Library of History in Rome

Library of History in Rome
12 November 2016 0 Comment

What is more important in a library than anything else is the fact that it exists” said Archibald MacLeish. He may well have had the awe inspiring library, Biblioteca Angelica in Rome in mind when he coined that phrase.

A Miracle of a Library

Considering that it was founded during one of Rome’s darkest periods, when the church was on a rampage to suppress not just the rise of Protestantism but the pursuit of knowledge in general, it truly is a miracle it was created at all. But miracles sometimes happen and we have an Augustinian Bishop Angelo Rocca (1546-1620) to thank because it was his wisdom and vision and his love and passion for books that fueled his remarkable gift to Rome. He was an erudite writer and a collector of rare editions as well as being in charge of the Vatican Printing House during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V.

A Breathing, Living History in Books

Over previous centuries the Augustinian collection had acquired valuable manuscripts donated by Roman nobles and codices transcribed by or belonging to the friars themselves who left them to their monastery when they died. Bishop Angelo Rocca (who the library is named after) left his own invaluable collection of some 20,000 volumes to the friars of the convent of St. Augustine, becoming the foundation of this library. He went further and provided a new building for the growing collection of books, an annuity and a set of regulations. The miracle came when he requested that the library be open to everyone, regardless of their income or social standing! Such freedom of access gave rise to an ever-increasing interest by the general public and soon the library’s fame spread to scholars all over the world.

A Home for Information on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation

In the first half of the eighteenth century the Augustine monastery and its library were witness to the religious controversies of the period. Supporters of Augustinian thought meant that a collection of books which is still fundamental to research of the period of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation was formed in the library. In 1762 the library received from Cardinal Domenico Passionei his important private collection of books, effectively doubling Angelica’s contribution more than one hundred years earlier. In 1765 the monks commissioned Luigi Vanvitelli to rebuild their monastery as well as creating the beautiful reading room that you can visit today.

A Library that Still Gives Knowledge Today

This living piece of history reminds us that not all masterpieces are sitting or hanging in a museum, has almost 200,000 volumes. As I understand it some 50% of the collection has been classified as national monuments. Famous for its books on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the beautiful collection of bibles, with texts on Italian literature and theatre from the 15th to the 18th century are superlative.

The Biblioteca Angelica is located in Piazza S. Agostino, 8 (Rome) – opening hours: Monday, Friday and Saturday from 8.30 – 13.45 and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8.30 – 19.00

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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