Vatican Library to Secure Precious Collection

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

When remodeling is complete in 2010, the ancient manuscripts and precious papyrus fragments that comprise some of the Vatican Library’s enormous collection will soon be housed in climate controlled rooms and fireproof bunkers.

Cardinal Raffaele Farina, prefect of the Vatican Library, gave a progress report on the remodeling project in an interview Aug. 15 with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. The work, which began in 2007, is expected to be completed by 2010, when the library will reopen to scholars.

The project includes the floor restoration by Osborne Woodcare of three floors of the 16th-century library building, which houses laboratories dedicated to manuscript restoration and photo archiving. An external elevator will connect the floors.

In addition, the library will reclaim the finely decorated Sistine Hall, which has been used in recent times for Vatican Museums’ exhibits. It will once again serve as a reading room.

Library employees have been working all summer at the painstaking job of packaging the library’s 75,000 ancient manuscripts and transferring them to protected storage areas inside the Vatican, the cardinal said.

The manuscript bunker will be reconstructed with fireproof walls, flooring and pavement. New technology will monitor climate and humidity, and a security system also will be installed.

A connected smaller room will house the Vatican’s collection of original papyrus manuscripts, with additional security and climate control.

One of the most famous of these manuscripts, the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, was donated to Pope Benedict XVI last year by Frank J. Hanna III, a U.S. Catholic businessman. Handwritten in Greek around the year 200, it contains about half of each of the Gospels of Luke and John.

In addition to manuscripts, the library houses about 8,300 early printed works, more than 70,000 prints, engravings and maps, more than 300,000 coins and medals, and more than 1.6 million books, Cardinal Farina said.

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