Posted in Books, Chained Libraries

Malatestiana Chained Library – Cesena, Italy

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”
― Mark Twain 

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Malatestiana Library center aisle with rosette windows. Photo courtesy of  Ivano Giovannini 

 

The Malatestiana Library, known as the Biblioteca Malatestiana in Italian, was the first European civic library open to the public, and still open today.  This means it belonged to the Commune, and not the Church. Built in 1447, it is the oldest library in Europe.

Malatestiana Library is what is known as  a humanistic-conventual library.  This means that they have preserved its structure, furnishings, and codices (manuscripts of hand-written books) since its opening in the mid-15th century, all of this despite wars and natural disasters. This became a model and inspiration for monastic libraries.

The reading room itself, known as the Aula del Nuti, after its architect Matteo Nuti. He designed the rectangular plan with three naves surmounted by barrel and groin vaults is still accessed through the original wooden doors, which need two separate keys to open. Wandering Italy blog, explains, “Originally, one key belonged to the abbot, the other by a representative of the city; the sacred and the profane.”

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Original wooden doors opening. Photo courtesy of Italian Ways

According to Italian Ways, “with its 17,000 autographs and letters, and 250,000 volumes – including 287 incunables, about 4,000 books from the 1500s (‘cinquecentine’), 1,753 manuscripts from the 16th and 19th century, and even the smallest book in the world that can be read without a magnifying glass: a letter by Galileo Galilei to Christina of Lorreine, printed in 1897 and bound in just 15 x 9 mm.”

In 2005, it was recognized as the first UNESCO Memory of the World site in Italy. It is a “rare example of a complete and wonderful collection from the 15th century, just before printing became popular in Europe.”

If you want to see what books and manuscripts are in the Biblioteca Malatestiana, and can’t travel to Italy (on my bucket list!) check out the Open Catalogue of the Malatestiana Project, which has lots of manuscript images under the “Collection” link.

Biblioteca Malatestiana Antica
Piazza Maurizio Bufalini, 1, 47521 Cesena FC, Italia
Info and Hours

Note:
Featured image courtesy of Jerome Levine for The Boston Globe.

For Further Reading:All the UNESCO registered Memory of the World sites

Posted in Books, Chained Libraries

The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral

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As a history major in undergrad, and a book lover for more years than I care to count, finding the notice on Chained Libraries on Atlas Obscura tickled my fancy.  I’ve officially added a ton of places to go visit on my bucket list now –Sorry, Hubby!   The below information comes directly from the Hereford Cathedral website, as who better to describe what is there than the curators of the Library themselves? If, one day I actually get to see this in person, I’ll be sure to re-blog and tell you my own personal thoughts. Until then… Happy exploring.


The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral is a unique and fascinating treasure in Britain’s rich heritage of library history.

There were books at Hereford Cathedral long before there was a ‘library’ in the modern sense.

The cathedral’s earliest and most important book is the eighth-century Hereford Gospels; it is one of 229 medieval manuscripts which now occupy two bays of the Chained Library.

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Hereford Gospels (detail) courtesy of Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives

This is the oldest complete book in Hereford Cathedral Library. It dates from around the year 800 AD and may be the earliest surviving book made in Wales. It contains the first four books of the New Testament: the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These narratives of the life, death and resurrection of Christ are regarded by Christians as their most precious and sacred writings.
Chaining books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the middle ages to the eighteenth century, and Hereford Cathedral’s seventeenth-century Chained Library is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact.

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Hereford Gospels (detail) courtesy of Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives

A chain is attached at one end to the front cover of each book; the other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each shelf. The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not to be removed from the bookcase.

The books are shelved with their foredges, rather than their spines, facing the reader (the wrong way round to us); this allows the book to be lifted down and opened without needing to be turned around – thus avoiding tangling the chain.

There is an interactive website you can take a 360-degree tour of the library.

Did You Know?

There has been a working theological library at the cathedral since the twelfth century, and the whole library continues to serve the cathedral’s work and witness both as a research centre and as a tourist attraction.

The Chained Library has about 1500 books which date from the late fifteenth- to the early nineteenth-centuries. Fifty-six of them are incunabula, i.e. books printed before 1500. They are chiefly concerned with theology, biblical studies, law and church history.

Have you been to Hereford Cathedral and seen the Chained Library in person? Tell me in the comments, or on my twitter page .

Stay tuned for more on unique and amazing libraries around the world!