A week ago Tuesday I spent the morning at the public library here in Roma – well okay not just any old public library but one of the earliest public libraries in Europe. Biblioteca Angelica was founded in 1604 by Bishop Angelo (hence Angelica) Rocca, a writer and collector of rare books. He was also in charge of the Vatican Printing House during the pontificate of Pope Sextus V. He entrusted the care of some 20,000 volumes to the Monks at the convent of St Augustine, provided a building, an annuity, and regulations for its operation: the principle rule being that it was open to all people regardless of income or social status. It has functioned as a public library since 1609 and except for a few periods of renovation and civil upheaval has been a major source of learning and research material to anyone over the age of 16 ever since.
In 1661 Lukas Holste, the curator of the Vatican Library, gave his collection of 3,000 printed volumes to the Augustinians. During the period of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation its position as a repository of Augustinian thought and writings means that it is one of the prime research centres for history of that period. The acquisition in 1762 of the huge library of Cardinal Domenico Passionei, collected as he traveled through Protestant Europe as a Papal envoy, meant that books that had been banned where now in a public library.
It was during this period that the monks commissioned Luigi Vanvitelli to rebuild the reading room in 1765. It is this same room that is still in use today. Since 1873 the library has been the property of the Italian state and is currently undergoing restoration and reorganization.
Some Biblioteca Angelica facts:
- over 200,000 volumes in its Heritage Collection
- 100,000 of which were edited between the 15th and 19th centuries
- 24,000 unbound manuscripts
- 2,700 Latin, Greek or Oriental documents
- 1,100 incunabula – books printed before 1501
- 460 unbound maps
- 10,000 maps bound in volumes
- over 120,000 volumes in its Modern Collection
I will be putting up a few posts on some of the rare books in the collection in the next few days. (A left click below will take you to those few posts.)
Going to the Library – Part II – Travel Guides
Going to the Library – Part III – Rare and Wonderful
10 febbraio – Santa Scolastica