THE VATICAN CODEX

Among the numberless objects of interest to be seen in Rome, a very high place must be assigned to the Codex Vaticanus, probably the oldest vellum manuscript in existence, and the richest treasure of the great Vatican Library. This famous manuscript, which Biblical scholars designate by the letter B, contains the oldest copy of the Septuagint, and the first Greek version of the New Testament. In addition to the profound interest which its own intrinsic value has inspired, it has been invested with a halo of romance seldom associated with dry palæographical studies—on account of the unreasonable jealousy and capricious conduct of its guardians. For a long time it was altogether inaccessible for study to Biblical scholars, and few were allowed even to see it. These restrictions, however, have now happily to a considerable extent been removed; and provided with an order, easily obtained from the Vatican librarian, or from the Prefect of the sacred palaces, in reply to a polite note, any respectable person is permitted to inspect it.

The first feeling which one has in the Vatican Library is that of surprise. You might walk through the Great Hall and adjoining galleries without suspecting the place to be a library at all; for the bookcases that line the lower portion of the walls are closed with panelled doors, painted in arabesque on a ground of white and slate colour, and surrounded by gilded mouldings, and not a single book is visible. The vaulted ceiling of the rooms is glowing with gold and ultramarine; the walls are adorned with beautiful frescoes representing the different Councils of the Church; and magnificent tables of polished Oriental granite, and of various precious marbles, vases of porphyry, malachite, and alabaster, and priceless candelabra of Sevres china—the gifts of kings and emperors—occupy the spaces between the pillars and pilasters, and cast their rich shadows on the gleaming marble pavement. A vast variety of objects of rare beauty, artistic value, and antique interest arrest the attention, and would amply reward the study of weeks.

The nucleus of the present magnificent collection of books and manuscripts was formed in the Lateran Palace in the year 465 by Bishop Hilary; and, augmented by succeeding pontiffs, the accumulated stores were transferred in 1450 by Pope Nicholas V., the founder of Glasgow University, to the Vatican. What Nicholas began was completed by Sixtus IV. The library was classified according to subjects and writers, and Demetrius Lucensis, under the direction of Platina, made a catalogue of it which is still in existence. During this period Vatican MSS. were lent out to students, as attested by authentic registers containing the autographs of those who enjoyed the privilege. A little later the celebrated Vatican printing press was annexed to the library; and the office of correctors or readers for the accurate printing of ancient books which were wanting in the library was instituted. Pope Sixtus V. erected the present splendid edifice, and used every effort to increase the great collection. Several valuable accessions were made to it after this date, including the library of the Elector Palatine of Germany, the library of the Dukes of Urbino, the libraries of Christina, Queen of Sweden, of the Ottoboni, commenced by Pope Alexander VIII., and of the Marquis Capponi, and the MSS. taken from the convent of S. Basilio at Grotta Ferrata. Under Innocent XIII. in 1721 an attempt was made to prepare for the press a full catalogue of all the MSS. in every language. It was edited by Joseph Simon Assemani and Stephen Evodius, and three volumes were published. But the task was found too great for any one's strength, and was given up finally on account of the political disturbances of the time.

The library is a vast unexplored mine of wealth. Unknown literary treasures are contained in the closed cabinets. Among the thirty thousand manuscripts may be hid some of the ancient classical and early Christian treatises, which have been lost for ages, and whose recovery would excite the profoundest interest throughout the civilised world. A large number of these manuscripts had once belonged to the library of the famous Monastery of Bobbio, in the north of Italy, founded in the year 614 by the Irish St. Columbanus. The Irish and Scotch monks who inhabited this monastery were in the dark ages the most zealous collectors of manuscripts in Europe. At the close of the fifteenth century the convent was impoverished and deserted by its lawful occupants; and the Benedictine monks who succeeded them gave away their literary treasures partly to the Ambrosian Library at Milan and partly to the Vatican Library. Cardinal Angelo Mai, who discovered more lost works and transcribed more ancient manuscripts than any one else, found among these treasures in Milan and Rome several most interesting treatises that had long passed into utter oblivion.