PORTLAND, Maine – A bargain hunter who went to a Maine real estate sale to find a KitchenAid mixer, bookshelf or vintage clothing walked away with a 700-year-old treasure.
Instead of a kitchen utensil, Will Sideri came across a framed document hanging on a wall. It had an elaborate script in Latin, along with musical notes and golden flourishes. A sticker said AD 1285. From what he’d seen in a manuscript class at Colby College, the document looked downright medieval.
And it was a steal at $75.
Academics have confirmed that the parchment comes from the Beauvais Missal used in Beauvais Cathedral in France and is dated to the late 13th century. It was used in Roman Catholic worship about 700 years ago, they said.
A manuscripts expert said the document, first reported by the Maine Monitor, could be worth as much as $10,000.
After spying on the unusual manuscript, Sideri contacted his former professor at Colby College, who was familiar with it because there is another page in the college collection. The professor reached out to another academic who had researched the document. They quickly confirmed the authenticity.
The parchment was part of a prayer book and a priestly liturgy, said Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America and a professor of manuscript studies at Simmons University in Boston.
The entire missal was once owned by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher, before it was sold in the 1940s and broken up into individual pages, much to the dismay of today’s academics, she said.
The practice was common in the early 20th century. “Thousands of unique manuscripts have been destroyed and scattered in this way,” Davis said.
Davis did meticulous research The Missal of Beauvais, and has tracked more than 100 unique sites across the country. The missal in its original form had a total of 309 pages.
Of particular interest to scientists is the site purchased by Sideri.
It’s a treasure, both for its age and condition, that far outstrips the other site in the Colby collection, said Megan Cook, Davis’ former professor who teaches medieval literature at Colby.
According to Davis, the parchment is worth over $10,000. But Sideri said he has no intention of selling it.
He said he likes the history and beauty of the parchment – and the story of how he stumbled upon it.
“That’s something I know is cool at the end of the day,” he said. “I didn’t buy this because I expected to sell it.”
Follow David Sharp on Twitter: @David_Sharp_AP
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