Hand in hand with the emphasis on learning within the Order of Saint Augustine was its promotion of libraries. In this way, the Order contributed to the preservation and dissemination of Augustine's writings. The General Chapter at Ratisbon (now Regensburg, Bavaria) in 1290 decreed that libraries be established within six months in every studium generale (Augustinian international houses of study, where Augustinians were educated).
The Ratisbon Constitutions, approved at that same General Chapter in 1290, urged that each Augustinian priory (convento) in important cities maintain a collection of books needed for reference. In those days before there was a library room in most Augustinian houses, it stipulated that the books be placed in the sacristy or dormitory. These were considered the most secure locations in the priory, where also there was more than likely to be somebody present for many of the twenty-four hours of each day.
The books were locked in trunks, as often also secured in these locations were any valuables or coins that either the Priory owned or was holding in safe keeping for others (a common practice before banks existed). The collection of books held by an Augustinian convento was small because all written documents were manuscripts, and the production of a manuscript required the expense of possibly many months’ work by a copyist.
Siena To introduce an apparent exception to the rule: The Augustinian Priory (convento – taken from the Augustinians by the government about 130 years ago) at Siena had the extremely rare good fortune of bequeathing to posterity an inventory of the books held in its Priory Library in the year 1360; the inventory is extant but, unfortunately, not copies of the books that it lists. "Books" is an inaccurate term to use here, because the printing press was not extant in Europe until the late 15th century; in the year 1360, in contrast, what existed on the library shelves were handwritten manuscripts (i.e., flat pages bound together), or rolled scrolls.
What is additionally exceptional is just how many books (and, also, books by Augustine) that the Siena Priory possessed. Of the 487 works in the Siena Priory referred to above, only 154 were attributed to Augustine, but subsequent scholarship would identify only 73 of these as genuine works by Augustine; in the matter of sermons listed therein, the percentage of pseudo sermons is even greater.
The Siena Priory's collection in the year 1360 included theological texts such as De trinitate, De civitate dei, the Enchiridion, and De spiritu et littera; pastoral works such as De bono conjugali, De cathechizandis rudibus, and De cura pro mortuis; polemical works such as Contra Julianum, De predestinatione sanctorum, and Contra Adiniantum; philosophical works such as: De libero arbitrio, Soliloquia, De quantitate animae, De doctrina christiana, and De magistro; such exegetical works as Expositiones Augustini super evangelia, De Genesi ad litteram, and the Questiones evangeliorum (although the Enarrationes in Psalmos is not listed); and such religious works as De opere monachorum, De vera religione, and De sancta virginitate, in addition to the Confessiones and the Retractationes.
In short, the friars at Siena had access to Augustine's writings, albeit having it interspersed with almost an equal number of pseudo-Augustine works. At the same period, the friars in smaller Italian Augustinian priories were less fortunate: at Massa Marittima, there were only five works by Augustine in a library of seventy-four books, at Montichiello and Colle di Val d'Esta no Augustinian works in libraries of fifty-five and fifty-two works respectively.
The Augustinian collection at Siena in 1360 was probably outstanding in its size, for the most extensive of all medieval libraries located at the University of the Sorbonne in Paris possessed over 1,000 books, yet had only 149 works/titles of Augustine, which was five less than in Siena. (The Sorbonne did not even have a full copy, i.e., one containing all books/chapters, of either Confessions or of City of God.)
Paris How small libraries were in 1290 can be seen in the example of the large Augustinian studium generale in Paris. Its catalogue of manuscripts in 1290 listed only fifty titles. By 1400 the library at Paris was much larger, because today over 200 of its former manuscripts still exist in various (non-Augustinian) libraries in Paris and further afield. These 200 manuscripts contain about fifty-five different works by St Augustine, and even several copies of some of them. They include almost all of his more important works: the Confessions, City of God, Enchridion, and De Trinitate.
As well, there are copies of some of his smaller works. To name a few of them: On Free Will, The Advantage of Believing, The Excellence of Marriage, The Excellence of Widowhood, Holy Virginity, De Doctrina Christiana, The Work of Monks, Baptism, Expositions on the Psalms, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Letter of John, The Spirit and the Letter, Marriage and Desire, and The Literal Meaning of Genesis.
In Paris or elsewhere, the number of manuscripts in a library could increase only by purchases or if the Augustinians ordered manuscripts elsewhere to be copied on its behalf. Each studium generale in the Order was permitted to employ two professional copyists, who usually were laymen. This practice lapsed in many places after the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Some Augustinian houses in Continental Europe, especially within the Augustinian observant movement, began to staff their scriptorium (copying room) with Augustinians.
The work of one such Augustinian scriptorium (copying room) can still be seen. The publication in the 1960s of the catalog of the public library of the city of Windsheim in Bavaria, Germany, indicated that it still possesses all the manuscripts of the Augustinian Priory at Windsheim that was suppressed during the Protestant Reformation. Some of these manuscripts show excellent calligraphy, while others show corrections made by a supervisor.
A quicker increase of library holdings, however, came from the donation of entire libraries to add to that of the Augustinian convento, either from wealthy laity or from Augustinian scholars who has just died. In this way, for example, the former Prior General in 1460 – 1470, William Becchi O.S.A., bequested 100 volumes to the Augustinian Convento di Santo Spirito in Florence, to which also the humanist author and friend of Augustinians, Giovanni Boccaccio, bequeathed many books in his last will and testament dated 28th August 1374.
The only complete medieval list of volumes held in an Augustinian priory in England is a document pertaining to the Austin Friars in York in 1372. The York Priory had existed as early as 1278, and stood near the Ouse Bridge over the Ouse River. In York a good number of lay scribes were available to the local Augustinian Priory because in the later Middle Ages York was the second-largest city in England, with a population in 1377 of 11,000 in comparison with London’s 35,000. York also had the largest Benedictine monastery in northern England.
At that time the Augustinian Priory library held 656 volumes that contained a total of 2,100 treatises, many of which were rare in England at that time. Of the actual 656 volumes, 306 of them were donated by John Erghome O.S.A., master of the Augustinian studium there. Of these 656 volumes, only seven are known still to exist today. In comparison with the Augustinian Library at York, the Oxford University Library in 1424, as distinct from the libraries of its individual colleges, owned only 122 books.
Drafted in 1372, the catalogue of the library of the York convent of the Augustinian friars is by far the biggest catalogue from the mendicant libraries in England and one of the largest extant from Europe before 1400. The existence of a reference collection in the library is deduced through an analysis of one type of marginal note in the catalogue. One of the reference books, Novum opus dominicale of Robert Waldeby O.S.A. (not to be confused with John Waldeby O.S.A.), was very likely composed in the library itself during the 1360s.
A comparison between the sources of this de tempore collection and the library, in particular the reference collection, identifies what sort of books were used and for what purposes. It also reveals that the library books were meticulously organized for the library's main use, that is, to provide preaching aids and other educational materials for future preachers, namely student-friars. (Continued on the next page.)AN4161