The Library


Montefiascone is a small town perched on the highest point of an extinct volcano whose crater is now filled with the Lake of Bolsena. It is a landmark, visible for miles around. The ancient Romans called it Mons Faliscorum (Mountain of the Falisci), but the name goes back yet further to the Etruscans, whose heartland lay between present day Rome and Florence. In the middle ages it marked the northern limit of papal territory, and the remains of a great fortress, or the “Rocca”, mark its importance as a frontier town. When the seat of the papacy moved to Avignon in the fourteenth century, Montefiascone became an important stopping-place on the road from there to Rome.

But from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century all the land round became the private fief of the Farnese family, whose most famous member was Pope Paul III. In 1649 Innocent X re-annexed the territory, and in 1686 Marcantonio Barbarigo, a member of a famous patrician family of Venice, was elected Cardinal and appointed Bishop of Montefiascone and Corneto (now Tarquinia). He was determined to repair the neglect of his predecessors, and built a large seminary to educate the priests who would minister to the needs of his diocese. This building still stands at the top of the town, near the old Rocca.


An important feature of the seminary was its library, a handsome long room with a vaulted ceiling and walls painted in trompe l’oeil. Part of its decoration still survives, although the present shelves, in handsome dark wood cases, are of later date. An arched window overlooks the town, with a wrought iron balcony incorporating the Barbarigo arms. The earliest inventory of the contents of the library, drawn up in 1692-3, contains almost 300 books, many of which are still there. At some point before his death in 1706 the Bishop added books, some going back to the fifteenth century, that had belonged to his Venetian ancestors, one of whom, Pierfrancesco Barbarigo, had been the principal investor in the famous Aldine press.

Besides this ‘foundation’ collection, books came from other libraries, among them the monastery founded by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese on the Isola Bisentina, one of two islands on the lake of Bolsena, about 1600. The learned Cardinal Garampi added more books in the eighteenth century, including books in Hebrew and other oriental languages, among them a copy of the great Walton polyglot bible. The Napoleonic invasion of Italy brought damage and loss to the library, in part put right by his successor Jean Siffrein Maury. Among the books now added were some from German monasteries suppressed about 1800. Where the library had previously contained theology and works on canon law, books of secular learning and education were now added, including scientific and geographical works.

A gateway tower adjoins the seminary church, also built by Barbarigo, and on its other side is a doorway with the legend ‘Typographia Seminarii’ over it. This was the site of a printing press that was part of the Seminary until World War II, when the Seminary again suffered (one of the books used as a shutter still has machine-gun bullets in it). In recent times, the Library has benefited from the annual conservation course, through which many of the books have been restored and a modern catalogue undertaken. The Library can now look forward to a future of continued scholarly use.


In 1987 advice was sought regarding the care and maintenance of the historic Seminario Barbarigo Library. On behalf of the Seminary, GianCarlo Breccola and Anthea Bulloch consulted Cheryl Porter, a professional book conservator, on the understanding that the library and its collection were in need of, and worthy of urgent attention.

In order to prioritise the work, Cheryl enlisted the help of Nicolas Barker, a leading international scholar of rare books and manuscripts, and formerly Head of Conservation and Deputy Keeper at the British Library. Dr Barker stressed the importance of the collection and urged the seminary to safeguard the library as soon as possible. With his help, as well as the help of many others, Cheryl was able to organise a survey of the condition of the collection and subsequently devise a strategy for dealing with the relevant problems.

The library consisted of about 5000 volumes and was housed in an elegant room with the books arranged on built-in floor to ceiling wooden presses. The library was no longer used by the seminary as a teaching facility for the training of priests. (The modern books needed to fulfil this purpose had previously been removed to the main collection at La Quercia in Viterbo). Those books that remained had, as a consequence, been neglected for many years; unvisited, save for a few priests, who recognised its relevance to the seminary and its history. Apart from a general ambiance of dust and neglect, there were several serious and urgent problems.


