The walls, the floor, the ceiling - everything is black. The light is dimmed to such an extent that visitors’ eyes first have to become accustomed to it when they enter the room. Behind the glass in the black showcase, a golden cross from the 15th century catches the eye. It seems to hover in its dark surroundings. The cross depicts the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, surrounded by the symbols of the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the background, the air-conditioning hums quietly.
The dark room, the dimmed lighting and the air-conditioning are all necessary to protect the valuable objects in the Bible Museum. "Very many of the exhibits need special conservation measures," explains the museum’s curator, Dr. Jan Graefe. "Parchment, for example, continues to live. It both releases and absorbs moisture. The objects we have on display consist of a variety of different materials such as paper, papyrus, leather or wood," he adds. For the past five and a half years, the Bible Museum - one of eight in Germany - was closed while it was being redesigned with respect both to content and to the technical requirements for the exhibits. When the museum reopens on 13 December, 1500 exhibits will be on display over an area of around 160 square metres. For the first time, the 650 Latin, Greek and polyglot Bibles from the Walter Remy collection will be on display to the public.
The two showcases, 13 metres in length and each with its own integrated air-conditioning, are unique. Inside each showcase the temperature is at a constant 18-10 degrees Celsius. The humidity is between 45 and 50 percent. The air is continuously circulated. "These values must not vary by more than three percent at the most within any period of 24 hours," Graefe explains. "If the values deviate too much, I get a notification on my mobile." The lighting, too, is adapted to the requirements for conserving the Bibles, some of which are a thousand years old. The lighting level in the room is only 30 to 40 lux. By way of comparison: a cloud-free summer’s day reaches anything up to 100,000 lux. Visitors can use virtual reality (VR) to find out more about the history of the Bible Museum - which is part of the Institute of New Testament Textual Research (INTF) - as well as about its responsibilities and the research currently being undertaken there. The digital guided tour, designed especially for a VR headset, provides explanations of New Testament textual research.
The museum uses original Bibles to illuminate the history of the Bible as the central medium in transporting the Christian faith, and besides curating its collection - the only one of its kind in Münster and North Rhine-Westphalia - it also conserves, expands and conducts research into it. The main focus of the exhibition is on the Greek New Testament and the German-language Bible. Researchers at the INTF study the history of the Bible. The main question they are looking at is the reconstruction of the original text, and they are looking into what the precise wording of the Greek New Testament originally was - because all the original manuscripts of the 27 books in the New Testament are now lost. All we now have are copies which were made in later centuries, and their respective content sometimes differs greatly. Today, the edition of the New Testament reconstructed at the University of Münster is used worldwide by all the main churches and centres of research and teaching. It is also the basis for almost all modern translations of the Bible. "Our collection continues to be available for researchers to access, because there’s a lot that still hasn’t been researched. In addition," Graefe adds, "there will again be seminars held for students in the Bible Museum
The new concept designed for the museum will also see a succession of changing exhibits on display. "In December we’ll be showing passages from the Bible that deal with Christmas, and at Easter or Whitsun we’ll be exhibiting new discoveries," says Graefe. One of the specialities of the collection is a Luther Bible containing a dedication written in Luther’s own hand during the final days of his life. A Sumerian clay tablet dating from around 2500 BCE is the oldest exhibit. The tablet, measuring twelve by seven centimetres, has a creation story covering its surface.
The reopening of the museum comes during a year in which two anniversaries have been celebrated: the 40th birthday of the museum and the 60th of the INTF.