According to localcollegeexplorer, the importance of its collections places the Vatican Library at the forefront of libraries in the world, although it is surpassed by others in terms of the number of codices or printed matter.
From the earliest times, the Church was concerned with preserving the testimonies of his life and history (see archives and archives, IV, p. 88); these manuscript treasures in the early Middle Ages were kept in various places in Rome; and later the popes followed to their homes in Orvieto, Viterbo, Anagni, Perugia. Near the end of the century. XII or at the beginning of the XIII, the library and archive went missing, probably due to the city struggles. With Innocent III (1198-1216), the papal chancellery transferred to the Vatican, the series of Regesti was inaugurated, which has come down to us uninterrupted., but in the meantime, alongside the archive, there is an abundant and rich series of codices, so that under Boniface VIII the Apostolic Library can be considered the first of its time. Among its treasures it counted illuminated manuscripts by Oderisi da Gubbio and possessed the first Greek library in the West: thirty-two codices perhaps coming from the collection of Frederick II. The outrage of Anagnì (7 September 1303) partially reduced the collection. In 1310 Clement V had the 643 codices of the pontifical library transported from Perugia to Assisi, in the sacristy of the Sacred Convent, as in a safe place; but on 19 September 1319 the Ghibellines partially destroyed the collection; some of the codices ended up in Avignon in 1339, others were dispersed on the spot after 1345. The Avignon popes took care of the creation of a new library, which seems to have occupied the tower known as “degli Angeli”. Very little of it returned to Rome with Urban V (1367) and Gregory XI (1377).
It is not without reason that Niccolò V was given the title of founder of the current Vatican Library. He was the first to think of opening a public library, while at the time of his predecessors the papal collection was used only by the curia. Having inherited little more than 340 volumes, collected for the most part by the immediate ancestor Eugene IV, he left 807 Latin and 353 Greeks in death, including the remains of the imperial library of Constantinople. The Vaticana thus returned to being the richest library in Italy in that century. Sixtus IV (1471-1484) brought the number of volumes to 3650, and arranged the rooms for them (now the Floreria Apostolica) on the ground floor of the building built by Niccolò V, overlooking the Pappagallo court, under the Borgia apartment. In the four rooms, Latin, graeca, secreta, pontifical), of which Platina was appointed librarian (1475). The “Palatine” library, as it was then called, was then gradually enlarged until reaching the number of 4070 between books and manuscripts (a number unheard of at that time) under Leo X, who donated his collection of Greek codices to it. Shortly after (1527) more than 400 volumes were lost during the sack of Rome; but the damage was soon compensated by new contributions. Marcello Cervini (later Pope Marcellus II), first appointed cardinal “protector” of the library in 1548, contributed more than 240 codices, and about 250 others were added under Gregory XIII (1572-85), who planned the transport of the library to the Belvedere gallery. But it fell to his successor, Sixtus V (1585-90), to carry out a more grandiose plan, by means of the architect Domenico Fontana raising a magnificent building on the large staircases that joined the lower part of the immense “Theater” or Cortile del Belvedere, to the two upper parts now called the Library Courtyard and the Pigna Courtyard. In 1590-1591 the collections were transferred to the frescoed hall under the direction of C. Nebbia and G. Guerra and named Sistino in honor of the pope.
The Rainaldi brothers had the task of reworking the order of the manuscripts of the Vatican Latin fund and of preparing new inventories (6 volumes of description and 2 of general index). The codes were classified by subject, with a continuous number, open to new purchases, which were later placed by order of arrival. In 1627 the library possessed 6026 Latin manuscripts. Sixtus V used two “secret” rooms adjacent to the Sistine hall to separate the archive documents from the codices; under Paul V the definitive detachment of archival material from book material took place, with the creation of separate archives under the tower of Gregory XIII.
In the meantime, entire collections began to flow into the Vatican fund; such are the collections of Cardinal Antonio Carafa (1591) and Fulvio Orsini (1602), a group of Bobbiesi codices (1618), etc. Others, due to their importance, were kept apart, as special funds with their own denomination. The oldest is that of the Palatine, founded around 1482 by Philip the elector Palatine, offered in 1623, following the capture of Heidelberg (1622), by Maximilian Duke of Bavaria to Gregory XVatican In 1657 the Vatican library was enriched by the codes of the library founded by Federico di Montefeltro, and expropriated on the death of the last duke by Alexander VII (Urbinate fund). In 1690 Pope Alexander VIII bought the library which had already belonged to Cristina Alessandra, queen of Sweden (Reginense fund). Under Benedict XIV the Capponian codes (1746) and the Ottoboniani (1748) entered the Vatican; for other news, see below: Funds and catalogs. After 1797 the Vaticana suffered the loss of 500 codices, sent to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in execution of the Tolentino treaty; but, except 36, all were later returned.
The Vatican no longer had considerable contributions until Pius IX, who bought the library from Card. Angelo Mai, and to Leo XIII, who in 1891 bought the Borghesian manuscripts coming largely from the dispersed library of the popes of Avignon and had the acts of the Orange notaries sent from Avignon to Rome in 1783 with the last part transported to the Vatican of the pontifical archives. He was also responsible for the generous purchase (1902) of the princely Barberini library.
In 1922 the Jesuits deposited, bringing it back to Rome from Lainz near Vienna, the library collected between 1838 and 1854 by G. Br. De Rossi. It was the first of the notable contributions which, under the pontificate of Pius XI, had to increase the pontifical library by many thousands of codices and books; the Chigiana library donated by the Italian state in 1923, then the Ferraioli library (1929), the Rospigliosi archive (1930) and the Caetani archive for the last wishes of Don Gelasio, Duke of Sermoneta (1935), 240 Yemeni codices brought to Italy in 1922 by the Milanese G. Caprotti, and more than 1200 other manuscripts of all kinds.
The codes currently add up to about 60,000; printed volumes of more than 500,000; the incunabula to over 6000.
To facilitate consultation of the library and of the secret archives, opened with a noble gesture to all scholars, Leo XIII established (1890) a large reference room (Biblioteca Leonina, under the Sistine hall), with a library serving scholars between the richest in the world (50,000 volumes). Pius X (1912) provided for a safer and more convenient location of the manuscripts and a better room for studying them, in the premises of the old printing house. Pius XI, who had been prefect of the Vatican for four years, assigned the premises, formerly used as the stables (1928) and the study of the mosaic (1931), to the creation of large warehouses equipped with modern metal shelving and lighting systems capable of of 800,000 volumes. New rooms were also destined for the library offices, to the numismatic cabinet and to print-engravings; the rooms for the laboratory for the restoration of the codes and for the photographic service were enlarged.
The Sistine hall, which fell on December 22, 1931, was restored in 1933, with the complete reconstruction of the frescoes; the underlying consultation room, which has also perished, was rebuilt and equipped with new metal shelving (1933).
The Vatican had men famous for their doctrine as prefects or librarians; among the cardinals we remember: Marcello Cervini, Guglielmo Sirleto, Cesare Baronio, Girolamo Casanata, Domenico Passionei, Angelo Mai, Giuseppe Gaspare Mezzofanti, Angelo Tosti, Giovanni Battista Pitra, Alfonso Capecelatro, Aidano Gasquet, Francesco Ehrle, and, living, Giovanni Mercati and Eugenio Tisserant; the great Christian archaeologist GB De Rossi was the writer of the Vatican Library.