FW: Vatican Library - Newsletter 6/2010
Vatican City, June 30, 2010
Dear friends and readers,
I am happy to be able to begin this newsletter by commenting on the photograph shown here, in which we see the Manuscript Reading Room as it is now finally refurbished after the building works which affected also this part of the Library. The readers’ desks were returned to their places at the beginning of June, but the distribution desk had been set up several weeks earlier. Many who saw it thus "back among us" have shared the pleasant feeling that this was finally a sign of the "beginning of the end" and that, with the building works really finished, it would be possible to prepare the reading rooms and other areas for the reopening.
In fact, in recent meetings with various people, I have often heard the question, "Say, when will you open the Library"? My initial reaction, which I always try to suppress, is to think that they have clearly not been paying attention to the newsletters we have sent; nor have they been reading the newspapers or the web pages where the news has been announced and passed on. Of course I tell them, affecting as much indifference as I can muster, that we will open on September 20. But then another idea occurs to me: could it be that the inquirers were well aware of the date, but had been seized by an "impertinent" doubt which made them fear that it might not be true? Perhaps this was their way of asking a different question: "Will the reopening actually happen as planned? Will you keep your promises"?
It may have been noticed that, along the façade of the Library and of the Secret Archive, new scaffolding has recently gone up. News spreads quickly, especially if it is considered bad news. It is also true that the Governatorato of the Vatican City State has approved the beginning of work on the reconstruction of the roof of the Salone Sistino. It is as if everything were to be finished before the reopening of the Library, even the cleaning of the façades on the Cortile del Belvedere (among which, the façade of the Library), which has in fact been going on since well before our closure. One could see these things as "favors" in view of the reopening; however, even if the roof is not finished, the Library will still be able to open its doors and start on its way again, as promised!
Let us put it this way: if everything, including the interior, is refurbished to perfection by September 20, that will be wonderful. If, on the other hand, you still find a few flaws and imperfections here and there, we will be sorry and will do all we can to improve the situation as soon as possible; but in the meantime we will open the doors, and you will open the books and pursue your research!
In the meantime – I come now to tell you of some of our activities in the last few months – on the morning of June 9, the Library presented itself, with its Manuscript Reading Room in good order, to the XXIInd International Advisory Committee of Keepers of Public Collections of Graphic Art. The occasion was an important symposium of the directors of the world’s most important collections of graphic art which was held in Rome, organized by the Italian Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica and by the Vatican Library. In addition to the days spent on site at the Istituto Nazionale, the participants were able to visit certain areas of the Vatican: the Historical Archive of the Fabbrica di San Pietro; the Raffaello Rooms; the Sistine Chapel; the Collection of Contemporary Art in the Vatican Museum; and the Pontifical Villas in Castel Gandolfo. In the Library, we opened up the Prints Cabinet, where a small exhibit of prints and drawings had been prepared. This visit was a prelude, as i t were, to the arrival of the readers who will soon come to "repopulate" the various parts of the Library.
Continuing down the chain of events of the last months, I recall that on April 29, on the occasion of a concert sponsored by the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, in the Aula Paolo VI, the Pope was presented with an anastatic edition of the Library’s incunabulum of Enea Silvio Piccolomini’s De Europa, together with an Italian translation by Francesca Macino, which was produced by the publisher Magnus together with the Vatican Library. We are very happy to have been involved in this undertaking which, as President Napolitano wrote in his Preface, brings to mind the "implicit parallelism" between the figure of Pope Pius II Piccolomini and that of Pope Benedict, connecting "the European perspective of Enea Silvio [...] with the spirit, the attention and the care which the current Pontiff gives to the need for a precise and contemporary definition of the identity of our continent."
More recently, some important travel has taken place. At the beginning of June, Cardinal Raffaele Farina, our Librarian, went to Metiyagane, in Sri Lanka, where on June 5 he attended the inauguration of a new professional complex for the training of building technicians and surveyors, which was financed by the Fondazione Italcementi as part of the project Aid for Sri Lanka: a future for children, which was begun immediately after the disastrous tsunami of December 26, 2004. The Italcementi company has also generously supported our renovations by financing the building of the new elevator and the refurbishment of the elevator at the Library entrance. We are proud to be ideal partners for the undertaking in Sri Lanka: it is the same "culture" which is supported and promoted in a new and needy school far away and also in our own ancient institution (which is not less needy...).
