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The Library of the Vatican

( Originally Published 1907 )



This is one of the most magnificent halls of the palace, two hundred and twenty feet long, forty feet wide and twenty feet high. Down the middle of the hall the map shows six massive pillars which support the vaulted ceilings and form a double aisle; those pillars we see now ahead at the right. Every available space is splendidly decorated with frescoes; the cabinets which line these walls and surround the pillars are made of the richest and rarest woods. On the tables, floors, and cabinets are displayed costly gifts of kings and rulers to the Popes—a long list of wonderful and exquisite things.

But the books, what of them, where are they? We do not see the solemn and regular lines of book-backs peculiar to most libraries. Well, they are all enclosed in the cabinets, for many of them are in manuscript form, come down to us from the days when printing was unknown. It is estimated that this library holds two hundred and twenty thousand volumes, of which twenty-five thousand are Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac and Chinese manuscripts. The most famous of these wonderful documents in the Codex Vaticanus, that is a Bible in Greek with the date of the fourth century; it is kept in the first cabinet at our left. Not far away there are a copy of the poet Virgil written in the fifth century and many other really priceless books. They cannot be bought, for both the Papal and the Italian governments have laws which will keep these treasures in Italy. They are a public trust, and no longer private property. Ordinary visitors are not permitted time to examine manuscripts here, to copy them, or even to memorize them page by page, as the learned Tischendorf tried to do. He hoped to transfer them in this way to the general public, but failed. Scholars may get special permission to study here several hours a day for a few months at a time, a privilege due to Leo XIII, who thought it time that the valuable records of the past should be permitted to have their proper influence on historical writing. The reading-rooms are at the far end of this spacious hall.

If we were to walk about examining the rich contents of this chamber we should notice especially two fine candelabra of Sevres ware, of which one was given to Pius VII by the first Napoleon. The fact that Napoleon imprisoned Pius VII for four or five years, broke up his government, and nearly killed him in exile, did not prevent the exchange of courtesies between the monarchs. When Napoleon was dying on St. Helena and Pius VII was ruling in peace in Rome, the Pope sent the exile a priest to attend him in his last moments. The guide would also show us two vases, one of malachite, the other of marble, gifts to the Pope from the Czar of Russia, part of whose daily routine it is to make Russia unpleasant for members of the Catholic faith ; and our attention would be called to a Sevres vase presented to Pius IX by Napoleon III, which served for the baptism of the Prince Imperial. Of all the glory connected with these persons nothing now remains but the vase. Napoleon died an exile in England, Pius IX died in sorrow as the Prisoner of the Vatican, and the Prince Imperial was slain in the Zulu campaign of the British in Africa. An alabaster vase would be pointed out as the gift of the Khedive of Egypt ; a cross of malachite as coming from Prince Demidoff ; and two rare vases of Berlin porcelain as the gift of the Emperor of Germany.

Our next position will be in the splendid Gallery of Statues at the extreme north end of the palace. Find the figure 15 on the map, at which point we are to stand.



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