Bargain hunter at Maine estate sale discovers 700-year-old medieval document

Bargain hunter at Maine estate sale discovers 700-year-old medieval document

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

And it was a steal at $75.

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

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

After spying on the unusual manuscript, Sideri contacted his former Colby College professor, who was familiar with it because there is another page in the college’s collection. The professor contacted another scholar who had researched the document. They quickly confirmed the authenticity.

The scroll was part of a prayer book and liturgy for priests, 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’s publisher, before it was sold in the 1940s and, much to the consternation of scholars today, was broken up into individual pages, he said.

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

Davis has thoroughly researched The Beauvais Missal and has tracked over 100 individual pages across the country. In total, the missal had 309 pages in its original form.

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

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

The scroll is worth more than $10,000, according to Davis. But Sideri said she has no intention of selling it.

He said that he likes the history and beauty of the scroll, and the story of how he came across it.

“This is something at the end of the day that I know is cool,” he said. “I didn’t buy this hoping to sell it.”

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