In 1115 Bernard de Fontaines (Bernard of Clairvaux) founded Clairvaux Abbey. Clairvaux was the third daughter abbey of Cîteaux, one of the great monastic centers of medieval Christendom, and the foundation abbey to which 530 other abbeys across Europe were attached by the end of the Middle Ages.
As inventoried in 1472 by Abbot Pierre de Virey, the library of Clairvaux Abbey contained 1,790 manuscripts, of which 1,115 survived to the present. During the French Revolution the manuscripts at Clairvaux were dispersed between the public library at Troyes, the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris) , and the Faculté de Médecine at Montpellier before the abbey was dismantled. The 1,115 surviving manuscripts from Clairvaux—dispersed as they are— remain the largest and best conserved medieval library in France. Three versions of Pierre de Virey's 1472 manuscript catalogue of the library survived.
The earliest surviving inventory of the Clairvaux Abbey library dates from the 12th century, describing the contents of the library a few decades after the abbey was founded. The catalogue is incomplete but it provides a description of 90 manuscripts kept at Clairvaux at that time. Pierre de Virey’s 1472 catalogue provides an exact description of the collection, including no less than 140 folios. It includes a list of the first words of the second leaf and the last words of the second to last leaf— the most reliable way of identifying each manuscript.
"The Médiathèque de l’Agglomération Troyenne holds 1,018 of the volumes described in the Pierre de Virey catalogue. A further 97 manuscripts are held by establishments outside Troyes: the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Montpellier (70), the Bibliothèque nationale de France (17), the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence (4), the British Library in London (2), the National Library of Hungary in Budapest (1), the Municipal Library in Mons Hainaut, Belgium (1), the Bibliothèque SainteGeneviève in Paris (1), and the Municipal Library in Laon (1)....
"Compared to other European abbeys, the medieval library at Clairvaux has several distinguishing traits. • Whereas most abbey libraries did not experience rapid growth after the end of the 13th century, the library at Clairvaux continued to expand, largely thanks to the individual efforts of the monks and an influx of university manuscripts from the Collège Saint-Bernard. • Furthermore, the donations from the university put it in a class of its own, as it stands as a testimony to the overall development of medieval scholarship. The founding of the universities signalled a great intellectual renaissance in the West, and – quite aside from its being a centre of monastic scholarship – this is reflected at Clairvaux. It is thus an exception among abbey libraries. • Finally, the Clairvaux scriptorium was an unprecedented centre of artistic production, for it was there that the monochrome style that is the hallmark of all Cistercian art originated" (http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/mow/nomination_forms/library_cistercian_abbey_clairvaux.pdf).
Harmand, Auguste, Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques des départements, Vol. II (Bibliothèque de Troyes), Paris, Imprimerie impériale, 1855.
Det, Alexis Silvère, Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France, Troyes, supplement, Vol. XLIII, Paris, Plon Nourrit et Cie, 1904.
Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques de France, supplements Dijon, Pau, Troyes, Vol. 63, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, 1984.
La Bibliothèque de l'abbaye de Clairvaux du XIIe au XVIIIe siècle. I. Catalogues et répertoires, published by André Vernet in cooperation with Jean-François Genest and the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, 1979.
La Bibliothèque de l'abbaye de Clairvaux du XIIe au XVIIIe siècle. II. Les manuscrits conservés. Première partie: Manuscrits bibliques, patristiques et théologiques, records compiled by Jean-Paul Bouhot and Jean-François Genest under the direction of André Vernet, Paris Turnhout, Éditions du CNRS – Brepols, 1997.
Bibliothèque Virtuelle de Clairvaux
In 2015 the entire collection of 1115 manuscripts from the abbey library of Clairvaux were digitized in the Bibliothèque Virtuelle de Clairvaux, including about 500,000 manuscript pages in color. In August 2019 this digital library appeared to be accessible through the La Médiathèque du Grand Troyes website, Recherche Manuscrits Patrimoine numérisé search at this link.