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Vatican-HP Project Makes for a Holy Site

The Holy See and the tech firm place Bible texts and rare works of art from the previously closed Apostolic Library on the Internet.

October 30, 2002|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

Hewlett-Packard Co. has a divine new client. Considering the slowdown in corporate spending, it's a blessing.

The Palo Alto-based technology giant and the Holy See said Tuesday that they had placed selected treasures from the Vatican's Apostolic Library on the Internet.

Scans of ancient Bible texts, rare works of art and handwritten letters from the likes of Michelangelo and Martin Luther were chosen by Vatican officials for the site debut. The collection previously had been open only to scholars and church officials.

Vatican officials selected items to place on the site from among the library's vast collection of nearly 2 million printed volumes, including 8,000 printed before 1500, 75,000 manuscripts and hundreds of thousands of coins and medals. HP's contribution included technical consulting along with donated computer servers, scanners and other hardware items.

Didier Philippe, HP's director of strategy and development in Europe, said the motivation for the donation had more to do with history and art than with business.

But he recognized that the Catholic Church could be a huge buyer.

"It is a very decentralized organization," Philippe said, speaking from Geneva.

"They have bishops all over the world making decisions about what equipment they buy."

Officials at the Vatican, which has been an HP customer for about 10 years, could not be reached for comment.

The association with the Vatican may not provide a big boost to HP's sales. But the donation could help HP mend damage done to its image last year during its contentious proxy fight to take over Compaq Computer Corp., said Rob Enderle, technology analyst for the research firm Giga Information Group.

"They still have core value in the brand, but they want to be trusted again, like the old HP," Enderle said. "This is the kind of thing a company can use to recoup an image."

HP shares fell 27 cents to $15 on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Biblical scholar Anthony Tambasco, a professor of theology at Georgetown University in Washington, was eager to explore the site, given that the church highly restricts access to the library, even for scholars. His initial impression was that the site was difficult to navigate and its offerings were frustratingly limited.

For instance, only one page from the rare "B" version of the "Codex Vaticanus" Bible is available online. And although much of the site is in English and other languages, large portions of it -- including an enticing section called "Vatican Secret Archives" -- are only in Italian.

"This is not of much use to scholars," he said. "It's more like a museum exhibit."

HP spokeswoman Alison Connor said the site would become more comprehensive. "This is just for the rollout," she said. "They are just scratching the surface."

The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V. It was opened to researchers in 1883.

To access the site in English, go to _en.htm and click on "Vatican Library."

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