York (continued)This Augustinian library at York was one of three known in England to be adequate in science. It had two Greek volumes, but this is the only known instance of Greek books in the north of England at that time. The desire of Augustinian libraries to strive for a full set of the works of Augustine is in evidence here. At least 120 of the writings of Augustine were held at York, with several copies included of some of his more important works.
Among the work of recently-deceased or contemporary Augustinian authors held at York in 1372, there was De origine et progressu Ordinis (“On the origin and progress of the Order [of Saint Augustine]”), which Henry of Friemar O.S.A. wrote in Germany probably in 1330. The slightly later work, the Vitasfratrum of Jordon of Saxony O.S.A. in 1357, however, was not present. Both of these works from Germany influenced the identity of the Order throughout the late medieval period.
The York Priory's original library in 1372 followed the ordinary arrangement of such community libraries, with separate sections for the Bible, postils on the Bible, texts of the Fathers (originalia), ecclesiastical and profane history, scholastic theology (summe dociorum), philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, law, and a miscellaneous collection of volumes on medicine, music, mathematics, astronomy, &c. The collection of John Erghome O.S.A. - mentioned on the previous Augnet page - was classified in the same way, and his additional volumes represent a notable addition to each of these sections. Indeed, most of the volumes on profane history and grammar (which means classical literature) come from his private library.
The York Priory's library was appropriately conservative in the choice of books admitted to the collection. Commentaries and postils on the Bible, the originalia of the Latin Fathers, works on Scholastic theology and canon law, ecclesiastical history, philosophy, and a few standard works on grammar and rhetoric are its main contents. But one or two points require to be noted.
Although this library belonged to a convent of the Austin Friars, the selection of Scholastic theology differs very little from what we might expect to find in a library of any of the mendicant orders at this period. St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, Giles of Rome O.S.A., Henry of Ghent, and Godfrey of Fontaines - these are the authors best represented in the library. Of these Giles of Rome is the only member of the Augustinian Order; his works are abundantly represented in this York library.
But there is no trace of the treatises on papal power which are so characteristic of the Italian school of the Augustinians: neither the De Ecclesiastica Potestate of Giles of Rome O.S.A., nor the De Regimine Christiano of James of Viterbo O.S.A., nor the De Potestate Papali of Augustinus Triumphus (of Ancona) O.S.A., nor the De Ecclesiastica Potestate of Alexander of St Elpidio O.S.A., are to be found in this typical fourteenth-century library of the English Austin Friars.
The complete absence of all these works can hardly be accidental. It looks as though the English friars, taking their cue from the prevailing teaching at Oxford, and influenced by the definitely English tradition of suspicion where strong papal claims are being urged, paid little heed to the teaching of their Italian brethren. The De Regimine Principis of Giles is here; but that is a work of the period when Giles was still under the influence of Aristotle's Politics, and had not yet developed his own extreme Augustinian theories of Christian society. Present is the Quodlibeta of James of Viterbo O.S.A., but not his De Regimine Christiano. Far more surprising is the fact that this York catalogue of 1372 does not mention the great Commentary on the Sentences by Gregory of Rimini O.S.A.
The procedures for allowing books to be taken out of the library were strict. Books could be given to a lector (an Augustinian with a university degree who was teaching) for life, but reverted to the library upon his death. Anyone selling a library book without permission of the Prior and the whole community incurred an automatic excommunication (i.e., banished from the Order and the Church). The Augustinian library at York was unusually rich and complex, uniquely so for a centre so far from London.
But there were also good Augustinian libraries at Rome (the Biblioteca Angelica), Paris, Avignon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Erfurt, Magdeburg, Munich, Vienna and Prague, to name only those outside of Italy. Some Augustinian priories also had chained reference collections, or occasional chained volumes. (These books were literally chained to the bookshelf so that they could not be taken away.)
Surviving fifteenth-century books from the Augustinian community library at Mulln, now in the Salzburg University Library, include several which originally had chains (see picture at top of this page.) In 1438 the Prior of the Augustinian studium generale at Cambridge forbade any student to have a key to the library without permission. Giving the key to another Augustinian or to anyone else incurred a fine of six shillings (a considerable amount that was then sufficient for the purchase of a number of sheep).
The regulations of the Augustinian studium generale at Cambridge in 1438 stated, “No one is to lend or sell a key [to the library] to any secular, nor to admit a non-Augustinian to the library to read or write or do anything else there unless he stays with him or has someone else watch over him.”
In a letter in the fourteenth century by the Prior General, William of Cremona O.S.A., the loan of books to laity or to non-Augustinians was frowned upon, and, as was the case with most monastic libraries, substantial pledges were required by the librarian if such a loan was made. At the General Chapter at Perugia in 1482, librarians were threatened with excommunication for loaning out a book without a receipt that was signed by the borrower and a pledge of twice its value. Whether this rule applied to Augustinians or only to non-Augustinians is unclear.
More than other mendicant orders, the Augustinians were noted for making copies of books for their own use, and sometimes for semi-commercial book production. An example of the latter situation was the Augustinian Priory at Windsheim, Germany, from where many copies produced in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries bear the names of Augustinian scribes, rubricators, correctors, and an equal number of lay scribes employed by them. The fabulous former Augustinian library in Rome, the Biblioteca Angelica, has an Augnet page of its own.
As was also the case with other religious orders, almost all libraries in the medieval Augustinian houses of Central Europe and England were lost during the Protestant Reformation and its subsequent socio-political turmoil. This made the Augustinian Priors General more focused on preserving and developing the libraries in the remaining Provinces in Italy, France, Spain and in Latin America.
In 1520, as the Lutheran tide swept Germany and elsewhere, the increased number of principal Augustinian libraries in Italy were located at Treviso, Venice, Padua, Cremona, Milan, Bolonga, Florence, Siena and two in Rome at S. Maria del Popolo and Sant'Agostino.
Many of these libraries, however, were either destroyed or lost to the Order in the Napoleonic era or in the Italian nationalistic aftermath. In France the best Augustinian libraries were at the studium generale in Paris, Avignon, Toulouse and Bordeaux. These libraries were lost to the Order through the French Revolution. The best in Spain and Portugal, although generally not as large as those in Italy, were located at Zaragoza, Valencia, Seville, Salamanca and Coimbra. These libraries were lost through warfare in later centuries.
The library built in 1575 by Alonso de la Vera Cruz O.S.A. at the Colegio San Pablo in Mexico was one of the most outstanding and valuable in Mexico. This library was lost to the Order during the Mexican revolution. Through the disastrous consequences of forces external to the Order, these libraries were lost to the Order; this does not negate, however, that most Augustinians consciously attempted to imitate the example of Augustine of Hippo regarding the care for libraries.
Possidius, Augustine's friend and biographer, wrote that Augustine "always insisted that libraries and manuscripts be kept carefully for posterity," and that he left for future generations "libraries containing books and tracts written by himself and by other holy persons."
For Augnet's two pages on late medieval libraries, click here.
For further reading
The English Austin Friars 1249 – 1538 by Francis Roth O.S.A. (Augustinian Historical Institute, New York: 1966). The English Austin Friars in the time of Wyclif by Aubrey Gwynn S.J.: Oxford University Press, London, 1940. 295 pages.