Vatican Library

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The Vatican Apostolic Library (Template:Lang-la), 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.<ref name=vfl>Vatican Film Library informational pamphlet</ref> In July 2007 the library was closed to the public for rebuilding, reopening in September 2010.<ref name=bbc>Template:Cite news</ref>

Historical periods

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

  • 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.<ref name=vfl/>

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


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

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.<ref name=bbc/> It was reopened September 20, 2010.

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.

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.


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File:Sandro Botticelli - The Abyss of Hell - WGA02853.jpg
The Abyss of Hell, coloured drawing on parchment by Sandro Botticelli (1480s)

Notable manuscripts in the Library include:

Illuminated manuscripts:

  • Barberini Gospels
  • De arte venandi cum avibus
  • Gelasian Sacramentary
  • Joshua Roll
  • Vatican Croatian Prayer Book
  • Vergilius Romanus
  • Vergilius Vaticanus


  • Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209
  • Libri Carolini

Architecture and Art

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.


Name Lifetime Title Time as Librarian
Marcello Cervini 1501–1555 Bibliothecarius I Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Roberto de' Nobili 1541–1559 Bibliothecarius II 1555–Template:Dts
Alfonso Carafa 1540–1565 Bibliothecarius III 1559–Template:Dts
Marcantonio da Mula 1506–1572 Bibliothecarius IV 1565–Template:Dts
Guglielmo Sirleto 1514–1585 Bibliothecarius V Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Antonio Carafa 1538–1591 Bibliothecarius VI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Marco Antonio Colonna 1523 ca.–1597 Bibliothecarius VII 1591–Template:Dts
Cesare Baronio 1538–1607 Bibliothecarius VIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Template:Ill 1552–1609 Bibliothecarius IX Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Scipione Borghese Caffarelli 1576–1633 Bibliothecarius X Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Scipione Cobelluzzi 1564–1626 Bibliothecarius XI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Francesco Barberini 1597–1679 Bibliothecarius XII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Antonio Barberini 1569–1646 Bibliothecarius XIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Orazio Giustiniani 1580–1649 Bibliothecarius XIV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Luigi Capponi 1583–1659 Bibliothecarius XV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Flavio Chigi 1631–1693 Bibliothecarius XVI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Lorenzo Brancati 1612–1693 Bibliothecarius XVII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Girolamo Casanate 1620–1700 Bibliothecarius XVIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Enrico Noris 1631–1704 Bibliothecarius XIX Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Benedetto Pamphili 1653–1730 Bibliothecarius XX Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Angelo Maria Querini 1680–1755 Bibliothecarius XXI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Domenico Passionei 1682–1761 Bibliothecarius XXII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts(P)
Alessandro Albani 1692–1779 Bibliothecarius XXIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Francesco Saverio de Zelada 1717–1801 Bibliothecarius XXIV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Luigi Valenti Gonzaga 1725–1808 Bibliothecarius XXV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Giulio Maria della Somaglia 1744–1830 Bibliothecarius XXVI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Giuseppe Albani 1750–1834 Bibliothecarius XXVII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Luigi Lambruschini 1776–1854 Bibliothecarius XXVIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Angelo Mai 1782–1854 Bibliothecarius XXIX Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Antonio Tosti 1776–1866 Bibliothecarius XXX Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Jean-Baptiste Pitra 1812–1889 Bibliothecarius XXXI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Template:Ill 1829–1889 Bibliothecarius XXXII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Alfonso Capecelatro 1824–1912 Bibliothecarius XXXIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro 1843–1913 Bibliothecarius XXXIV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Francesco di Paola Cassetta 1841–1919 Bibliothecarius XXXV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Aidan [Francis Neil] Gasquet 1845–1929 Bibliothecarius XXXVI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Franz Ehrle 1845–1934 Bibliothecarius XXXVII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Giovanni Mercati 1866–1957 Bibliothecarius XXXVIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Eugène Tisserant 1884–1972 Bibliothecarius XXXIX Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Antonio Samoré 1905–1983 Bibliothecarius XL Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Alfons Maria Stickler 1910–2007 Bibliothecarius XLI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts(P)
Antonio María Javierre Ortas 1921–2007 Bibliothecarius XLII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Luigi Poggi 1917-2010 Bibliothecarius XLIII Template:DtsTemplate:Dts(P)
Jorge María Mejía 1923- Bibliothecarius XLIV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Jean-Louis Tauran 1943- Bibliothecarius XLV Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Raffaele Farina 1933- Bibliothecarius XLVI Template:DtsTemplate:Dts
Jean-Louis Bruguès 1943- Bibliothecarius XLVII Template:Dts-

(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.

See also

  • Vatican Film Library, which contains thousands of documents from the Vatican Library, on microfilm in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Vatican Secret Archives
  • Index of Vatican City-related articles
  • The Vatican Splendors



External links



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