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People of the book

Some of the rarest religious books in the Vatican and Bodleian libraries are being placed online in a joint project by the two institutions, which will eventually create an online archive of 1.5m pages.

The website (http://bav.bodleian. ox.ac.uk) launched in December with the first results from a four-year project, including the Bodleian's 1455 Gutenberg Bible, one of only 50 copies of the first book printed in the west with metal type.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the digitisation was of huge international significance.

'Where you can see these ancient texts there is just a lifting of the spirits … I think those who did the printing in the past would think the scanning was a very considerable improvement, it must have been very hard work. Essentially the scanners of today and the printers of the past are engaged in very similar work.'

Further works to be digitised include works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hippocrates. The Bodleian's collection was, at the end of the 17th century the most important in Britain. The Vatican's texts include the oldest Hebrew codex in existence, and a copy of the entire Bible written in Italy around 1100. The Vatican's collection of almost 9,000 'incunabula' - the earliest printed texts, many published in Rome - is the fourth largest in the world, followed closely by the Bodleian's.