Vatican Library


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Overview

The Vatican Apostolic Library , more commonly known as the Vatican Library or informally as the Vat, is the library of the Holy See, located in Vatican City. Formally established in 1475, although it is much older, it is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. It has 75,000 codices from throughout history, as well as 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula.

The Vatican Library is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology. The Vatican Library is open to anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs. Photocopies for private study of pages from books published between 1801 and 1990 can be requested in person or by mail.

Pope Nicholas V envisioned a new Rome with extensive public works to lure pilgrims and scholars alike to the city to begin its transformation. Nicolas decided that he wanted to create a 'public library' for Rome that was meant to be seen as an institution for humanist scholarship. His death prevented him from carrying out his plan of a public library, but his idea lived on with his successor Pope Sixtus IV who established what is now known as the Vatican Library.

In March 2014, the Vatican Library began an initial four-year project of digitising its collection of manuscripts, to be made available online.

The Vatican Secret Archives were separated from the library at the beginning of the 17th century; they contain another 150,000 items.

Historical periods

Scholars have traditionally divided the history of the library into five periods, Pre-Lateran, Lateran, Avignon, Pre-Vatican and Vatican.

The Pre-Lateran period, comprising the initial days of the library, dated from the earliest days of the Church. Only a handful of volumes survive from this period, though some are very significant.

The Lateran era began when the library moved to the Lateran Palace and lasted until the end of the 13th century and the reign of Pope Boniface VIII, who died in 1303, by which time he possessed one of the most notable collections of illuminated manuscripts in Europe. However, in that year, the Lateran Palace was burnt and the collection plundered by Philip IV of France.

The Avignon period was during the Avignon Papacy, when seven successive popes resided in Avignon, France. This period saw a great growth in book collection and record keeping by the popes in Avignon, between the death of Boniface and the 1370s when the Papacy returned to Rome.

The Pre-Vatican period ranged from about 1370 to 1446. The library was scattered during this time, with parts in Rome, Avignon and elsewhere.

In 1451, bibliophile Pope Nicholas V sought to establish a public library at the Vatican, in part to re-establish Rome as a destination for scholarship. Nicholas combined some 350 Greek, Latin and Hebrew codices inherited from his predecessors with his own collection and extensive acquisitions, among them manuscripts from the imperial Library of Constantinople. Pope Nicholas also expanded his collection by employing Italian and Byzantine scholars to translate the Greek classics into Latin for his library. The knowledgeable Pope already encouraged the inclusion of pagan classics. Nicolas was important in saving many of the Greek works and writings during this time period that he had collected while traveling and acquired from others.

In 1455, the collection had grown to 1200 books, of which 400 were in Greek language.

Nicholas' death in 1455 prevented the completion of his vision of a public library, but it was finished in 1475 by his successor Pope Sixtus IV, and named the Palatine Library. During the papacy of Sixtus IV, acquisitions were made in "theology, philosophy and atristic literature". The number of manuscripts is variously counted as 3,500 in 1475 or 2,527 in 1481, when librarian Bartolomeo Platina produced a signed listing. At the time it was the largest collection of books in the Western world.

During his reign, Pope Julius II commissioned the expansion of the building. Around 1587, Pope Sixtus V commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana to construct a new building for the library, which is still used today. It was after this the library became known as the Vatican Library.

During the Counter-Reformation, access to the library's collections was limited following the introduction of the Index of banned books. Scholars' access to the library was restricted, particularly Protestant scholars. Restrictions were lifted during the course of the 17th century, and Pope Leo XIII formally reopened the library to scholars in 1883.

In 1756, Abbot Piaggio conserver of ancient manuscripts in the Vatican Library used a machine he also invented, to unroll the first Herculaneum papyri, which took him months.

In 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte arrested Pope Pius VII, and removed the contents of the library to Paris. The contents were returned in 1817, three years after the defeat of Napoleon.

In 1992 the library had almost 2 million catalogued items.

