Custodians of poetry and spirituality

For centuries the Convent of St. Francis of Assisi has preserved in its library the most rare and precious examples of the saint’s writings, masterpieces of exquisite literary sensitivity and of the highest spirituality.

Some time ago, the General Custody of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis of Assisi decided to entrust to Scrinium a project that would be both an enterprise of great cultural value and a particularly useful service: the creation of a perfect clone of the letter Solet annuere, whereby in 1223 pope Honorius III confirmed the Rule of the Friars Minor; and the accurate reproduction of two highly venerated relics – i.e., the only surviving documents written by St. Francis in his own hand, one displayed in the basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, the other in the cathedral of Spoleto. These were delicate and demanding operations that included high-resolution scanning of the documents.

This project produced the first of Scrinium’s new Sacra Vestigia series. The perfectly replicated Franciscan documents – each copy numbered and certified by the Custodian of the Sacred Convent and the Archbishop of the Spoleto-Norcia diocese – are accompanied by a book titled Brother Francis of Assisi, edited by the International Society of Franciscan Studies, and containing essays by renowned scholars from that institution.

Moreover, Scrinium allocates part of the proceeds to the conservation (carried out by the monks of the Benedictine abbey of Praglia, near Padua) of manuscripts belonging to the Sacred Convent.

The Sacred Convent

Heart and refuge of Franciscan spirituality

The Sacred Convent of St. Francis in Assisi stands adjacent to the basilica that was erected at the behest of pope Gregory IX in honor of the saint; the pope himself laid the cornerstone in 1228, right after the ceremony whereby he had canonized Francis. According to several fifteenth-century sources, the adjective “sacred” refers to the fact that the when pope Innocent IV consecrated the basilica, in 1253, he apparently consecrated the convent too.

The Constitutions of the Order of the Friars Minor Conventual state that the Sacred Convent “enjoys a primacy over all other friaries since it has been entrusted with the care of the famous shrine where the mortal remains of our Seraphic Father lie in rest,” and declares it to be the center of spirituality of the Order.

In 2000, the Basilica and Sacred Convent complex, together with other Franciscan sites in the same area, were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The library

The Sacred Convent’s library was created in 1230 for the use of the Franciscan friars who had established themselves in the dwelling that was under construction next to the imposing basilica that, though not yet finished, already hosted the remains of St. Francis.
Scholars agree that the Sacred Convent also had its own scriptorium, which produced liturgical and homiletic manuscripts for services and pastoral activities, and Biblical, philosophical and theological volumes for study.

Over the centuries, the wealth and importance of the library’s collection of books and documents has given rise to an abundant historical, artistic and scientific literature regarding its history, its illuminated manuscripts, its texts and their traditions, its collection of music manuscripts and books, and its incunabula (books printed before 1501). The oldest known document that makes express reference to this library is a letter written around 1260-1265 by papal notary Benedetto Caietani (the future pope Boniface VIII).

At present the library holds more than 150,000 books. Its core of medieval manuscripts is not as large as it once was, but still invaluable. Only 27 of the over 40 twelfth-century manuscripts originally in its possession still remain; and only 709 of the 1,200.medieval codices (about 70 decorated with illuminated or penwork initials). The library also owns 304 manuscripts produced after the sixteenth century, and 39 recent ones.

As for printed books, the library currently owns 358 incunabula and more than 3,200 cinquecentine (i.e., books printed in the sixteenth century), as well as about 13,000 seventeenth-century books. The music collection, one of the largest belonging to a Franciscan library, contains 5,000 manuscripts and 6,200 scores, educational books and works on music history and literature. The library also houses the Basilica’s and the Sacred Convent’s historical archives, which are especially important for their large fonds of documents written on parchment.

Achieved Projects