Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 8, 2013
Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Biblioteca Ambrosiana

December 8, 1609: The first public library on continental Europe and the second in the world, opens its reading rooms. Biblioteca Ambrosiana, located in Lombardy, Milan, was named after St. Ambrose – patron saint of Milan. It was founded by Cardinal Federico Borromeo who sent agents across western Europe, Greece, and Syria to collect books and manuscripts for the library. They were able to bring in the entire library of the Bobbio monastery and more than 800 manuscripts from Vincenzo Pinelli of Padua.

The Cardinal’s plan was to amass a library and open it to scholars who could research and answer treatises being put out by the Protestant presses. By 1603, construction on a library had begun. Biblioteca was needed to house the 15,000 manuscripts and more than 30,000 books in the Cardinal’s collection. The Bodleian Library at Oxford had been opened to the public in 1602, although at the time they did not have the same number of books and manuscripts at their disposal.

Borromeo not only wanted the library to thrive, but he also wanted other institutions of scholarship and culture to grow along with it encouraging the College of Doctors, the Fine Arts Academy, and the Gallery. The library’s collections have expanded over time with many collectors of rare books bequeathing their treasures to the institution. Their “most outstanding” manuscript comes from the 5th century – an illuminated Iliad, the Ilia Picta. They have a dozen Leonardo da Vinci manuscripts including the Codex Atlanticus in their stacks. There is also an art gallery in the library which opened in 1618.

The library houses over 450,000 printed items. There are about 3,000 incunabula – or items published pre-printing press by the use of printing blocks. There are around 15,000 manuscripts dating from medieval to modern times. There are also nearly 12,000 parchments at the library. There are more than 2,000 paintings, sculptures, and furniture pieces and another 12,000 drawings. Historical correspondence is preserved with 40,000 letters, about half of them on display.

“A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face.  It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.” – Edward P. Morgan

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles W. Eliot

“Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.” – William Hazlitt

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” – Abraham Lincoln

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Federico Borromeo was born in Milan in 1564. He was the second son of an influential family and his cousin was Archbishop of Milan prior to Federico’s assumption to that post. He asked to become a Jesuit at the age of 16 but was dissuaded from this path by his cousin who sent him to Collegio Borromeo of Pavia. After graduating with a doctorate of theology in 1585, he continued studying in Rome. He became a Cardinal on December 18, 1587 at the age of 21. He was involved in five different papal conclaves (where the cardinals elect a new Pope). The first of these was in 1590 when he was only 26 making him one of the youngest Cardinals to participate in the papal election. He was appointed as Archbishop of Milan in 1595. He composed 71 printed and 46 manuscript books during his lifetime, most of them written in Latin. He died in Milan at the age of 67 on September 21, 1631.

Also on this day: John is Dead – In 1980, John Lennon was murdered.
Da Bears – In 1940, the Bears and Redskins played football.
Women’s Work – In 1660, Othello opened with a woman playing the part of Desdemona, the first time that happened.


3 Responses

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  1. hairballexpress said, on December 9, 2013 at 2:19 am

    Yet another Pawsome post the human loves…. Sounds like a great place fur a Kat to hang out! (trills)!

    • patriciahysell said, on December 9, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      Can you imagine all the comfy nooks and hidden spots, places in the sun, and the tremendous chance of finding a treasure?

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