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Centuries-old manuscripts telling story of Merlin found in Bristol library

The Merlin manuscripts are centuries old Photo: Bristol University

Fragments of a manuscript dating back to the Middle Ages which tell the story of Merlin the magician have been found in a Bristol library.

The hand-written fragments were found in a series of books deep in the archive of Bristol University’s central library.

Specialists analysing the pieces - which are thought to date back to the 13th century - said they contained “subtle but significant” differences from the traditional story.

The fragments were found in a series of books deep in the archive of Bristol University’s central library. Credit: Bristol University

These fragments of the Story of Merlin are a wonderfully exciting find, which may have implications for the study not just of this text but also of other related and later texts that have shaped our modern understanding of the Arthurian legend.

Time and research will reveal what further secrets about the legends of Arthur, Merlin and the Holy Grail these fragments might hold.

The South West and Wales are, of course, closely bound up with the many locations made famous by the Arthurian legend, so it is all the more special to find an early fragment of the legend - one pre-dating any version written in English - here in Bristol.

– Dr Leah Tether
Left to right: Leah Tether, Laura Chuhan Campbell, Michael Richardson and Benjamin Pohl with the books in Bristol Central Library’s Rare Books Room. Credit: Bristol University

The books in which the fragments were found were all printed in Strasbourg between 1494 and 1502.

At some point, these books made their way to England - where they were later bounded - but experts from the Universities of Bristol and Durham want to investigate this further, to trace the origin of the parchments.

Dr Tether said: "Time and research will reveal what further secrets about the legends of Arthur, Merlin and the Holy Grail these fragments might hold."