of Oxford in England, emerging in the Renaissance era to become one of the first colleges there dedicated to humanist ideals while specializing in the classics in three languages.
Its rare manuscripts and early printed books are closed to the public — even in Oxford. But to mark the college’s quincentenary, a traveling exhibition of 53 rare items dating as far back as the 10th century is making two stops in the United States — first in Washington, at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
“500 Years of Treasures From Oxford” concentrates on rare items from the first 100 years of the college, which was founded by Richard Fox, an adviser to King Henry VII and Henry VIII.
Here are some numbers related to the show:
The year Corpus Christi College at Oxford was founded by Richard Fox, bishop of Durham in 1494 and Winchester in 1501, who began by donating books to its library.
Number of major languages initially studied in the multilingual library: Latin, Greek, Hebrew.
Number of centuries spanned by objects in the exhibition, which originates from the 10th through 17th centuries.
Number of sections into which the exhibition is divided, covering its trilingual library; books in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; later English acquisitions; scriptures; and science.
Number of artifacts in show, none of which have been seen in the United States.
Estimated age of the oldest manuscript on display, a Greek commentary on the Psalms by St. Basil the Great of Caesarea.
Number of the college founder’s silver-gilt episcopal objects in the exhibition. Normally, they are kept on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Number of locks guarding the foundation charter for the college: three on a 500-year-old chest, which is on display; three more on a larger chest in which that was kept; and three more on the door of the tower room in which it was stored.
Teams of translators that worked on creating the King James Bible at Corpus Christi College after John Rainolds, then the college’s president, convinced King James in 1604 that a new translation was needed.
Sets of records that still exist of the deliberations of the King James revising committee; one is part of the exhibition.
Regnal number of French King Louis, who was likely the first recipient of the lavishly illustrated 16th-century Oglethorpe Bible on display, so named because it was donated to the college by James Oglethorpe, who also founded the American colony that would become the state of Georgia.
Number of stories in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.” An early 15th-century copy by a professional scribe includes instructions for future illumination.
The year one of the first depictions of America on a map came in a picture of the globe in the book “Cosmographia,” printed in Antwerp, Belgium, and included in the show.
Number of depictions of the moon in the exhibition. One was a sketch by the owner of Galileo’s 1610 book that first describes the surface from the telescope he had built two months earlier. The other is a much more detailed illustration published in a 1647 book by Johannes Hevelius.
Year that two visible comets over Europe caused Sir Isaac Newton to write to the royal astronomer in a letter included in the exhibition. It turned out to be what we now know as Halley’s comet.
The next year that Halley’s comet will be visible.
Current number of students at Corpus Christi College at Oxford — 240 undergraduates and 115 graduate students.
Number of books in the college’s 16th-century library.
Number of U.S. stops for “500 Years of Treasures From Oxford.” After the Folger, it heads to the Yeshiva University Museum at the Center for Jewish History in New York from May 14 through Aug. 6.
Cost of admission to the Folger Shakespeare Library.
500 Years of Treasures From Oxford Through April 30 at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE. Free. 202-544-4600. folger.edu.
These rare manuscripts and early printed books are closed to the public — even in Oxford.
An English missal laying out the Sarum liturgical rite, dated 1398, featured in the collection of Corpus Christi College at Oxford. Facing the full-page picture, the two small spaces in the first column of text are where references to the pope were erased during the Reformation.