Greek Manuscripts at the University of Michigan Library: A Celebration

Curated by Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffmann and Julia Miller, with the collaboration of Pablo Alvarez


The University of Michigan Library holds an extensive collection of Greek manuscripts consisting of 110 codices (bound manuscripts) and fragments that range from the fourth to the nineteenth centuries CE. It is the largest such collection in the Western Hemisphere. As explained in the section, The Provenance of the Collection, most of these manuscripts were purchased through the efforts of Professor Francis Willey Kelsey in the second decade of the previous century. 

Our exhibit displays highlights from these extraordinary holdings, offering insights into the religious and artistic endeavors involved in the making of Byzantine codices. In brief, these unique manuscripts are eloquent witnesses of a period of achievements in the areas of textual transmission, calligraphy, illumination, and bookbinding. Most of the Greek manuscripts in our collection were used for various religious services in churches and monasteries. Others were probably destined for private devotion, such as the pocket-size, richly illuminated manuscripts carrying the Gospels.

While many of our manuscripts indeed contain the text of the New Testament in various forms, others include religious works from the fourth century onward, written by venerated scholars who gradually shaped the theological foundations of the Christian faith throughout the centuries. By means of a selection of broad themes (The New Testament, The Liturgy, The Saints, The Monasteries, and The Bindings), which allude to the content, reception, and materiality of these artifacts, we invite viewers to explore the lives of these manuscripts from the time when they were copied, decorated, and bound, through their later existence in the hands of their readers.   

This exhibit also celebrates two recent publications based on this collection: Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffmann, Catalogue of Greek Manuscripts at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Vol. 1. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2021; and Julia Miller, Tradition and Individuality: Bindings from the University of Michigan Greek Manuscript Collection. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press, 2021.