vatican library room

Dive into the Vatican Library Collection, Secrets and Apostolic Archives…

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Those who love it call it The Vat, but just what is the Vatican Library? Our guide will take you through all you need to know about the Vatican Library. This includes Vatican Library secrets, details about the Vatican Library Collection and much more.

Officially established in the 15th century, the Vatican Library holds over a million books and is one of the world’s longest existing libraries. The brainchild of Pope Nicholas, and pushed further by Pope Sixtus, the library is a treasure trove for those who love literary history. Recently, efforts have been made to bring some of the Vatican library online too, so that all around the world can share in the Vatican Library digital manuscripts.

vatican apostolic library plan

History of the Vatican Library

Although officially established in the 15th Century, there is much evidence to suggest the library existed long before that. In fact, historians believe that it dates right back to the beginnings of the Christian church in Rome.

 The earliest years of the Vatican Library Collections right through to the mid fifteenth century saw the manuscripts in the churches collection located in several places. Many literary works made their way for example to Avignon. It is here that the seat of the Catholic Church was moved for nearly 100 years in the 14th Century.

 The centralisation of the Vatican Library is largely credited to Pope Nicholas, who began to consolidate many works with his own. Thus the Vatican Library collections were brought together in one place. By the time of his death, Pope Nicholas had amassed over one thousand works.

 The library grew from strength to strength and faces off numerous challenges to its existence. In the mid-16th Century, Pope Sixtus V eventually commissioned the building in which the Vatican Library sits today.

1920 vatican library

Vatican Library Organization – Galleries & rooms

Domenico Fontana designed the current building in which the Vatican Library collection is stored and is spread over three floors:

  •   The basement area houses a huge collection of ancient papyrus
  •   Upstairs, there is a massive area for restoration of works and on the top floor are all the photographed manuscripts
  •   The Sistine Hall boasts amazing internal architecture that would blow your mind!
sistine hall vatican library rome

 Vatican Library Collection – what to find inside

Here are some of the most important works housed inside the Vatican Library.

Virgil’s Aeneid

One of the most famous pieces in all of the Latin world, Virgil’s Aeneid was completed in 19BC. The poem tells the story of Aeneas. In the legend comes to Rome and becomes ancestor of the Romans.

The poem succeeds in linking Aeneas, Rome and the Trojan campaign together. Featuring 12 volumes, the epic was ordered by Virgil on his deathbed to be burned as it was not completed. However, Augustus ordered the works to be published into what we know today.

vatican archives

Gospel of Luke and John – Papyrus 75

The famous Papyrus 75 is stored in the Vatican Library archives. It is believed to be one of the most important Biblical manuscripts on earth.

Codex Vaticanus

Believed to be the most ancient copy of the New Testament on earth, the Codex Vaticanus is written on 759 pieces of parchment. It has been housed in the Vatican Library since the 15th Century after making the journey from the Holy Land via Istanbul.

Divine Comedy

The manuscript of the Divine Comedy by Dante held in the Vatican Library is illustrated by Botticelli.

The masterpiece is not intact, with some pieces for example being held in Berlin. The illustrations regarded as being some of Botticelli’s best works, one of the most famous being the map of hell.

vatican library collection Codex Vaticanus

Check the Vatican Library online

DigiVatLib Project

There is a project going on several years to bring the Vatican Library online. The process is painstaking at best. Those working on the DigiVatLib Project agree that they simply don’t know what exists in around 80% of the manuscripts. There might be treasures and amazing Vatican Library secrets that we just don’t know about!

There are 80,000 codices to be archived! It is a mammoth task that has been ongoing since 2010. The digital manuscripts created are stored online and accessible free of charge!!

vatican collection

Vatican Library Secrets and Archives

The Vatican Secret Archive is known as the Vatican Apostolic Archive. It holds records, documents and contracts held and passed down between each Pope. In the 1800s, Pope Paul V ordered the items stored in the Vatican Library to be transferred to a separate collection to increase security.

Nowadays, the Vatican Secret Archive is accessible by a limited number of scholars a year. However, any material relating to the personal lives of Cardinals dating post 1922 is unavailable for viewing.

How to get into the Vatican Library ?

In short, unless you meet the below criteria, you cannot get access to the Vatican Library! Access is restricted to the following:

  •   University Professors
  •   PHD students
  •   Professional researchers

All of the above must be able to demonstrate that the material they require to review is not available elsewhere.

Can I see any books and manuscripts in the Vatican ?

So, if you’re not in academia you won’t be able to get into the Vatican Library! But keep your eye out on the Vatican website – sometimes (rarely) they organise tours. Otherwise, you will just have to make yourself content with the digital online versions. Or apply for a PHD in manuscripts…

vatican library collection DigitVatLib

Where is the Vatican Library and how to get there?

  •   Located in the Vatican City, you can see the Vatican Library on Cortile del Belvedere
  •   Take the Metro on Line A to Ottaviano-S. Pietro, then it is a 5 minute walk to the Vatican City.

Use your Roma Pass to enjoy free transportation or opt for a 72-hours public transport card (check price here) with free airport transfer from Ciampino.

Or you could simplify your airport transfer and travel with ease. Why not consider booking our online travel card, which includes a private airport transfer and the option for a three-day public transportation card – secure your online travel card now!


We hope we’ve given you a taste of Vatican Library history. Unfortunately, this time we’re not able to help you get access to the Vatican Library! But what we can do is get you access to the Vatican City!

Head over to our complete Vatican City Guide for the top tips on visiting the Vatican City. This includes how to handle the ticket process, skip the line ticket and much more.

And if you are able to get access to the Vatican Library do let us know!

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  1. Posted by Etsuko| May 23, 2020 |Reply

    Hello, after reading this remarkable piece of writing i am as well
    glad to share my know-how here with mates.

  2. Posted by Margaret Toner-Gaston| December 15, 2021 |Reply

    I am currently reading The Holy Maid of Kent: the Life of Elizabeth Barton 1506-1534 I am considering writing a popularized version in modern English. Would the vatican have contemporary document about her?

  3. Posted by Dr. Joseph Johnson| July 19, 2023 |Reply

    Hello – I have edited a prayerbook and my brother in law will be in Rome soon. Can he donate a copy to the library?

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