Vatican Library

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The Vatican Apostolic Library (Latin: Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana), more commonly called simply the Vatican Library, is the library of the Holy See, currently located in Vatican City. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 codices from throughout history.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Historical periods[edit]

Scholars have traditionally divided the history of the library into five periods.[3]

  • Pre-Lateran. The initial days of the library, dating from the earliest days of the church, before it moved to the Lateran Palace; only a handful of volumes survive from this period, though some are very significant.
  • Lateran. Lasted until the end of the 13th century and the reign of Pope Boniface VIII.
  • Avignon. This period saw a great growth in book collection and record keeping by the popes who were in residence in southern France in Avignon between the death of Boniface and the 1370s when the Papacy returned to Rome.
  • Pre-Vatican. From about 1370 to 1446, the library was scattered, with parts in Rome, Avignon and elsewhere.
  • Vatican. Starting around 1448, the library moved to the Vatican and a continuous history begins to the present time.


Pope Nicholas V established the library in the Vatican in 1448 by combining 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. The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana was established in 1475.[1]

When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3,500 items, making it by far the largest in the Western world. Around 1587, Pope Sixtus V commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana to construct a new building for the library; it is still in use today. Books were displayed on benches to which they were chained.

Bequests and acquisitions[edit]

The Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library.

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 (who had just acquired it as booty in the Thirty Years' War) 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 (mostly amassed by her generals as booty from Habsburg Prague and German cities during the Thirty Years War) 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.

Current holdings[edit]

Today, the library holds some 75,000 manuscripts and over 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. The Vatican Secret Archives were separated from the library at the beginning of the 17th century; they contain another 150,000 items.

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.

The Vatican Library is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology, 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.

The Library closed on 17 July 2007.[4] It was reopened September 20, 2010.[5]

A School of Library Science is associated with the Vatican Library.

In 1959, a Film Library was established.[6] This is not to be confused with the Vatican Film Library, which was established in 1953 at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.

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.[7]


A miniature from the Syriac Gospel Lectionary (Vat. Syr. 559), created ca. 1220 near Mosul and exhibiting a strong Islamic influence.
The Abyss of Hell, coloured drawing on parchment by Sandro Botticelli (1480s)

Notable manuscripts in the Library include:

Illuminated manuscripts:


Architecture and art[edit]

In the Sala di Consultazione or main reference room of the Vatican Library looms a statue of St Thomas Aquinas (c. 1910), sculpted by Cesare Aureli. A second version of this statue c. 1930 stands under the entrance portico of the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum.[8][9]


Name Lifetime Title Time as Librarian[10][11]
Marcello Cervini 1501–1555 Bibliothecarius I May 24, 1550April 9, 1555
Roberto de' Nobili 1541–1559 Bibliothecarius II 1555–January 18, 1559
Alfonso Carafa 1540–1565 Bibliothecarius III 1559–August 29, 1565
Marcantonio da Mula 1506–1572 Bibliothecarius IV 1565–March 17, 1572[12]
Guglielmo Sirleto 1514–1585 Bibliothecarius V March 18, 1572October 16, 1585
Antonio Carafa 1538–1591 Bibliothecarius VI October 16, 1585January 13, 1591
Marco Antonio Colonna 1523 ca.–1597 Bibliothecarius VII 1591–March 13, 1597
Cesare Baronio 1538–1607 Bibliothecarius VIII May 1597June 30, 1607[13]
Ludovico de Torres (it) 1552–1609 Bibliothecarius IX July 4, 1607July 8, 1609
Scipione Borghese Caffarelli 1576–1633 Bibliothecarius X June 11, 1609February 17, 1618[14]
Scipione Cobelluzzi 1564–1626 Bibliothecarius XI February 17, 1618June 29, 1626
Francesco Barberini 1597–1679 Bibliothecarius XII July 1, 1626December 13, 1633
Antonio Barberini 1569–1646 Bibliothecarius XIII December 13, 1633September 11, 1646
Orazio Giustiniani 1580–1649 Bibliothecarius XIV September 25, 1646July 25, 1649
Luigi Capponi 1583–1659 Bibliothecarius XV August 4, 1649April 6, 1659
Flavio Chigi 1631–1693 Bibliothecarius XVI June 21, 1659September 19, 1681[15]
Lorenzo Brancati 1612–1693 Bibliothecarius XVII September 19, 1681November 30, 1693
Girolamo Casanate 1620–1700 Bibliothecarius XVIII December 2, 1693March 3, 1700
Enrico Noris 1631–1704 Bibliothecarius XIX March 26, 1700February 23, 1704
Benedetto Pamphili 1653–1730 Bibliothecarius XX February 26, 1704March 22, 1730
Angelo Maria Querini 1680–1755 Bibliothecarius XXI September 4, 1730January 6, 1755
Domenico Passionei 1682–1761 Bibliothecarius XXII July 10, 1741January 12, 1755(P)
January 12, 1755July 5, 1761
Alessandro Albani 1692–1779 Bibliothecarius XXIII August 12, 1761December 11, 1779
Francesco Saverio de Zelada 1717–1801 Bibliothecarius XXIV December 15, 1779December 29, 1801
Luigi Valenti Gonzaga 1725–1808 Bibliothecarius XXV January 12, 1802December 29, 1808
Giulio Maria della Somaglia 1744–1830 Bibliothecarius XXVI January 26, 1827April 2, 1830
Giuseppe Albani 1750–1834 Bibliothecarius XXVII April 23, 1830December 3, 1834
Luigi Lambruschini 1776–1854 Bibliothecarius XXVIII December 11, 1834June 27, 1853
Angelo Mai 1782–1854 Bibliothecarius XXIX June 27, 1853September 9, 1854
Antonio Tosti 1776–1866 Bibliothecarius XXX January 13, 1860March 20, 1866
Jean-Baptiste Pitra 1812–1889 Bibliothecarius XXXI January 19, 1869February 9, 1889[16]
Placido Maria Schiaffino (it) 1829–1889 Bibliothecarius XXXII February 20, 1889September 23, 1889
Alfonso Capecelatro 1824–1912 Bibliothecarius XXXIII August 29, 1890November 14, 1912[17]
Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro 1843–1913 Bibliothecarius XXXIV November 26, 1912December 16, 1913
Francesco di Paola Cassetta 1841–1919 Bibliothecarius XXXV January 3, 1914March 23, 1919
Aidan [Francis Neil] Gasquet 1845–1929 Bibliothecarius XXXVI May 9, 1919April 5, 1929
Franz Ehrle 1845–1934 Bibliothecarius XXXVII April 17, 1929March 31, 1934
Giovanni Mercati 1866–1957 Bibliothecarius XXXVIII June 18, 1936August 23, 1957
Eugène Tisserant 1884–1972 Bibliothecarius XXXIX September 14, 1957March 27, 1971
Antonio Samoré 1905–1983 Bibliothecarius XL January 25, 1974February 3, 1983
Alfons Maria Stickler 1910–2007 Bibliothecarius XLI September 7, 1983May 27, 1985(P)
May 27, 1985July 1, 1988
Antonio María Javierre Ortas 1921–2007 Bibliothecarius XLII July 1, 1988January 24, 1992
Luigi Poggi 1917-2010[18] Bibliothecarius XLIII April 9, 1992November 29, 1994(P)
November 29, 1994November 25, 1997
Jorge María Mejía 1923- Bibliothecarius XLIV March 7, 1998November 24, 2003
Jean-Louis Tauran 1943- Bibliothecarius XLV November 24, 2003June 25, 2007
Raffaele Farina 1933- Bibliothecarius XLVI June 25, 2007June 9, 2012
Jean-Louis Bruguès 1943- Bibliothecarius XLVII June 26, 2012-

