Exhibit Gives Inside Look at Vatican Library

General Public, Researchers Offered Chance to Learn, See

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, NOV. 10, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The history of the “Pope’s Library” — the very large collection of books, manuscripts, drawings, plans, parchments, maps, coins, medals and other treasures — is open to the general public through an exhibition titled “Know the Vatican Library: A History Open to the Future.”

The exhibition, which was presented Tuesday at a Vatican press conference, opens Thursday in the Charlemagne Wing on the left-hand side of the Bernini colonnade in St. Peter’s Square. It will close at the end of January.

The exhibit will make known to the general public the history and treasures of the Vatican Library, generally reserved to an exclusive public. The exhibition is framed in a series of events marking the reopening of the library after three years of restoration and modernization.

Going deeper

Monsignor Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Apostolic Library, pointed out “the numerous materials exhibited as originals, copies or reproductions (manuscripts, archive papers, ancient and recent printed volumes, drawings, coins, medals), which give a ‘foretaste’ of what the library is.”

In addition to learning the history of the Apostolic Vatican Library, thanks to the multi-media support and the audio-guide service available in various languages, visitors will be able to appreciate some of the most important treasures kept in the “Pope’s Library.”

ZENIT took part in the visit organized especially for journalists in which one of the guides noted that the exhibition includes the original of the Bodmer Parchment, written in the early years of the 3rd century. In 2006 it was donated to Benedict XVI. It is the oldest manuscript to contain two Gospels (Luke and John).

Manuscripts can also be appreciated of personalities such as Michelangelo and Martin Luther, as well as Boticelli drawings on the Divine Comedy, texts of Dante, Petrarch, Marian homilies from the 7th century, a 10th century transcription of the Bible, and a 9th century Melkite lectionary, among other things.

“The exhibition aims to make the Vatican Library known to people who do not have the privilege of frequenting it,” explained Cardinal Raffaele Farina, archivist and librarian of Holy Roman Church. “But it also seeks to make the broad range of its academic, cultural and artistic treasures better known to its regular users.”


The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V.

Today its collection includes 1.6 million printed books, 80,000 manuscripts, 100,000 archive units, close to 300,000 coins and medals, 150,00 printed materials, drawings, maps and some 150,000 photographs. 

During the three years of restoration, each book was equipped with a chip containing its data so that, if it should be lost, the system can find it and it can be returned to its slot. The structure of the library itself was also repaired. 

Coinciding with the reopening of the library, a conference will be held Thursday through Saturday on “The Apostolic Vatican Library as Place of Research and Institution at the Service of Researchers.”

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