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Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

It's a bit of an outsider at Lane Community College, an exquisite antiquity residing among practical boxes of board meeting minutes, student grades and financial records.

For years, it hid in plain sight on the wall of the reference library in the Center Building on campus.

Then, the library was remodeled a year ago, and the 450-year-old parchment came down, relegated to the college archives in the basement where water pipes line bare walls and air ducts hang suspended from the high ceiling.

The 22 1/2 -by-24-inch document is a single page with writing on both sides, taken from a Catholic Mass choir book written in the 1500s.

This week, it resonates with contemporary meaning for LCC archivist Elizabeth Uhlig.

A Catholic liturgy includes chants, like the one spelled out in Latin on the LCC parchment, Uhlig said.

"This is what they're doing in the Vatican right now," she said. "They're putting together their Mass for the pope's funeral."

How this particular piece came to be in Eugene is a bit of a mystery, Uhlig said.

It was donated in the 1960s by a wealthy California businessman, Stanley Slotkin, who apparently collected rare books and gave away some of the pages to universities and colleges.

It's written in Latin, and clearly European, but Uhlig has no idea whether it came from Spain or Italy or elsewhere.

When it came down to the LCC archive, Uhlig contacted a fellow archivist at Mount Angel Abby, a Catholic seminary near Salem with a rare book collection of its own and 30 to 50 pages similar to the LCC piece.

Uhlig learned that the page had been taken from a large choir book likely owned by a church or monastery.

It was part of the Common of Saints and a daily liturgy sung in the afternoon and known as Vespers.

The page is made from animal skin, either goat or sheep, known as parchment, or from calfskin, known as vellum, she said.

Both musical notation and words appear on it, with square rather than round notes on a five-line staff with the chants below.

The ink was probably made of oak gall - a highly tannic tumor on the tree caused by stimulation by insects.

The decorated letters were probably done in tempera, Uhlig said.

Such decorations - known as illuminations - often included elaborate drawings and gold trim, but this page is more plain and may suggest a more modest history, she said.

Regardless, such a choir book would have been an expensive item for a church or monastery to own, she said.

The manuscript was hand-lettered, even though the printing press had been invented 100 years before.

The page appears to be in fairly good condition despite ripples in the skin that suggest it has soaked up some moisture over time.

Now that the page is no longer a library decoration, Uhlig hopes it can become a subject for student research.

She has let teachers in the art, history and literature departments know it's available.

And she has created a Web page that details as much information as she's been able to uncover about the manuscript's origins at

Creating that gave her an odd sense of the old juxtaposed with the new.

"In the one hand, I had a 450-year-old document. In the other, a CD with the photo we'd taken of it," she said.


Archivist Elizabeth Uhlig examines a page from a 16th century choir book. Brian Davies / The Register-Guard
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Title Annotation:Higher Education; An LCC archivist reflects on a 450-year-old parchment from a Catholic choir book
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 8, 2005
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