A universal and unique collection by its coherence and its importance

The development of the library of the abbey passed through several phases throughout the Middle Ages:

  1. Up to the middle of the XIIIth century, the scriptorium provided the most important production of manuscripts; according to the ambitions of the abbots, the library was getting richer and richer in books with a very high rhythm. It also benefited of the attractiveness of the abbey thanks to many donations.
  2. Up to the middle of the XIVth century, whereas most of the library activities in abbeys were being reduced, Clairvaux continued to enrich its collections, thanks to its links with the university of Paris and in particular thanks to the activity of education of St Bernard’s High School which was a remarkable place of training for the Cistercians. It significantly allowed the library to increase its collections from many university opuscules. The collections were completed by new donations.
  3. During the XVth century, the abbots, who were deeply concerned by the beginnings of Humanism, restored the library to a central place in the life of the abbey. Pierre de Virey dedicated his abbatiat to revisit the library and to give it a revival.

An encyclopaedic and universal collection

The library had a very large collection covering all the fields of the medieval knowledge. In spite of a preference for the Bible, and the theology, the other disciplines were widely present. There are also a lot of texts of history, philosophy, civil and cannon law and texts of literature, but also works of sciences, mathematical and medicine.

A coherent and unique collection

The remarkable coherence of the library of Clairvaux is explained by the very short period of time which was enough for the monks to produce a large number of its manuscripts. Indeed, the collection of manuscripts of this library was not constituted by works of heterogeneous origins, as it is mostly the case in the Middle Ages. On all the manuscripts mentioned in the catalogue of Pierre de Virey, only about ten of then are from a previous period prior to the foundation of the abbey. It is the activity of the scriptorium of Clairvaux which provides manuscripts up until the middle of the XIIIth century. It continues in a more limited way up to the end of the XVth century, under the abbatiat of Pierre de Virey. In that way, Jean de Voivre copied in 1474 “Of eruditione liberorum” by Eneas Silvius Piccolomini as well as “Of consolatione Theologie” by Jean Gerson in 1476.

A collection of an exceptional importance

LThe collection of manuscripts of Clairvaux also constitutes one of the most voluminous monastic medieval libraries of the Christian West. At the end of the Middle Ages, within the Cistercian order, the library of Clairvaux widely exceeded the mother abbey of Cîteaux, Different indications, especially the number of remaining manuscripts, lead us to think that the threshold of 1000 volumes was crossed in the middle of the XIVth century. During that period, only a few exceptional libraries, such as the one of the Sorbonne High School in Paris or the one of the popes in Avignon, exceeded this number. The library of Clairvaux had a quite particular place by the end of the XVth century.