A few days later, on June 8, Card. Farina received a Doctorate honoris causa in Sofia, from St. Kliment Ohridski University, and signed an agreement to collaborate with that institution in the field of paleoslavic research. It was also at the beginning of June that the Vice Prefect, Ambrogio M. Piazzoni, went to China, together with Clara Yu Dong, for discussions in Beijing about a project to edit works concerning Chinese history from the seventeenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century which are kept in the Vatican Library. On June 24, I was able to go to London to participate in the inauguration of the exhibition Illumination. Hebrew Treasures from the Vatican and Major British Collections, which marks the reopening of the Jewish Museum after a period of closure due to refurbishment works. The Vatican Library participated with the oldest Hebrew codex in existence (from the ninth century), a Sifra containing the midrash on Leviticus (Vat. ebr. 66); with a splendid fifteenth-century copy of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Rossiano 498); and with a Palestinian Targum of the Pentateuch from the beginning of the sixteenth century (Neofiti 1). Every time we collaborate in an outside event, which we do as far as we are able, we experience the joint effort as a further sign of the shared universality of culture. I also want to mention the meeting, in the Library, on April 15, with Dr Garayev Aboulfas Mursal Oglu, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, during which plans were made for scholarly research into Azerbaijani history based on materials kept in the Vatican Library; and the reference to our institution which was made by the new Ambassador of Mongolia to the Holy See, Luvsantersen Orgil, when he presented his credentials to the Pope on May 20, recalling "the exploration of the precious historical material preserved in the Vatican Library, concerning the history of Mongolia, which has proven to be of fundamental importance to us in our rediscovery of our past."
As for our own current activities, I remind you that our on-line catalogue is being constantly enriched with data regarding manuscripts: besides the 1,079 items recovered from the Catalogo sommario of the Manoscritti Vaticani latini 14666-15203 by Ambrogio M. Piazzoni and Paolo Vian [Città del Vaticano, 1989 (Studi e testi, 332)], further items from the Indice Alfabetico dei Manoscritti (IAM) card catalogue have reached a total of 21,162. An even greater increase, within the manuscript catalogue, concerns the bibliographical data, coming from constant checking of recent publications on the one hand, and from the insertion of data already gathered in printed bibliographies on the other (we have nearly completed the insertion of the volume covering the years 1991-2000: Massimo Ceresa, Bibliografia dei fondi manoscritti della Biblioteca Vaticana (1991-2000), Città del Vaticano 2005 [Studi e testi, 426]). The bibliographical items have now reached a total of 31,684. I would like to close with some remarks concerning the technological novelties which await you when you return to study in the Library. These mainly concern the access procedures: the new reader’s tickets will contain RFID microchips and will, among other things, also replace the key which was previously used to open the lockers and to identify readers at the distribution desks in the reading rooms. Accordingly, the reader who presents a ticket at the entrance will be identified, as previously; but in addition, the ticket will be matched to an "electronic key number" which will allow the opening of the assigned locker, passage through the barrier in the hallway leading to the elevator (or through the one located at the top of the staircase), and, finally, registration in the reading room. Readers leaving the Library will go through the reverse process. In addition, in the reading rooms, a Wi-Fi connection to the Library’s internal network will be offered so that readers may u se their own personal computer to consult the catalogues and other available databases. This connection will also allow, on an experimental basis and (for now) only in the Manuscript Reading Room, direct ordering of items for consultation.
Finally, a few practical announcements. For the already mentioned reasons, all readers will need to obtain new reader’s tickets. From September 1st, it will be possible to come to the Admissions Office in order to get the new ticket (and have a look at the new Library entrance). In addition, our opening day will finally see the disappearance of the notice, in the "Unavailable collections" section of our home page, that "at present none of the collections is available for consultation." Instead, that section of our web page will contain a list of manuscripts which are not available for consultation (e.g. because they have been sent to an exhibit or are being restored), and also a list of the collections of printed books which are not available (e.g. because they are currently being disinfested or cleaned). This information will also be sent via e-mail to those who have signed up for the "Information for Readers" newsletter. The number of newsletter recipients has now reached 15.327: the population of a small city, united by a love for culture and certainly also by reciprocal esteem and friendship. In that spirit, in the name of the entire staff of the Library, I send my warm greetings and best wishes to all.
Mons. Cesare Pasini