In 1451, Pope Nicholas V decreed that, “for the common convenience of the learned, we may have a library of all books both in Latin and Greek that is worthy of the dignity of the Pope and the Apostolic See.” Founded as humanism in Europe was on the ascent, the Vatican Library’s holdings were not (as many wrongly believe) primarily theological or ecclesiological in character. Rather, all manner of human knowledge and creativity found their place in the Popes’ Library. Indeed, the founder’s original intent has only been expanded: holdings are not limited to Latin and Greek works, but include a remarkable array of works from throughout the world and across time. While the Church, at times, has been caricatured as afraid of learning and research, the Vatican Library – as the prototypical research library – stands as a testament to the Church’s confidence in human reason illumined by faith.
The Vatican Library’s holdings today include approximately 180,000 manuscripts (of which 100,000 are made up of archival materials), 9,000 incunabula, 150,000 prints, drawings, maps, and engravings, over 150,000 photographs, 300,000 coins and medals, and 1.6 million modern printed books. The manuscript collection is arguably the most important in the world, including such treasures as the Codex Vaticanus of the Bible, the Vatican Vergil, the Dante Urbinate, and other manuscripts which are the sources used to produce modern editions of thousands of other texts.
Perhaps more noteworthy than the quantity of materials held in the Vatican Library, or the scholarly value of its collection, is the fact that its holdings are remarkably unknown. Colloquially referred to as the “Attic of Civilization,” the Library holds enormous potential for researchers from widely divergent disciplines. It is the goal, therefore, of this conference, to quicken the utilization of the Vatican Library and to promote its value as a resource for scholarship and teaching, especially in fields related to medieval and renaissance studies.