Famous Libraries: The Vatican Library

The Vatican Library, located inside the Vatican Palace in Rome, Italy, is among the oldest libraries in the world. In fact, it’s so old that its history is divided into five periods: the Pre-Lateran, Lateran, Avignon, Pre-Vatican, and Vatican period. All of the periods span over nearly 600 years.  When the Vatican Library first opened in 1448, it held over 3,500 works of literature, which made it the most extensive library in the Western world to date. 

Some of the most notable manuscripts in the Vatican Library are The Vergilius Romanus manuscripts, which contain the Aeneid, and The Joshua Roll, an illuminated manuscript that portrays the Old Testament Book of Joshua. And the oldest manuscript of the Bible, the Codex Vaticanus. These manuscripts, and many other works of literature, are not available to the public. But, in 2014, the Vatican Library started to digitize their collections. If you’d like to view any of the Vatican’s manuscripts online, you can head to their official website

The Vatican Secret Archives has additional literature and is said to be almost 53 miles of shelving, including documents from Mary Queen of Scots and even notes from the trial of Galileo. However, only scholars, professors, and Ph.D. students with the appropriate qualifications can view these texts. If scholars want to view the archives, they must resubmit their requests every six months. Only those who are a part of the Catholic Church’s inner circle have full access to these texts. 

The extensive history of The Vatican Library details the importance of maintaining and curating literature throughout the ages. Although documents in the Secret Archives are not available to the public, the fact that they still exist after so many centuries is incredible. The Vatican Library embodies how important libraries are to societies around the world. From miles and miles of literature to secret not-so-secret documents that detail significant events in human history, The Vatican Library reminds us of how libraries play an essential role in history and society. 


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