Bargain hunter scores 700-year-old medieval times document

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A bargain hunter who went to a Maine estate sale to find a KitchenAid mixer, bookshelf, or vintage clothing ran away with a 700-year-old treasure.

Instead of a kitchen appliance, Will Sideri came across a framed document hanging on the wall. It had an elaborate script in Latin, along with musical notes and golden flowers. A sticker said 1285 AD. Based on what he had seen during a manuscript course at Colby College, the document looked downright medieval.

And it was a steal at $75.

Academics confirmed that the parchment came from the Beauvais Missal, used in Beauvais Cathedral in France, and dates back to the late 13th century. It was used in Roman Catholic worship about 700 years ago, they said.

A manuscript expert said the document, first reported by the Maine Monitor, could be worth as much as $10,000.

After Sideri spied on the unusual manuscript, he contacted his former professor at Colby College, who was familiar with it because there is one more page in the university collection. The professor contacted another academic who had researched the document. They quickly confirmed the authenticity.

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The parchment was part of a prayer book and priests’ 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 once belonged to William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher, before it was sold in the 1940s and, much to the dismay of today’s academics, was broken up into individual pages, she said.

The practice was common in the early 20th century. “Thousands of unique manuscripts were destroyed and distributed in this way,” Davis said.

Davis has painstakingly researched The Beauvais Missal, and has tracked down over 100 individual pages across the country. In all, the missal was 309 pages in its original form.

The page purchased by Sideri is of particular interest to scientists.

It’s a treasure, both for its age and condition, much better than the other page in the Colby collection, said Megan Cook, Sideri’s former professor, who teaches medieval literature at Colby.

According to Davis, the parchment is worth more than $10,000. But Sideri said he has no intention of selling it.

He said he loves the history and beauty of the parchment – and the story of how he stumbled upon it.

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“This is ultimately something I know is cool,” he said. “I didn’t buy this expecting to sell it.”


Follow David Sharp on Twitter: @David_Sharp_AP

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