Hill Museum & Manuscript Library

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The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) is a non-profit organization located at and sponsored by Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. HMML’s mission is to identify, digitally photograph, catalog, and archive the contents of manuscripts belonging to threatened communities and to make the copies available to users around the world through online catalogs.[1]

Since its founding in 1965, HMML has partnered with 480 libraries and archives to photograph more than 125,000 manuscript books dating from the ancient to early modern eras, totaling some 40,000,000 handwritten pages. HMML's online catalog, OLIVER, contains over 93,000 entries. Its online image library, Vivarium, contains sample images from digitized collections and provides free access to complete manuscripts in password-protected galleries.[2]

HMML serves three constituencies: communities or libraries with endangered manuscript collections; scholars who research manuscript and textual history; and the non-specialist general public interested in the transmission of human knowledge and artistic creativity in manuscript form.

In addition to its manuscript collections, HMML holds works of art and rare printed books from the Middle Ages to the present [3] and is home to The Saint John's Bible, the first handwritten and illuminated Bible to have been commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.[4]

Since 2003, Columba Stewart, OSB, a monk of Saint John's Abbey, has served as HMML's executive director. HMML is located in the Alcuin Library, designed by Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer.

How HMML Operates[edit]

HMML serves as the preservation archive in the event that original manuscripts are destroyed, stolen, or otherwise lost. For each collection to be digitized, HMML signs a contract with the owners of the manuscripts, who then receive copies of the images and retain commercial and publication rights. Collections never leave the owners. On-site digitizing work is done by local technicians trained and paid by HMML. Once the digital copies are processed, catalog information is available on OLIVER and sample images from each manuscript are displayed on Vivarium. Administrative and funding activities are based at HMML’s location in Collegeville, Minnesota, while catalogers from both Collegeville as well as from several countries contribute to the creation of metadata for the recently-digitized manuscripts. In addition, HMML maintains a field office in Beirut, Lebanon.[5]


The Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey founded HMML in 1965 as a response to the loss of manuscripts and books in European libraries during two World Wars. Their plan was to create a microfilm collection of monastic manuscripts in Minnesota for safekeeping in the event that there would be another European war. Their work soon grew to include the microfilming of other manuscript collections throughout Europe and Ethiopia.[6] HMML expanded its focus in 2003 to include the preservation of manuscripts from other Eastern Christian traditions. Two factors drove this decision: the importance of Eastern Christian cultures to world history and the unstable conditions found in many of the historic regions of Eastern Christianity. With the launch of this project, HMML began using digital technology to preserve collections. In addition to digitizing Christian manuscripts, HMML has also digitized Islamic manuscripts collections from libraries in Harar, Ethiopia and the Old City of Jerusalem.[7]

Collections at HMML[edit]

HMML currently holds photographic copies of more than 125,000 manuscript books and other handwritten documents from hundreds of partner libraries spread across Europe, Africa, and Asia.[8] Manuscripts photographed before 2003 are in microfilm format (especially collections from western Europe, Ethiopia and Malta), while later collections have been photographed digitally (Middle East, India, and recent projects in Ethiopia and Europe). HMML also has about 10,000 rare books, as well as medieval and early modern manuscripts from Europe and Africa. The Arca Artium art collection at HMML includes approximately 6,000 works of art—chiefly printed works (woodcuts, engravings, linoleum cuts, lithographs, etc.) [9]

HMML provides bibliographic support for the microfilm and digital collections through its online database OLIVER and Vivarium. The printed book collections are cataloged in MnPALS and WorldCat. Vivarium provides access to research collections of related interest that reside at other institutions, including the Ethiopian Manuscript Imaging Project (EMIP). To support the use of its research collections, HMML maintains reference collections dedicated to manuscript studies, printing, art, and architecture.[10]

Digital and Microfilm Collections[edit]

The manuscript image collections at HMML are centered in four larger groupings, with several smaller collections.

▪ Materials from Austria, Germany and Switzerland
▪ Malta Collection: over 16,000 documentary records and manuscripts from the island of Malta and the Knights of Malta [11]
▪ Ethiopian Collection: over 8,000 manuscripts [12]
▪ Recent projects focus on Syriac, Arabic, and Armenian manuscripts in the Middle East and India [13]

Book and Manuscript Collections[edit]

Of the roughly 10,000 titles in HMML’s printed books collection, nearly half were printed before 1800, with 65 incunabula and over 800 sixteenth-century imprints. Topics covered include: theology, monasticism, biblical studies, patristics, homiletics, liturgical studies, and modern fine press books. Among these is a large collection of printed Bibles from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries. HMML also receives donated rare books and other gifts. The Special Collections at HMML hold a broad range of manuscripts in Latin, German, Italian, Spanish and French, as well as some in Gə’əz and Arabic. [14]


HMML offers a year-round program of temporary exhibits of both selected manuscripts and rare books drawn from its collections. HMML’s main gallery exhibits, on rotation, 20 of the total 1100 pages from The Saint John's Bible.


HMML has been featured in "Preserving Words and Worlds", "Ancient Christians in India", "A Monk Saves Threatened Manuscripts Using Ultramodern Means", "Codices Decoded", "In the Footsteps of the Apostles", and "Monastery Works to Preserve Ancient Christian Texts", narrated by Fred de Sam Lazaro, who also produced and directed a 30-minute documentary on HMML entitled, "Saving the Sacred." [15]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "HMML: Frequently Asked Questions", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  2. ^ "HMML: Frequently Asked Questions", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  3. ^ "Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML)", College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University.
  4. ^ "A Bible for the Times", The Saint John's Bible.
  5. ^ "A Monk Saves Threatened Manuscripts Using Ultramodern Means", The Chronicle, November 29, 2009.
  6. ^ "Hill Museum & Manuscript Library", Institute of Museum & Library Services.
  7. ^ "Monastery Works to Preserve Ancient Christian Texts", PBS News Hour, December 31, 2010.
  8. ^ "Hill Museum & Manuscript Library", Arcadia.
  9. ^ "HMML's Collections and Online Exhibits", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  10. ^ "HMML's Collections and Online Exhibits", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  11. ^ "The Malta Study Center", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  12. ^ "Ethiopia Study Center", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  13. ^ "HMML's Preservation Work", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  14. ^ "Special Collections at HMML", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.
  15. ^ "HMML's Work to be Featured on Public Television Broadcast", Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, April 11, 2011.