Three cardinal protectors of the Order, Blessed NichoIas Albergati, John dei Conti of Tagliacozzo, and William d'Estouteville, were among the benefactors of Augustinian libraries of the period. The first named died in the Augustinian house in Siena in 1443, leaving some of his books to the community.
In 1449 John dei Conti bequeathed his collection to the library of the Convent of St Augustine in Rome. In 1483 d'Estouteville gave the same Roman library 183 volumes. He perhaps played a part in the donation of another 130 codices, made in 1468 by his secretary John Baroncelli.
In 1499 the Portuguese cardinal George da Costa made out his will and generously favored the Augustinians of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. He bequeathed to them various sacred objects and vessels, a large sum of money, buildings, vineyards, and "all my books." Without attempting to include here the Augustinian bishops whose books legally reverted to their native house, mention should be made of John of Neumarkt.
This illustrious prelate, a friend of Petrarch and a supporter of humanism, leads the list of another class of benefactors to Augustinian libraries. He was bishop of Olmiltz and chancellor of Emperor Charles IV. Upon undertaking a trip to Rome in 1386, he left his library in the Augustinian house in Prague, declaring that the books should remain there if he died on his journey. He returned safely, but it appears that he did not change the disposition regarding his books.
In 1374 the fabled author and humanist, John Boccaccio, willed all his books, with the exception of his breviary, to the Augustinian friar, Martin of Signa O.S.A., who entrusted them to the Augustinian community of Santo Spirito, Florence.
The Italian diplomat and scholar, Giannozzo Manetti, who was the most famous of the humanists, intended to set up a special room in Santo Spirito for the collection he had gathered, because according to Vaspasian da Bisticci, "having studied there, he had a great love for that religious house." Manetti, however, died in 1459 without having realized his project. (The valuable library of Santo Spirito has long been lost, owing to various military depredations inflicted on late medieval Florence.)
In 1422 Richard Homes, canon of York and a professor at Cambridge, enhanced the library of the English Augustinian friary at Gorleston with many books. Maffeo Vegio left part of his collection to the house of St Augustine in Rome. He also constructed the beautiful chapel of St. Monica in this same church (“Sant’Agostino”). The chapel which is still preserved contains his remains. He was buried there in 1458.
There are many more names of benefactors that could be listed whose donations of particular books are unspecified. Nor is there need here to mention those religious who, according to reliable accounts, were solicitous in both preserving and enriching conventual (religious community) libraries. To the delight of scholars and bibliophiles, an ancient study contains the inventory of twenty-eight Augustinian libraries throughout Europe.
The best Augustinian libraries of Italy were those in Rome, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Cremona, Milan, Padua, Venice, and Treviso. Among the best Augustinian libraries in central Europe were those of Munich, Erfurt, Magdeburg, Vienna, and Prague. Also to be included are the libraries of Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Avignon in France, and the library of York in England, which, according to a specialist, was one of the five best in all of Europe in the late fourteenth century.
It can be deduced that the Augustinian libraries of this period were well cared for. It also offers some positive data during a period of unquestionable decline within the Order and in the Church generally, when laxity within morals and administrative vigour plus the failure of major attempts at reform led to the eruption and disruption of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.
(Continued on the next page.)
Pictures (at right)
Picture 1: Bound manuscript of “lost” sermons of St Augustine, found in a library at Mainz, Germany in 1990
Picture 2: A medieval library preserved in the Franciscan friary at Šibenik, Croatia.
Picture 3: Evidence of dust between the pages at Šibenik, Croatia.