In 1995 art history teacher Anthony Melnikas from Ohio State University stole three leaves from a medieval manuscript once owned by Francesco Petrarch. One of the stolen leaves contains an exquisite miniature of a farmer threshing grain. A fourth leaf from an unknown source was also discovered in his possession by the U.S. Customs agents. Melnikas was trying to sell the pages to an art dealer, who then alerted Father Leonard E. Boyle, the librarian director.

Location and building

The Library is located inside the Vatican Palace, and the entrance is through the Belvedere Courtyard. When Pope Sixtus V commissioned the expansion and the new building of the Vatican Library, he had a three-story wing built right across Bramante's Cortile del Belvedere, thus bisecting it and changing Bramante's work significantly. At the bottom of a grand staircase a large statue of Hippolytus decorates the La Galea entrance hall.

In the first semi-basement there is a papyrus room and a storage area for manuscripts. The first floor houses the restoration laboratory, and the photographic archives are on the second floor.

The Library has 42 kilometres of shelving.

The Library closed for renovations on 17 July 2007 and reopened 20 September 2010. The three year, 9 million euro renovation involved the complete shut down of the library to install climate controlled rooms.

In the Sala di Consultazione or main reference room of the Vatican Library looms a statue of St Thomas Aquinas , sculpted by Cesare Aureli. A second version of this statue stands under the entrance portico of the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum.

Library organization

The collection was originally organized through notebooks used to index the manuscripts. As the collection grew to more than a few thousand, shelf lists were used. The first modern catalogue system was put in place under Father Franz Ehrle between 1927 and 1939, using the Library of Congress card catalogue system. Ehrle also set up the first program to take photographs of important works or rare works. The library catalogue was further updated by Rev. Leonard E. Boyle when it was computerized in the early 1990s.

Historically, during the Renaissance era, most books were not shelved but stored in wooden benches, which had tables attached to them. Each bench was dedicated to a specific topic. The books were chained to these benches, and if a reader took out a book, the chain remained attached to it. Until the early 17th century, academics were also allowed to borrow books. For important books, the pope himself would issue a reminder slip. Privileges to use the library could be withdrawn for breaking the house rules, for instance by climbing over the tables. Most famously Pico della Mirandola lost the right to use the library when he published a book on theology that the Papal curia did not approve of. In the 1760s, a bill issued by Clement XIII heavily restricted access to the library's holdings.

The Vatican Library can only be accessed by 200 scholars at a time, and it sees 4,000 to 5,000 scholars a year, mostly academics doing post-graduate research.

Collections

While the Vatican Library has always included Bibles, canon law texts and theological works, it specialized in secular books from the beginning. Its collection of Greek and Latin classics was at the center of the revival of classical culture during the Renaissance age. The oldest documents in the library date back to the first century.

The library was founded primarily as a manuscript library, a fact reflected in the comparatively high ratio of manuscripts to printed works in its collection. Such printed books as have made their way into the collection are intended solely to facilitate the study of the much larger collection of manuscripts.

The collection also includes 330,000 Greek, Roman, and papal coins and medals.

Every year about 6,000 new books are acquired.

The library was enriched by several bequests and acquisitions over the centuries.

In 1623, the hereditary Palatine Library of Heidelberg containing about 3,500 manuscripts was given to the Vatican by Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria in thanks for the adroit political maneuvers of Pope Gregory XV that had sustained him in his contests with Protestant candidates for the electoral seat. A token 39 of the Heidelberg manuscripts were sent to Paris in 1797 and were returned to Heidelberg at the Peace of Paris in 1815, and a gift from Pope Pius VII of 852 others was made in 1816 to the University of Heidelberg, including the Codex Manesse. Aside from that, the Palatine Library remains in the Vatican Library to this day.

In 1657, the manuscripts of the Dukes of Urbino were acquired. In 1661, the Greek scholar Leo Allatius was made librarian.

Queen Christina of Sweden's important library was bought by Pope Alexander VIII on her death in 1689. It represented, for all practical purposes, the entire royal library of Sweden at the time. If it had remained where it was in Stockholm, it would all have been lost in the destruction of the royal palace by fire in 1697.

Among the most famous holdings of the library is the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, the oldest known nearly complete manuscript of the Bible. The Secret History of Procopius was discovered in the library and published in 1623.

