Details of induction: 2017
Preserver: The National Library
Further information: The Fragmenta membranea collection on the National Library website
The Fragmenta membranea collection
The Fragmenta membranea collection contains 9,319 parchment leaves from approximately 1,400 medieval books. Most of these books were in use in the Middle Ages in parish churches in what is now Finland. Most of the leaves are from Latin liturgical books, but the collection also contains fragments from legal and theological books. The oldest leaf in the collection dates to the 11th century; the latest are from the beginning of the 16th century.
The Fragmenta membranea collection is the largest literary collection from the Middle Ages in Finland. It presents a comprehensive image of what our country’s earliest written culture was like and how literacy arrived in Finland. The collection is large, unique and sheds light on an era of Finnish history which no other material collection does.
The collection is also a sample of common medieval manuals which is rare from an international perspective. Parish books have not been well preserved in Europe, because they lost their value because of the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and printing. Because the parchment in the books was a durable raw material, it was reused. In Sweden, the Crown’s Wasa-era tax collectors were responsible for this recycling, as they used the parchment as covers for their account books from the 1540s. As the tax collectors toured the country and used the parish books as material for their book covers, they accidentally gathered a representative sample of the most common medieval books that have mostly been destroyed elsewhere.
Tax accounts from all parts of the realm were archived in Stockholm, but when Finland was annexed by Russia in 1809, documentary material concerning Finland was moved first to Turku and then to Helsinki. This also meant that the tax collectors’ account books with their medieval covers from the 16th and 17th centuries also arrived in Finland. In the 1840s, the parchment covers were removed from the account books in the State Archives. The parchments were gathered as a separate collection which was moved to the Imperial Alexander University library (the current National Library) by decree of the Senate in 1843.