Rome – The Library of the Vatican

We are standing now with our backs to the long corridor from which we have just come, and we are facing east. Outside the windows on our right is the Court of the Belvedere, and beyond it, St. Peter’s. We looked down to these windows when on St. Peter’s dome.

This is one of the most magnificent halls in the palace. It is two hundred and twenty feet long, forty-eight feet wide and twenty-nine feet high.

You will observe that down the middle of the hall are six massive pillars which support the vaulted ceilings and form a double aisle. We can see five of these pillars and the right-hand cabinet nearest us surrounds the sixth. We can also discern part of the side wall and ceiling of the right-hand aisle.

The pillars, walls and ceilings, as you cannot fail to notice, are beautifully decorated with frescoes, and the forty-six cabinets which line the walls and surround the pillars are made of the richest and rarest wood. On the tables, floor and cabinets are displayed the costly gifts which kings and emperors have presented to the Popes.

In this library are two fine candelabra of Sevres, one of which was given to Pope Pius VII by Napoleon the Great ; near by is a vase of malachite and another of marble, presented by the Czar of Russia.

In this hall also, is shown a malachite cross from Prince Demidoff, and two vases of Berlin porcelain from Friedrich Wilhelm IV, with other presents too numerous to mention, all, marble floor, rich cabinets, frescoed walls and ceilings, and precious gifts, combining to make the library one of the most splendid apartments in the world.

” But,” you ask, ” the books, where are the books? I thought this was a library? ”

Well, so it is; and yet it is not to be wondered at that you miss the solemn and regular lines of cloth and leather book-backs with their titles that usually frown down upon you from countless shelves in great libraries. Here, as in the corridor of the Library, the books are inclosed in those cabinets yonder, and many of the volumes are in manuscript form.

It is estimated that the Vatican Library now contains two hundred and twenty thousand volumes, of which twenty-five thousand are Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac and even Chinese manuscripts.

The most famous of these manuscripts, such as the Codex Vaticanus, the Bible in Greek dating in the fourth century; a copy of Vergil written in the fifth, perhaps in the fourth century; of Terence, belonging to the fourth or fifth century ; and many other classical manuscripts and other valuable, in fact priceless books, are preserved here in elegant glass cases.

Just such a case as the one in front of us contains the celebrated Codex Vaticanus, which all the wealth of a Croesus could not buy.

Ordinary visitors are allowed no time to carefully examine these precious manuscripts, neither are they permitted to copy them ; and, as the pages are turned frequently, even scholars cannot, as Tischendorf attempted to do, commit a page to memory and then go out and write down the contents.

For several hours each day and for a few months in the year, the library may be visited by those procuring special permission, but it is to be regretted that its vast treasures are not more generally accessible to the scholars of the world. The reading-rooms are at the extreme or eastern end of this spacious hall, and when open are usually thronged with visitors.

Leaving the library by a door back of our present position, we retrace our steps into the corridor of the library and proceed to the extreme northeast corner of the palace and enter the Gallery of Statues. The red lines with the number 17 give the position on the map.