The Vatican Library
Or: If You're Reading This, You're Already Damned
Catholicism aside--some of you may be familiar with it--the Vatican library is one of the largest in the world, host to untold thousands of volumes the organization of which, no matter how good, will probably still have you taking the Lord's name in vain.
Founded over 500 years ago, the library has been the subject of intrigues, arguments, scandals, rumors, and mysteries, much like the many of its Popes. Stories of hidden stacks, secret archives, and yes, the largest collection of pornography in the world, have all leaked out into the world (no evidence of the latter has been reliably reported, though no doubt not for a lack of looking).
We must remember not to be too, too hard on those angelic archivisits--or devilish dewey decimalists, depending on whose side you're on--they were doing a tough job in a tough time, and though for a great deal of its history, the Vatican did have a lot more up its sleeve than stigmata, I'm not going to judge them. That's not for me to do, as I'm sure I'd be reminded.
So whether you're into heretical scientific manuscripts, heretical works of fiction, or heretical works on heresy, you can find them in the Vatican Library.
You can also probably pick up a magazine to read on the plane. And now...
The History of the Vatican Library
The highlights and hijinx of a book-banning, book-burning, literary lovefest
- 1451: Pope Nicholas V's 1160-volume collection becomes the first installment in the library he conceived 'for the common convenience of the learned.'
- 1475: Pope Sixtus IV builds the place up, restoring a few rooms and manning them with Bartolomeo Platina, the Vatican's first official librarian. He suggests that people really ought to have their own bibles at home.
- 1470-1520: The library swells to 3500 entries as all sorts of people start asking questions and thinking for themselves during the Renaissance. And people are still permitted to access it freely!
- 1570-1610: The Protestant Reformation kills the buzz. The Vatican feels its collective closed collar getting a little snug around the neck, and has itself a Counter-Reformation, creating an Index of Banned Books as well as access restrictions.
- 1623: The Protestant stronghold of Heidelberg falls, and the Catholics take the books back to Rome as intellectual booty. You know. Nerd plunder.
- 1785: Library card, my sainted aunt. Pope Pius VI severely limits manuscript consultation access, drawing heavy criticism from a world without television.
- 1883: Leo XIII reopens the library to qualified researchers. No word on what the qualifications are.
- 1927-1939: Americans go a rovin' once again as the Library of Congress and the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace (which even Carnegie couldn't afford to buy) help the Vatican modernize its cataloguing system. 'Over there' ceases to be a section.
- 1992: The Vatican Library's holdings number above two million, including 8000 incunabula. It also has hundreds of thousands of manuscripts in Hebrew, Persian, Greek, Latin, Ethiopian, Arabic, and Syrian.
There are also maps, charts, cards, coins, engravings, drawings, carvings...the list goes on. The collection grows by thousands of volumes each year, mostly through donations. Plenary indulgences may or may not be given in return.
Probably not. I just couldn't get through something on the Vatican without mentioning plenary indulgences. Love those things.