DEKALB, Ill. – As Jennifer Wegmann-Gabb researched a page from a 13th-century Paris Bible, she asked, “Who’s that girl?”
The problem is the “girl” she was inquiring about – a figure in an enlarged “O’’ at the start of a passage – is identified as a man. Namely the figure is identified as King Solomon, a leader known for his wisdom, wealth and writings.
However, Wegmann-Gabb concluded, the drawing really is Ecclesia, a female form representing the church.
After spending months researching the leaf from the 13th-century Bible, The Northern Illinois University student hopes the university will change the way the leaf is described to accurately identify the figure in the “O.”
Wegmann-Gabb, 33, of Woodstock, Ill., found the Bible leaf during an art history class she took as part of her bachelor’s degree program in history. Her affinity for medieval history led her to study the Bible.
“When we’re talking medieval universities, it’s religious,” Wegmann-Gabb said. “The primary textbook is the Old and New Testament.”
The Bible leaf came to Northern Illinois as part of a collection of leaves the university purchased in 2004. It is part of a Founders Memorial Library special collection that very little is known about. It is reviewed by waves of students studying medieval history, the history of the book and other subjects.
Those familiar with the modern Bible might not recognize the passage that starts on the leaf. Not only is it written in Latin, it’s from the book of Ecclesiasticus, which is not included in the modern Protestant Bible.
After Wegmann-Gabb identified the text, she questioned why the accompanying materials would identify King Solomon as the figure in the letter, which is decorated with designs representing scenes from the text.
“It’s all about wisdom on life, God and the afterlife, the role of the church,” Wegmann-Gabb said. “After learning what the book was about I started to wonder why they would use King Solomon when it’s not about him.”
She compared the leaf to similar artifacts at libraries across the country, including at Harvard University, when she found a similar pattern that supported her theory the figure was not actually King Solomon, but Ecclesia.
In other leaves she found Ecclesia crowned, sitting on a throne and holding a chalice, as the figure on Northern Illinois’s leaf is depicted. The figure in the Northern Illinois leaf also has a clean-shaven face.
“I found a few leaves where men are depicted, but they are clearly men,” Wegmann-Gabb said. “As in, they have beards. If it’s a man it’s clearly a man.”
Wegmann-Gabb’s findings are contained in a paper she plans to give to Founders Memorial Library officials in hopes they will incorporate her suggestion in the accompanying materials when the artifact is added the university’s digital collection.
Although it would take a while, the university would consider Wegmann-Gabb’s research on an item very little is known about, said Lynne Thomas, the curator for rare and special collections at Founders.
“We would look at the evidence and there’s a chance it could be added to the description on the online finding aid,” Thomas said. “There’s no reason not to consider it.”