(P) Indicates time spent as Pro-Librarian

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 two offices are held by an Archbishop who is generally named a Cardinal; this is due to the fact that it is a very well regarded and important Curial department. Also, it is because the Vatican has a long and proud tradition of producing, preserving, and classifying ancient important religious, philosophical, and theological published works and the Church also does much work to promote literacy and education, and access to it. The Cardinal Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church is assisted by two prelates, who are the Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library (the everyday manager of the Library), and the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives (who handles the daily affairs of the Archives). They are each assisted by a Vice-Prefect. The current Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library is Monsignor Cesare Pasini (who is also the Director of the Vatican School of Library Science). 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.[19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Vatican Film Library informational pamphlet
  2. ^ McKenna, Josephine (March 20, 2014). "Vatican library plans to digitise 82,000 of its most valuable manuscripts". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on March 23, 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2014. 
  3. ^ See "Vatican Library", Dictionary of the Middle Ages.
  4. ^ Willey, David (17 July 2007). "Vatican Library closure irks scholars". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  5. ^ "Vatican Library Homepage". Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "Statute of the Vatican film-library". 
  7. ^ "CNS STORY: Vatican Library, Oxford's Bodleian launch major digitization project". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  8. ^ Hendrix, John. History and culture in Italy. University Presss of America. Retrieved September 9, 2012.  This sculpture is described in the following words: S. Tommaso seduto, nella sinistra tiene il libro della Summa theologica, mentre stende la destra in atto di proteggere la scienza cristiana. Quindi non siede sulla cattedra di dottore, ma sul trono di sovrano protettore; stende il braccio a rassicurare, non a dimostrare. Ha in testa il dottorale berretto, e conservando il suo tipo tradizionale, rivela nel volto e nell'atteggiamento l'uomo profondamente dotto. L'autore non ha avuto da ispirarsi in altr'opera che esistesse sul soggetto, quindi ha dovuto, può dirsi, creare questo tipo, ed è riuscito originale e felice nella sua creazione."
  9. ^ Nel giubileo episcopale di Leone XIII. omaggio della Biblioteca vaticana XIX febbraio anno MDCCCXCIII. Retrieved September 9, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Vatican Library History". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  11. ^ "Vatican Apostolic LibraryInstitute Connected with the Holy See". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  12. ^ "Consistory of February 26, 1561 (II)". 2006-08-05. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  13. ^ "Consistory of September June 5, 1596 (II)". 2007-04-15. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  14. ^ "Consistory of July 18, 1605 (I)". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  15. ^ "Consistory of April 9, 1657 (I)". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  16. ^ "Consistory of March 16, 1863 (XIII)". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  17. ^ "Consistory of July 27, 1885 (VIII)". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  18. ^ "Luigi Poggi". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  19. ^ "Government | Sito ufficiale dell'Archivio Segreto Vaticano – Città del Vaticano". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  20. ^ "BAV - Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°54′17″N 12°27′16″E / 41.90472°N 12.45444°E / 41.90472; 12.45444