Sometime before 1988, there had been a major flood from the bathrooms above the library and Press N had suffered directly. The wood of these shelves had distorted and there was widespread mould and water damage to the books, especially those in the lowest shelf. These had more-or-less ceased to be identifiable as books and presented a serious health hazard to readers. The ceiling of the room too, had been damaged by water from the bathrooms above. Gesso from the walls behind the books was cracked and crumbling and falling onto the books. Lighting was inadequate and the wiring was old. The floor was in generally good condition though there were several broken tiles and long and wide cracks running parallel to the south wall. The windows on the east wall were leaking rainwater and allowing unacceptable levels of light to shine directly onto books in presses K, L and M. The balcony door did not fit properly and failed to secure the room against the environmental changes from without, whilst permitting vermin access to the room. The bodies of mummified rats were subsequently found behind books on the shelves.

The library was infested with insects and there were rodents feeding on the book bindings and the paper text blocks. Birds’ eggs were found on the shelves and there was extensive evidence of woodworm activity affecting the books and the library furniture. There was no adequate catalogue of the collection.


Since 1987, much has been achieved to safeguard this wonderful library at the heart of the historic seminary.

Almost immediately, Don GianPaolo Guaram took in hand the disconnection of the water to the bathrooms above the library. This room is now dry and there is no water circulating or held anywhere above the library. Thanks to the generosity of Don Antonio Patrizi, the doors to the east and the west of the library were replaced. In 2000 the ceiling of the library was replaced with a plain white gesso, painted with the cardinal’s coat of arms. The central lighting was incorporated into the design to provide much-needed reading light. The walls have been re-plastered and now no longer crumble and fall onto the books and the shelves.

From 1988, conservation students from Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts and the University of Northumbria, as well as practising conservators from the British Library and the Public Record Office in London, came to work in the library for one month each summer. Subsequently, international teams of professional conservators and librarians have come to assist with a programme of conservation and preservation.

The conservation teams have systematically cleaned the library and its collections (every shelf and every book) and they return each summer to ensure that this vital work is maintained. Animal bodies, nests, eggs, waste, and other debris is cleared out from the library and preventative treatments are laid down and applied. Any new infestation is noted, as is any detail of relevance to the future well-being of the collection.

The woodworm has been treated and continues to be treated with a solution developed by Dr Robert Child, Head of the Conservation Department of the National Museum of Wales.

Books with live insects have been treated with a vacuum-packing technique, developed by Stuart Welch, of Conservation by Design, and Dr Nicholas Hadgraft, a Cambridge-based professional conservator.

Mouldy books have also been vacuum-packed until the mould is inactive and is then cleaned from the books by teams of conservation students adhering to Health and safety guidelines.

Phase boxes have been made to protect important and vulnerable items and several books have their own custom-made boxes. There has been an on-going programme of first-aid repair to those books in need of attention – e.g., board corners and in-situ repair- as well as more involved conservation work, such as board- hitching, leather repair, re-attaching end bands.

Work has also been done on the seminary archives. These are of vital importance to the history of the institution. The archives date to the founding of the seminary and though much time and effort has been expended in storing the collection in a systematic and safe way, there is still much to be done.


A cataloguing system for the library was set up under the direction of Nicolas Barker. The work to create a card catalogue was begun by Julianne Simpson (1995-1997 and 2007-2019) and continued by Charlotte Miller, of Sotheby’s London (1997-2004) and Renae Satterley (2007-present). In the late 1990s some cataloguing work was also undertaken by library students from the Università degli Studi della Tuscia; their records have since been uploaded to Catalogo collettivo delle biblioteche del Servizio Bibliotecario Nazionale. Since 2010 catalogue entries have been added to a database, created in LibreOffice Base. This work has been supported over more than twenty-five years by many professional librarians from around the world, and other volunteers.


After possible earthquake damage and the closure of the seminary from 2005 to 2012 it was decided to move the books to a more secure location in the building. Books from the Old and New Library, along with the Seminary Archives and material to support the teaching courses are now housed in two refurbished rooms. Here they are stored in a secure and stable environment on metal shelving generously donated from a number of local organisations.

We are currently planning a new space for the library and archive in the nearby Bishop’s Palace. Work is underway to redevelop the building for multi-purpose use, including a museum dedicated to the Seminary’s founder Cardinal Barbarigo.

The important work of volunteers in the library continues to be supported by the annual conservation course. Now working closely with the Centro diocesano di documentazione per la storia e la cultura religiosa in Viterbo we hope to ensure the continued preservation of the collections and future access for scholarly use