Vatican Library

The Vatican Library (Latin: Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana) is the library of the Holy See, currently located in Vatican City. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 codices from throughout history. From July 2007, the library had been temporarily closed to the public for rebuilding, and reopened in September 2010.

Historical periods

Scholars have traditionally divided the history of the library into five periods.

  • Pre-Lateran. The initial days of the library, dating from the earliest days of the church, before it moved to the Lateran Palace; only a handful of volumes survive from this period, though some are very significant.
  • Lateran. Lasted until the end of the 13th century and the reign of Pope Boniface VIII.
  • Avignon. This period saw a great growth in book collection and record keeping by the popes who were in residence in southern France in Avignon between the death of Boniface and the 1370s when the Papacy returned to Rome.
  • Pre-Vatican. From about 1370 to 1446, the library was scattered, with parts in Rome, Avignon and elsewhere.
  • Vatican. Starting around 1448, the library moved to the Vatican and a continuous history begins to the present time.

Pope Nicholas V established the library in the Vatican 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. The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana was established in 1475.

When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3,500 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.

Bequests and acquisitions

The library was enriched by several bequests and acquisitions over the centuries.

In 1623, the hereditary Palatine Library of Heidelberg containing about 3,500 manuscripts was given to the Vatican by Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria (who had just acquired it as booty in the Thirty Years' War) 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 to the University of Heidelberg, including the Codex Manesse. 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.

Queen Christina of Sweden's important library (mostly amassed by her father Gustavus Adolphus as booty from Habsburg Prague and German cities during the Thirty Years War) was bought by Pope Alexander VIII on her death in 1689. It represented, for all practical purposes, the entire royal library of Sweden at the time. If it had remained where it was in Stockholm, it would all have been lost in the destruction of the royal palace by fire in 1697.

Current holdings

Today, the library holds some 75,000 manuscripts and over 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. The Vatican Secret Archives were separated from the library at the beginning of the 17th century; they contain another 150,000 items.

Among the most famous holdings of the library is the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, the oldest known nearly complete manuscript of the Bible. The Secret History of Procopius was discovered in the library and published in 1623.

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.

The Library closed on 17 July 2007. It was reopened September 20, 2010.

A School of Library Science is associated with the Vatican Library.

In 1959, a Film Library was established. This is not to be confused with the Vatican Film Library, which was established in 1953 at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.


Notable manuscripts in the Library include:

Illuminated manuscripts:

  • Vergilius Vaticanus
  • Vergilius Romanus
  • Barberini Gospels
  • Joshua Roll
  • De arte venandi cum avibus
  • Vatican Croatian Prayer Book


  • Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209
  • Libri Carolini
  • Bartolomeo Platina (1475–1481)
  • Cesare Baronio
  • Marcello Cervini (1548–1555)
  • Gulielmus Allen
  • Scipione Borghese (1609–1618)
  • Lucas Holstenius (1653–1649)
  • Luigi Capponi (1649-1659)
  • Flavio Chigi (1659–1661)
  • Henricus Noris, OSA (1700–1704)
  • Benedetto Pamphilj (1704–1730)
  • Angelo Maria Quirini, OSB (1730–1740)
  • Domenico Silvio Passionei (1755–1761)
  • Alessandro Albani (1761–1779)
  • Luige Valente Gonzaga (1802–1808)
  • Giuseppe Albani (23 April 1830 – 3 December 1834)
  • Angelo Mai (27 June 1853 – 9 September 1854)
  • Antonio Tosti (13 January 1860 – 20 March 1866)
  • Jean-Baptiste-François Pitra (19 January 1869 – 12 May 1879)
  • Alfonso Capecelatro di Castelpagano (1899 – 11 November 1912)
  • Francis Aidan Gasquet (9 May 1919 – 5 April 1929)
  • Franz Ehrle (17 April 1929 – 31 March 1934)
  • Giovanni Mercati (1936–1957)
  • Eugène-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Tisserant (14 September 1957 – 27 March 1971)
  • Antonio Samore (25 January 1974 – 3 February 1983)
  • Alfons Maria Stickler (8 September 1983 – 1 July 1988)
  • Antonio María Javierre Ortas (1 July 1988 – 24 January 1992)
  • Luigi Poggi (9 April 1992 – 7 March 1998 )
  • Jorge María Mejía (7 March 1998 – 24 November 2003)
  • Jean-Louis Tauran (24 November 2003 – 25 June 2007)
  • Raffaele Farina (25 June 2007 – )

The office of Librarian of Vatican Library has been held at the same time as that of Archivist of Vatican Secret Archives since 1957.

Building Activity

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    about 6 years ago via