Book Series Bibliologia, vol. 63

How the Secularization of Religious Houses Transformed the Libraries of Europe, 16th-19th Centuries

Cristina Dondi, Dorit Raines, Richard Sharpe † (eds)

  • Pages: 720 p.
  • Size:216 x 280 mm
  • Illustrations:16 b/w, 9 col.
  • Language(s):English, French, Italian
  • Publication Year:2022

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59392-0
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59560-3
  • E-book
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It is the most important book-historical story for the survival and accessibility of Europe's heritage of the written word, one that interacts with major historical themes and still connects with future issues for the continuing role of books and libraries in the European heritage.


Cristina Dondi is Professor of Early European Book Heritage at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of Lincoln College, and Secretary of the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL). Dorit Raines is Associate Professor in the History of Libraries and Archives at Università Ca’ Foscari of Venice. Richard Sharpe († 2020) was Professor of Diplomatic at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wadham College.


The closure of religious houses, in varying circumstances, affected all of Europe at some point between the sixteenth and nineteenth century. At different times and in different countries the consequences were widely varied, in some cases preserving medieval and early modern collections intact, in others abandoning books to their fate, or transferring them piecemeal into new ownership to serve different cultural purposes. Integral preservation or dispersal may each be viewed in positive or negative terms. For religious and political history there are many, and bigger, factors involved, and the effects of secularization worked on many things beside libraries and books. None the less, by focusing on books and libraries through these changes a particular narrative emerges of great cultural importance. It is the most important book-historical story for the survival and accessibility of Europe's heritage of the written word, one that interacts with major historical themes and still connects with future issues for the continuing role of books and libraries in the European heritage.

A conference held in Oxford in 2012 brought together thirty experts in different aspects of this process or with knowledge of its impact in different countries and at different periods. The result was to bring together and share for the first time the similar and different experiences of different European countries, from Portugal and Spain in the west to Poland and Ukraine in the east, from Finland and Sweden in the north to Naples in the south, with ramifications stretching to North and South America. While reading this volume of collected essays, the reader may notice a disparity in the evidence that each author has been able to bring to bear upon their subject. Provenance research is well advanced in some territories, less so in others. In the decade since the conference and this publication, there have been some attempts to bridge certain gaps. But in general, there has been little new work in the years since the conference took place. The editors anticipate that this publication will stimulate further research, bridging some of the gaps visible in the evidence presented in this volume. Multiple avenues for further investigation open up, indeed, in historical and cultural studies, such as the impact of the secularization on nonreligious libraries, and the change in attitude with respect to certain disciplines and even to erudition itself.






Part 1: The territorial and temporal map of the dissolved collections

Fiorenzo Landi (University of Bologna) – The dissolution of monasteries and convents in Europe. An overview of the economic implications
Richard Sharpe († University of Oxford) – Dissolution and dispersion in sixteenth-century England: understanding the remains
Rudolf Gamper (Vadianischen Sammlung St. Gallen) – Klosteraufhebungen und das Schicksal ihrer Bibliotheken in der Deutschschweiz
Jeffrey Garrett (formerly Northwestern University) – The expropriation of monastic libraries in German-speaking Europe, 1773–1817
Javier Antón Pelayo (Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona) – The Secularization of Spanish religious libraries (1767-1836): The Catalan case
Luís Cabral (formerly Biblioteca Pública Municipal do Porto) – Case study 1: Portugal, Porto - State policy concerning the dissolution of monastic book collections in Portugal, especially during the nineteenth century
María Luisa Lopez Vidriero (formerly Royal Library of Madrid) – Case study 2: Spain, Seville and Madrid - The formation of new libraries
Pedro Rueda Ramírez (University of Barcelona) – The secularization of religious houses in Latin America from independence to the new republics: the continuity and fragmentation of library collections

Part 2: State policy toward  book collections

Dorit Raines (University of Venice) – The dissolution of the Venetian religious houses and the keeper of the library of St Mark, Jacopo Morelli, under Venetian, French, and Austrian governments (1768-1819)
Vincenzo Trombetta (University of Salerno) – La politica delle soppressioni e le nuove biblioteche a Napoli tra illuminismo regalista e restaurazione (1767-1815)
Marie-Pierre Laffitte (formerly Bibliothèque nationale de France) – Napoléon et les confiscations de livres dans les monastères italiens

Part 3: Sequestration, redistribution, or contribution to the foundation of public libraries

Jos A. A. M. Biemans (formerly University of Amsterdam) – The foundation of the city library of Amsterdam (1578) and the confiscation of manuscripts and printed books from ecclesiastical and monastic libraries. Fact or fiction?
Emmanuelle Chapron (Université Aix-Marseille) – Bibliothèques et suppressions ecclésiastiques en Toscane de Pierre-Léopold à Napoléon
Andreina Rita (Vatican Library) – La Biblioteca Vaticana e la dispersione delle biblioteche dei religiosi romani nella prima Repubblica Romana e nell’età napoleonica
Marina Venier (formerly National Central Library of Rome) – The dispersal of monastic libraries in Rome. The laws of suppression during the Roman Republic of 1849 and after the annexation of the city as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy in 1873
Marek Derwich (formerly Wroclaw University)The dissolution of monasteries in Silesia and Poland
Oleh Dukh (National University of Lviv, Ukraine) The dissolution of Roman-Catholic and Uniate monasteries in the western guberniyas of the Russian Empire and the fate of their libraries

Part 4: Impact on book trade and the emergence of private collections

Dominique Varry (formerly University of Lyon) – Le commerce du livre d’antiquariat en France après la Révolution
Marino Zorzi (formerly National Marciana Library of Venice) – The book market in nineteenth-century Venice
Bettina Wagner (Bamberg Staatsbibliothek) – “Duplum Bibliothecae regiae Monacensis”: the Munich court library and its book auctions in the nineteenth century
Richard A. Linenthal (London antiquarian bookseller) – Monastic collections and the nineteenth-century English book trade: the new interest in printed fragments

Part 5: Migration of books, access to new publics

Bart op de Beeck (Royal Library of Belgium) – Jesuit libraries in the Southern Netherlands and their dispersal after 1773
Antonella Barzazi (University of Padua) – Before Napoleon. Change and continuity in Italian religious book collections
William P. Stoneman (formerly Houghton Library at Harvard University) – North American collection-building: gathering monastic books from long ago and far away

Part 6: Destruction of books, spoils of war, and clandestine exportation

Tuomas Heikkilä (University of Helsinki) – The fate of medieval religious book collections in the Swedish realm during the Reformation
Martin Germann (formerly Burgerbibliothek Bern) – Zurich and the books of the monasteries: from the Reformation to the 19th Century

Part 7. Tools for Research

James Willoughby (New College, Oxford) Medieval libraries of Great Britain: MLGB3
Cristina Dondi Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) and other tools for searching the provenance of early printed books
Giovanna Granata (University of Cagliari) The RICI Database. A tool for the history of religious libraries in Italy at the end of the sixteenth century
Cristina Dondi (University of Oxford), Lavinia Prosdocimi (formerly University Library of Padua), Dorit Raines (University of Venice) The incunabula collection of the Benedictine library of S. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Formation, use and dispersal according to documentary and material evidence (from MEI)

Index of Names

Index of Places


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