Santa Scolastica

The library of Santa Scolastica is located on the upper floor of the north side of the Gothic cloister which forms part of the Benedictine monastery of Santa Scolastica situated to the east of the town of Subiaco.

In his ‘Rule’ St Benedict stipulated that the monks should read both privately and together as a community but it is not clear if a special space was created where the books they read could be kept. At the end of the year 1100 the then abbot John V endowed the monastery with a ‘Scriptorium’.

There was also a library in the nearby monastery of St Benedict, also known as the ‘Sacro Speco’ (or ‘Holy Grotto’). From the 11th century onwards both libraries continued to expand, with the addition of many manuscripts; eventually there were around 10,000 manuscript volumes.

Evidence for the fact that the two libraries were separate can be found in the ownership notes in many manuscripts and incunabula which are today held in the Santa Scolastica library.

With their Scriptorium, the two libraries subsequently became the birthplace of printing with mobile type in Italy, thanks to two clerics coming from Germany, Arnold Pannartz and Konrad Sweynheym, who arrived in Subiaco in about the year 1464 and worked there until 1467.

No copies of the first work they printed after their arrival in Subiaco – an edition of the Latin grammar of Donatus, Pro puerulis (1464) – survive today but copies of their subsequent editions of Cicero’s De oratore (1465), of Lactantius (1465) and of St Augustine’s De civitate Dei (1467) do. For Augustine’s work the actual manuscript the printers used as the copy-text for their printed edition can still be found in the library today.

Over the following centuries the holdings of both manuscripts and printed books were subject to serious losses. In the 20th century the custody of the library was assigned to the monks in the monastery and in 1929 the library was given the special status of a library belonging to the Italian State forming part of a National Monument (‘Biblioteca statale annessa al Monumento nazionale’), the responsibility for which lay with the then Ministry of National Education.

The library today is a so-called ‘peripheral’ institution which comes under the auspices of the Ministry for Culture and Tourism (‘Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali e per il turismo or MiBACT). It contains approximately 130,000 books printed between 1501 and the present day, 420 manuscripts, 206 incunabula, archival documents and the private archive of the Colonna family, acquired in 2001.

Further reading

Luchina Branciani, Printing in Subiaco
Luchina Banciani, Notes on Subiaco incunables
Maria Antonietta Orlandi, The Libraries of the Sacro Speco and Santa Scolastica in Subiaco: dispersals and transfers
Maria Antonietta Orlandi,The two monastic libraries