Vatican Library opens for scholars after $11million transformation

A view of the Sistine Hall, part of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Vatican City, Monday, Sept. 13, 2010. The Vatican's Apostolic Library is reopening to scholars following a three-year renovation to improve its cataloguing and security measures.The library, which houses one of the world's best collections of illuminated manuscripts, opens its doors Sept. 20. Details will be announced Monday at a press conference. The library was started by Pope Nicholas V in the 1450s with an initial 350 Latin manuscripts. By the time Nicholas died in 1455, the collection had swelled to about 1,500 codices and was the largest in Europe. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

The Vatican’s Apostolic Library is reopening to scholars following a three-year, €9-million ($11.5- million) renovation to install climate-controlled rooms for its precious manuscripts and state-of-the-art security measures to prevent theft and loss.

The library, started by Pope Nicholas V in the 1450s, houses one of the world’s best collections of illuminated manuscripts. It includes the oldest known complete Bible, dating from about 325 and believed to have been one of the 50 bibles commissioned by Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman leader.

It reopens its frescoed halls to scholars Sept. 20. Library officials took pains to note that the renovation work was completed on time — a rarity in Italy but also an acknowledgment of the inconvenience the three-year closure caused many scholars who had to suspend their research while its collections of tens of thousands of volumes were in storage.

Vatican Library
Each one of the library's 70,000 books, which are stored in a bombproof bunker, has been fitted with a computer chip capable of emitting radio signals in order to prevent loss and theft.

Cardinal Raffaele Farina, the Vatican’s chief librarian, thanked those researchers “who understood the reason for the closure.”

“Given the amount of what had to be done — the noise and the intrusiveness of the technical and construction work necessary — we decided the library inevitably had to close,” Farina told reporters Monday inside the frescoed Sistine Hall.

Some 4,000 to 5,000 scholars are given permission to conduct research in the library every year; access is generally restricted to academics conducting post-graduate level research. None of the items in the library can be checked out, and rules for working inside are strict: No pens, food or even mineral water are allowed in the manuscript reading room.

Researchers will now find improved communications and elevator access to the Vatican’s vast collections, as well as a new tower inside the Vatican’s Belvedere Courtyard to ferry manuscripts from their bomb-proof bunker to climate-controlled consultation rooms. Inside the bunker itself, fire-proof and dust proof floors and walls were installed to further protect the manuscripts.