The pages of the Beauvais Missal were scattered in 1942. Now they show up where least expected.
A Maine man is making headlines after stumbling upon a piece of Catholic history at an estate sale. The piece in question is a page from a 700-year-old French manuscript, one of hundreds that were removed and sold individually in the 1940s.
When Will Sideri, 24, visited a local estate sale in Maine, he thought he’d find a deal on a used cake mixer. As he perused the offerings, however, his eyes landed on a framed sheet of music with the label: “1285 AD. Illuminated manuscript on vellum. $75.’’
Sideri told The Maine Monitor that he immediately recognized the page as belonging to a medieval manuscript, because he had taken a class on the subject at Colby College. He quickly texted his old professor, Megan Cook, who used a photograph to confirm the page’s authenticity with her colleagues while Sideri ran home to grab some additional funds for the purchase.
Within hours, the Colby College staff identified the page as an original from the the Beauvais Missal. This French manuscript, according to Broken Books, is one of the best-known victims of 20th-century biblioclasm. Written in the 13th century, this manuscript wound up on Sotheby’s auction catalog in 1926, and was purchased by none other than newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst maintained ownership of the Beauvais Missal until 1942, when he sold it to a New York dealer named Philip Duschnes, who unbound the missal and sold each page individually. This tactic allowed Duschnes to make a much larger profit than selling the book as a whole, but it has made it practically impossible to track down all the pages. Although historians have sought the pages for decades, only 114 of the original 309 leaves are accounted for.
Sideri was delighted by the discovery, not least of all because of the incredible deal. This page he secured for $75 has been valued between $5,000 and $10,000. Cook’s colleagues called the low asking price “ridiculous” and considered finding a piece of history so cheap to be “the dream.”
Once the page was secured, it was brought to Colby College, where Sideri works in admissions. There it was reunited with Colby College’s own page from the Beauvais Missal for the first time in 80 years. Professor Cook shared a picture of the two pages on Twitter: