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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Genesis of Special Collections

Saint Benedict shows the Rule to his fellow monks.
From: Corona lvcida in coelo iam fvlgens by
Karl Stengel (Augsburg, ca. 1621).

When Father Bernard Locniker, O.S.B., librarian at the Monastery of St. Louis on the Lake (later Saint John’s Abbey), entered a German-language Bible (Cologne, 1572) as the first title in the Abbey library records in 1875, his choice reflected both the monastery’s role in ministering to German-speaking immigrants and the central role of Holy Scripture in the life of the Benedictines. For centuries, Saint Benedict and his followers have been closely associated with books and manuscripts, in particular the Bible and the Rule of Benedict. Benedictines not only copied and collected manuscripts in the Middle Ages, they also were among the earliest proponents of printing in Western Europe (e.g., the Benedictine Psalter from Mainz). In the 17th and 18th centuries, monks from the Benedictine community of Saint Germain des PrĂ©s in Paris (known as the “Maurists” from the name of their monastic congregation) travelled to other libraries and invented the modern field of manuscript studies.

Today, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML: administers three collections of rare printed books and manuscripts at Saint John’s University: the Saint John’s University Collection (consisting largely of books collected by the monks of Saint John’s Abbey), the Arca Artium Collection, and the HMML Collection. These collections bring together approximately 10,000 printed works from 15th-century incunabula to modern fine press editions. All printed works in the rare book collections have been cataloged and can be found in the University’s online catalog (MnPALS) and the holdings have been recorded in OCLC WorldCat. In addition, these collections offer medieval and modern European manuscripts, Ethiopian manuscripts, Arabic manuscripts, and a collection of autograph signatures from emperors, royalty, and popes.

In the coming months this blog will offer samples from the Special Collections at HMML, along with some interesting tidbits about them.