Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 17:25:29 -0500
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <>
From: “Steven A. Leibo, The Sage Colleges” <>
Subject: H-ASIA: Using the Vatican Archives
To: Multiple recipients of list H-ASIA <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>

From:Eugenio Menegon
Subject: Re: H-Asia: Vatican Library Resources Query

Vatican Library Resources Query

By Eugenio Menegon, H-Asia list, 16 February 1998

In response to Mr. Gutton's query on the Vatican Library, I would like to offer some bibliographical advice, as well as my own limited experience at the Library. I am working on Chinese Christians in the 17th and 18th centuries, and thus I have no competence on Vietnamese materials. However, I trust that the information I give also applies.

Although it is the private collection of the Pope, access to the Vatican Library is by no means difficult, if one brings a letter of introduction from the home institution, stating that he/she is a Ph.D. candidate or qualified scholar (admittance is usually given only to scholars holding at least a degree of first level university education or equivalent qualifications), and what the topic of research is. Bring also identification and a couple of photos for the temporary card that will be issued at the first registration procedure. The entrance is at the right of St. Peter's Square, at the gate where the Swiss Guards in blue uniforms stand. If asked, tell the Guard you are going to the “Biblioteca.” Likely, he’ll tell you what to do next. The Library has limited opening times, and one should check beforehand on the duration of Church holidays (Christmas; Easter etc.), as well as of the long summer closure.

Having one of the most precious collections in the world, the Library has many users. Unfortunately, the personnel is extremely limited. Thus only minimal assistance can be expected. While working on manuscripts, for example, it is forbidden to talk to any of the nearby patrons, or to ask help in deciphering handwritings. Scholars who have made it into the Library are supposed to be trained in paleography. Moreover, only limited number of items can be seen each time. Depending on the nature of the materials, limited reproductions can be obtained after approval. The Library can send by mail the copies. Manuscripts are usually not reproduced. Thus, plan well in advance, and allow enough time for your research (at the Vatican and in Rome in general). Rome is called the Eternal City for some reason!

There are numerous printed guides to parts of the Vatican Library's collection, as well as numerous inventories of manuscripts by topic (the level of detail varies). For example, the collection BORGIA TONCHINESE is inventoried in the manuscript “Inventario dei Manoscritti Borgiani” (kept in the catalogue room: Ms. Cat 420). There are many other inventories of the large Borgia Collection, as well as of other ‘fondi’. Inventories are by nature sketchy. A good way to know more about a certain series of manuscripst, and to check if certain manuscripts and/or inventories have been published, is to look carefully at the volumes in the publication series “Studi e Testi” of the Library, in particular the Buonocore/Ceresa “Bibliografia dei fondi manoscritti della Biblioteca Vaticana” in several volumes.

While at least two inventories for the Chinese holdings were recently made available in print (one by the late eminent sinologist Paul Pelliot, - published in Kyoto -; the other by the current curator of the Library's East Asian section, Ms. Yu Dong—in the series “Studi e Testi”-), I am only vaguely familiar with the Vietnamese holdings. Some Vietnamese materials are included in the Chinese collection inventories, and scattered in different ‘fondi’, like the Barberini Oriente, Vaticano Estremo Oriente, Raccolta Generale Oriente etc. Quite likely, some references to articles dealing with Vietnamese documents in Roman libraries and archives could be found in the comprehensive serial published by the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome, “Bibliografia Missionaria” (the best resource together with the “Bibliotheca Missionum”).

Other important repositories of missionary materials in Rome are:

For some bibliographic references to literature on these and other repositories, I would suggest a look at E. Zuercher, N. Standaert, A. Dudink eds, _Bibliography of the Jesuit Mission in China_, chapt. 1, “Bibliographies, reference works and sources,” Leiden University, Centre of Non-Western Studies, 1991 (PO Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands).

If readers of H-ASIA show more interest in the topic, I will be happy to contribute a more substantial entry in the future.

Eugenio Menegon
Ph.D. Candidate
History Department
University of California at Berkeley