Manuscript codes and valuable print books
The Antonian Library of Padua was born in the first half of the thirteenth century. Its history intersects that of the Conventual Franciscan community of the Basilica of Saint Anthony, the custodian of the sanctuary from the Middle Ages up to this day. Along with other unique cases in Italy among the ancient Franciscan libraries, it has escaped pillaging, systematic dispersions and State confiscations and been preserved substantially intact up to today.
The first core of the library collection certainly goes back to the teaching activity initiated with the approval of Francis of Assisi in the small old convent by Saint Anthony himself, not only a popular preacher but also first “reader” of theology within the Order.
Two documented donations are considered its “foundation stones”. In 1237, in his will, magister Aegidius, priest of the Cathedral of Padua, left to the friars a code containing the Sermons of Saint Anthony (perhaps to be identified in the present ms 720, source of the critical edition of the Antonian work). Around 1240, the priest of the cathedral, Uguccione, nephew of the bishop of Padua Iacopo Corrado, donated to the monastery a precious and glossed Parisian Bible in 25 volumes with illuminations by magister Alexander, head of one of the major workshops in Paris.
The collection grew through donations, bequests, and the work of internal copyists. The specific purpose of the library was in fact the preparation of the friars to their pastoral activity – especially preaching – to which was later added the University teaching of philosophy and theology in the Faculty of Arts, which was precisely entrusted to Conventual Teachers at the middle of the fifteenth century.
Other important incentives for the development of the Antonian Library came from: the establishment of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Padua (1363); the recognition in 1437 of the Convent Study of the Basilica as a General Studium, meaning of the University level; and the upgrade granted by Urbano VIII at the request of the Venetian government of the Internal Studium to a Theological Faculty in 1630, which endured until 1772 with the permission to graduate ten students every three years.
The nineteenth century was a stormy century for the Convent and the Library. In 1810, the Napoleonic Decree that suppressed the religious institutions forced the friars to a reduced presence, limiting them to simple ministers and custodians of the Basilica. Only in 1826, under Austrian rule, could the community regroup. Another crisis stemmed from the Kingdom of Italy’s annexation of the Veneto and the subsequent application of laws hostile to religious orders. Crucial to preventing the dispersion of the Antonian Library upon the arrival of the French in Padua in 1797, was, first, the dedicated work of P. Bonaventura Perissuti as the librarian and, then, in 1810, the intervention of the Veneranda Arca di Sant’Antonio that claimed the property of the Library and exempted it from greater state confiscation.
The Antonian Library currently holds 828 manuscripts, of which about 600 are medieval works (including 41 great choral books, with a series of illuminated antiphonaries and graduals of 1340-1360), 260 incunabula, 3200 editions of the sixteenth century, and a remarkable collection of Jewish books.
Attached to the Library and accessible for consultation by scholars is the Musical Archive, whose recent cataloguing of the ancient fund records over 9000 compositions (including particularly important collections of the eighteenth century, with autographs of Giuseppe Tartini).
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