Going To The Library – Part I

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.

I believe the crest above the library entrance is that of the founder Bishop Angelo Rocca – however I’m a little confused by the Cardinal’s hat incorporated into it as I don’t believe he ever reached that exalted rank. Though it may also reflect the enormous contribution of Cardinal Passionei to the collection.

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:

It houses:

  • 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
Though the collection is now indexed on computer there are still facsimile copies of the first catalogues available around the room. The first handwritten record of the entire contents of the library was begun in 1748 and finally complete in 1786.

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

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

10 thoughts on “Going To The Library – Part I”

  1. Nothing daunted by earlier silence, I've one more suggestion for your trip, which I read about yesterday: Paul Nash exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Great gallery, though bit of a haul to get to, wonderful visionary artist.

  2. Hi, Will. Greetings from Galiano! I hope you two had a good visit with K & B recently.

    We had rented the Italian made-for-TV (but in a good way, without Meredith Baxter x-Birney) melodrama, called “La Meglio Gioventu”, which was very good. There was a scene in the library you describe.

    Here's my very recent attempt at a food blog, if you've a moment:
    islandeat.wordpress.com. Do let me know what you think, Will!



  3. Reblogged this on Willy Or Won't He and commented:

    One of the oh so many joys of living in Rome was taking a walking tour with Natalie (not her real name). She is an American art historian who has lived most of her adult live in Italy and has a wealth of knowledge – both technical and anecdotal – on Italy ancient and modern. And she also seems to have access to things that you just don’t see on the average tour. Somehow on one occasion she managed to set up a private evening tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. After visiting it in a group of only 20 I was never able to go back during the crush of regular opening hours.

    On another occasion she arranged a peak into the rare book collection of the Biblioteca Angelica – one of the first public libraries in the Western world. I thought I’d reblog several posts I wrote back in 2010 after that visit. At the end of this first repost there are links to the other two. I had several others in the works that were left unfinished and languishing in that very large “drafts” folder.

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