Friday, July 25, 2008

Cracking the Vatican Code

Chiesa: "The Library of the Popes Is Closed. But on the Web, It's More Open Than Ever," by Sandro Magister

For three years, major restoration work is blocking access to the most valuable library in the world. In compensation, it has opened a new internet site. With the images of many of its famous manuscripts.

For more than a year, the Apostolic Vatican Library has been closed for maintenance. And it will remained closed for another two years, until 2010. This is no small matter for a library that is unique in the world for the number and quality of the works it contains: more than 150,000 manuscript volumes, more than one million printed books, including 8,300 incunabula, more than 300,000 coins and medals, and more than 70,000 prints and engravings.

The shutdown is not complete. All of the manuscripts, for example, had to be moved from their shelves, but a laboratory for restoring them continues to function. And the laboratory for the photographic reproduction of the texts also continues to function, to meet the many requests that continue to arrive from all over the world.

In any case, the reading rooms, normally visited by an average of 150 scholars per day, will remain closed. In compensation, a new internet site for the library has been available for one month, in Italian and English: The Vatican Library

The new website provides news on the status of the restoration work. But above all, it gives access to the catalogs of the works kept in the library. The main new development is that in addition to the catalog for printed works, there is now also a catalog for manuscripts. For now, it contains a limited amount of information. But it has already been supplemented – for the manuscripts accompanied by complete descriptions – with a selection of images freely available for view.

With respect to the library, the Vatican Secret Archive is another matter. It contains the documents concerning the central government of the Catholic Church. It is called "secret" because it is the private archive of the pontiff. He is its sole owner, establishing its norms and deciding whether to open it for consultation.

- Caption: Pope Nicholas V and the Origins of the Vatican Library- Giovanni Michele Nagonio, Prognostichon Hierosolymitanum, Parchment, 1507 -

Today, it can be consulted through the entire pontificate of Pius XI, meaning up until 1939. The next section to be opened, the one dealing with the pontificate of Pius XII, will give free access up until 1958, but a wide selection of documents from the years of the second world war has already been public for some time. Every day, from 50-80 scholars from all over the world visit the secret archive. Its more than two million documents occupy 80 linear kilometers of shelving. (...) >>>

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