Church Libraries

A Latin proverb says: "Clastrum sine armarie est quasi castrum sine armamentarie," or roughly: "A monastery without a library is like a castle without weapons." These are libraries affiliated with religious organizations – the Vatican, monasteries and other religious institutions. Some of these are truly glorious spaces dedicated to knowledge, and a few were built during times when they were the only guardians of knowledge left in the Western world.

Many of these libraries are not open to the general public without special permission.




The Philosophy Hall at the Strahov Monastery Library in Prague, Czech Republic. The two-story space was built in 1780 and the entire ceiling is covered with a magnificent composition entitled The Spiritual Development of Mankind by Franz Maulbertsch. There are other rooms in the monastery library, which contains 130,000 books in all.



The library at Kremsmunster Abbey in Austria. The library was built between 1680 and 1689 by Baroque architect Carlo Antonio Carlone. It is one of the great libraries of Austria and contains about 160,000 volumes, 1,700 manuscripts and nearly 2,000 incunabula. The most valuable book in the library is the "Codex Millenarius," a Gospel book written around 800 in Mondsee Abbey.



The Cathedral Library in Freising, Germany.



The Abbey Library in St. Gallen, Switzerland.



Melk Monastery Library in Melk, Austria.



The Monastery Library at San Francisco Monastery and Church in Lima, Peru.



Choni Monastery Library in Gansu Province, China. This fascinating photograph was taken in 1925 by Joseph Rock, an Austrian-born American botanist, anthropologist and explorer who lived in Southwest China from the 1920s to 1949.



The library at Saint Catherine's Monastery in Mount Sinai, Egypt, perhaps the oldest Christian monastery in the world – there is record of monks there in 381 and the monastery building there was built during the time of Emperor Justinian (reigned 527-565). The library of St. Catherine's Monastery contains the second-largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican. The collection consists of 3,500 volumes in Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Slavic, Syriac, Georgian and other languages.



The library – the largest monastic library in the world – at Admont Benedictine Monastery in Austria. The library hall, built in 1776 and designed by architect Joseph Hüber, is 230 feet long by 46 feet wide and 43 feet high. It contains about 70,000 volumes of the monastery's entire holdings of around 200,000 volumes. The ceiling consists of seven cupolas, decorated with frescoes by Bartolomeo Altomonte showing the stages of human knowledge up to the high point of Divine Revelation. Light is provided by 48 windows and is reflected by the original color scheme of gold and white. The architecture and design express the ideals of the Enlightenment, against which the sculptures by Joseph Stammel of "The Four Last Things" make a striking contrast. The abbey possesses over 900 incunabulae and more than 1,400 manuscripts.



Library Of The Monastery Of Tepl, Bohemia (modern Czech Republic). The photo is from a book by John L. Stoddard published in 1901.

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