bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

The Vatican gives us something to rejoice

Posted in Libraries by bonaelitterae on 16 December, 2009

From Papa Ratzinger, a Christmas gift. The advent of tidings of great joy. To those who receive the newsletter of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana — a mere 12 thousand of them — it has been announced that the largest manuscript collection in the world will reopen to scholarship on Monday, 20th September 2010. Put that date in your diary.

For a long time, it has seemed that the Vatican would not dare to name a date: vague talk of ‘autumn 2010′ was all anyone could hear. It was like the process of closure itself. I happened to have arranged to go to the Vatican for ten days’ study in March 2007, and heard in Rome the rumours that it might close. So, when I renewed my card, I commented that ‘alcuni hanno detto’ that the Library will close. One member of staff said ‘e vero’ but her boss interrupted to clarify: ‘e vero che hai detto: alcuni hanno detto…’ It was apparent that direct questioning would receive no direct answer; I did wonder whether they were testing my knowledge of the Italian conditional (if the library were to close, for how long…).

A few months later, and a day at the Vatican was apparently like waiting for the January Sales outside Harrods, with the difference that nothing was cut-price or could be taken home. The queues are now legendary; the feats of scholars tied to their desks, avoiding any comfort break, to make the most before the intellectual apocalypse occurred, will be the stuff of memoirs.

In contrast to those months, the way the Vatican has kept readers informed and now announced a date, with an apparent determination that it is fixed, is to be applauded. But the applause, the cheering, the dewy-eyed relief will be so much greater when we can once more hand in our card, take the key to our locker, walk up the narrow staircase, eye the outstretched hand of divus Thomas, turn to our left, turn again and find ourselves in the haven of learning that is the sala manoscritti. How I hope to be there.

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