Pope Clement XI sent scholars into the Orient to bring back manuscripts, and is generally accepted as the founder of the Oriental section.

A School of library science is associated with the Vatican Library.

In 1959, a Film Library was established. This is not to be confused with the Vatican Film Library, which was established in 1953 at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Library has a large collection of texts related to Hinduism, with the oldest editions dating to 1819.

During the library's restoration between 2007 and 2010, all of the 70,000 volumes in the library were tagged with electronic chips to prevent theft.

Notable manuscripts in the Library include: Illuminated manuscripts:

Texts:

In 2012, plans were announced to digitize, in collaboration with the Bodleian Library, a million pages of material from the Vatican Library. A grant was provided by the London-based Polonsky Foundation.

On 20 March 2014, the Holy See announced that NTT Data Corporation and the Library concluded an agreement to digitize approximately 3,000 of the Library's manuscripts within four years. NTT is donating the equipment and technicians, estimated to be worth 18 million Euros. It noted that there is the possibility of subsequently digitizing another 79,000 of the Library's holdings. These will be high-definition images available on the Library's Internet site. Storage for the holdings will be on a three petabyte server provided by EMC. It is expected that the initial phase will take 4 years.

DigiVatLib is the name of the Vatican Library's digital library service. It provides free access to the Vatican Library’s digitized collections of manuscripts and incunabula.

The scanning of documents is impacted by the material used to produce the texts. Books using gold and silver in the illuminations require special scanning equipment. Digital copies are being stored in the CIFS file format.

Related libraries

The Vatican Secret Archives, located in Vatican City, is the central archive for all of the acts promulgated by the Holy See, as well as the state papers, correspondence, papal account books, and many other documents which the church has accumulated over the centuries. In the 17th century, under the orders of Pope Paul V, the Secret Archives were separated from the Vatican Library, where scholars had some very limited access to them, and remained absolutely closed to outsiders until 1881, when Pope Leo XIII opened them to researchers, more than a thousand of whom now examine its documents each year.

The Vatican Film Library in St. Louis, Missouri is the only collection, outside the Vatican itself, of microfilms of more than 37,000 works from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, the Vatican Library in Europe. It is located in the Pius XII Library on the campus of Saint Louis University. The Library was created by Lowrie J. Daly , with funding from the Knights of Columbus. The goal was to make Vatican and other documents more available to researchers in North America.

Microfilming of Vatican manuscripts began in 1951, and according to the Library's website, was the largest microfilming project that had been undertaken up to that date. The Library opened in 1953, and moved to the St. Louis University campus, in the Pius XII Memorial Library, in 1959. The first librarian was Charles J. Ermatinger, who served until 2000. As of 2007, the Library has microfilmed versions of over 37,000 manuscripts, with material in Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and Ethiopic, as well as several more common Western European languages. There are reproductions of many works from the Biblioteca Palatina and Biblioteca Cicognara at the Vatican, as well as Papal letter registers from the Archivio Segreto Vaticano from the 9th to 16th centuries, in the series Registra Vaticana and Registra Supplicationium.

Staff

Originally the director of the library was appointed a Cardinal, and given the title Cardinal Librarian. Individual library staff were called "Custodians". After the reopening of the library in 1883, Pope Leo XIII declared that the Librarian be regarded as a Prefect.

The Cardinal Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church is assisted by two prelates, who are the Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library , and the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives . They are each assisted by a Vice-Prefect.

The office of Librarian of Vatican Library has been held at the same time as that of Archivist of Vatican Secret Archives since 1957.

The current Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library is Monsignor Cesare Pasini . The Vice Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library is Doctor Ambrogio M. Piazzoni. The Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives is a Barnabite Bishop by the name of Sergio Pagano. The Vice Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives is Father Marcel Chappin, S.J. The Archives also is responsible for the Vatican School of Paleography.

The library currently has 80 staff who work in five departments: manuscripts and archival collections, printed books/drawings, acquisitions/cataloguing, coin collections/museums and restoration/photography.

Indicates time spent as Pro-Librarian. This is the role of acting librarian, often a librarian who is not a Cardinal.

Credits: Content from Wikipedia