Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Pope Nicholas V established the library 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.
When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3500 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.
The library was enriched by several bequests and acquisitions over the centuries.
In 1623, the hereditary Palatine Library of Heidelberg containing about 3500 manuscripts, was given to the Vatican by Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria 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. 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. Christina of Sweden saw to it that her library, which was for all practical purposes the entire royal library of Sweden of the time, became part of the Vatican Library on her death in 1689.
Today, the library holds some 75,000 manuscripts and over 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. The Secret Vatican Archives were separated from the library at the beginning of the 17th century; they contain another 150,000 items.
A commonly repeated urban legend has it that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornography in the world. This is false; the library owns very few pornographic materials, largely file copies of works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. There are also a few mildly erotic works of art, but very little since the Renaissance.
The Vatican Library is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology, open to anyone who can document their qualifications and their research needs to view the collection. Photocopies for private study of pages from books published between 1801 and 1990 can be requested in person or by mail. A School of Library Science is associated with the Vatican Library.
- Vatican Library home page, with online catalog search
- U.S. Library of Congress Vatican exhibition, many images of important documents from the library
- On the pornography urban legend, by snopes.com
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