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The Vatican Library
Or: If You're Reading This, You're Already Damned

Catholicism aside--some of you may be familiar with it--the Vatican library is one of the largest in the world, host to untold thousands of volumes the organization of which, no matter how good, will probably still have you taking the Lord's name in vain.

Founded over 500 years ago, the library has been the subject of intrigues, arguments, scandals, rumors, and mysteries, much like the many of its Popes. Stories of hidden stacks, secret archives, and yes, the largest collection of pornography in the world, have all leaked out into the world (no evidence of the latter has been reliably reported, though no doubt not for a lack of looking).

We must remember not to be too, too hard on those angelic archivisits--or devilish dewey decimalists, depending on whose side you're on--they were doing a tough job in a tough time, and though for a great deal of its history, the Vatican did have a lot more up its sleeve than stigmata, I'm not going to judge them. That's not for me to do, as I'm sure I'd be reminded.

So whether you're into heretical scientific manuscripts, heretical works of fiction, or heretical works on heresy, you can find them in the Vatican Library.

You can also probably pick up a magazine to read on the plane. And now...

The History of the Vatican Library
The highlights and hijinx of a book-banning, book-burning, literary lovefest

There are also maps, charts, cards, coins, engravings, drawings, carvings...the list goes on. The collection grows by thousands of volumes each year, mostly through donations. Plenary indulgences may or may not be given in return.

Probably not. I just couldn't get through something on the Vatican without mentioning plenary indulgences. Love those things.

For when you've had enough squinting.

Every so often, while straining your eyes cataractic trying to read some hoary codex in the reading room of the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana (the Vatican Library), you get really fatigued, and feel like nodding off. You feel there's something . . . missing. Something you want . . . . Close up that medieval codex, exit the room, and head upstairs.

There at roof level, is a small kiosk: the Vatican Library BAR. Yes, folks, that's right, the pope's own bar. Now, while you can get a shot of something hard (or a prosecco) in many Italian bars, their chief product is coffee (cappuccino in the morning, espresso at all times and in a hundred variants) and a species of (often) creme-filled croissant called a cornetto. You can fight for elbow room at the bar itself, or grab a seat vacated by one of the other academic Bartlebys. It is even possible to stand out on the roof of the library itself. Stare with amazement and wonder at the picture of the barista posed chummily with the pope pasted inside the glass countertop display case.

Finished? Back down to the Ben Hur galley of twin rows of tables with scholars slaving away at the oars of their projects.

I have only now, in the summer of 2008, discovered from a knowledgeable informant that the Vatican Library bar is a thriving gay bar. I would never have guessed it, but there it is.

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