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THE VATICAN LIBRARY
Altered view in WS
The manuscripts and printed books that came to rest in the Vatican Library tell many stories. They help to explain the development of Renaissance thought and art, scholarship and science, in Rome and elsewhere. They shed light on the history of the universal Roman church and on the city in which it flourished, on the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation--even on the history of Western efforts to understand and convert the peoples of the non-Western world. They describe the new education, art, and music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; they show how the curia reached beyond the bounds of Europe, to the Islamic world and even to China; and they reveal some of the conflicts that flared up when the accomplishment of church policy and the pursuit of new knowledge could not both be carried out.
A Library Takes Shape: Books, Benches, and Borrowers
The Vatican Library developed rapidly. These documents let us watch it grow. The catalogues show how the thousands of manuscripts were organized and stored. Most were not shelved, but chained to what were called "benches,"--actually tables with benches attached to them. Each of these was dedicated to a particular subject. Readers working in the library had to study the books in place. But it also operated a circulating system. Readers could sign books out, but they also had to take the chains that had held them to the table (a forceful reminder to bring them back); and the pope himself might write a recall notice if important texts were kept away too long. One could also lose one's privilege for climbing over the tables instead of walking around them or for other offenses. Pico della Mirandola, the brilliant 23-year-old philosopher who wrote a famous "Oration on the Dignity of Man," lost his privileges when his dissident theology shocked the papal curia.

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