Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Riches of the Vatican Library

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Riches of the Vatican Library

Article excerpt

The riches of the Vatican library

THE Vatican Library was officially founded by Pope Sixtus IV on 15 June 1475 by the Bull Ad decorem militantis Ecclesiae. By that date however the papal library already had a long history. It contained collections of ancient manuscripts assembled by earlier Popes following a tradition which began with Damasus in the fourth century and was continued by Boniface VIII (during whose pontificate the first catalogue was produced) and by its first real promoter, the humanist Pope Nicolas V who opened the Library to the public and left at his death over 1,500 manuscripts.

In 1481 the Library possessed 3,500 manuscripts acquired by papal envoys throughout Europe. The contents of other works were recorded for posterity by a throng of copyists. The humanist preoccupations of this period, which were welcomed and encouraged by the Popes, not only in included the holy scriptures, patrological and theological works, but also extended to secular texts: philosophy, literature (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, Copt and Arabic), law, history, art, architecture and music. The Vatican Library still perpetuates this humanist tradition today.

The heritage constituted by successive Popes has been enriched by the donation, acquisition or deposit of entire libraries. Some of the most important libraries in Europe thus came into the hands of the Vatican Library. Notable among them are the Palatine Library of Heidelberg (1622), the libraries of the dukes of Urbino (1657), of Queen Christina (1690), and of many patrician families, as well as holdings from churches and other Vatican institutions such as the basilica of St. …

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