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Bernard de Montfaucon Issues the First Continent-Wide Union Catalogue of Manuscripts

Montfaucon Bibliotheca vol 1 title page

In 1739 French scholar and Benedictine monk Bernard de Montfaucon published Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum Manuscriptorum nova in Paris. A catalogue of all the manuscript collections in France and Italy with which Montfaucon was familiar, plus small sections on manuscripts in libraries in Germany, Netherlands and England, this 1669-page work in 2 folio volumes was the first attempt at a continent-wide catalogue of manuscripts. Its emphasis was on medieval and Renaissance texts.

Montfaucon began with a list of all the libraries, institutional and private, for which he published holdings. These included the well-known collections and those of medieval monasteries such as Bobbio, Corbie and Fulda, but also including lesser-known monastic libraries. Then he published a 250-page index of authors and codices.  The work then listed the manuscript contents of libraries by country beginning with Italy and the Vatican Library. The work ended with another 160-page index of authors and "rerum" (things). The comprehensive indices make it possible to locate manuscript texts by author and subject. As such it remains the most useful tool for checking the distribution of manuscript texts in European libraries, and their survival in institutions up to the first third of the eighteenth century.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 175, note.

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