Sunday, 3 July 2011
An Irish hermit and a library
Once upon a time (in the 6th century) an Irish man called Columbanus left Ireland because his exceptional good looks meant he was struggling not to be led astray by women. He set off with twelve companions first for Britain and then for mainland Europe.
One of these companions was Gall who stayed behind in present day Switzerland when he fell ill. He recovered and established a hermitage which was eventually to become the Abbey of St Gall. The Abbey has existed since 719. For centuries it was one of the most important abbeys in Europe.
Irish and Anglo Saxon monks came to copy manuscripts which were the foundation of its library, one of the richest medieval libraries in the world. There are over 400 manuscripts surviving from the early days and are over 1000 years old. During the 10th century some of the books were removed for safe-keeping when the Abbey was threatened and not all were returned. A little later a fire almost destroyed the abbey but the library fortunately survived.
There are now 160,000 books in the library at the Abbey of St Gall, of which 2,100 are hand-written. Recently the Abbey has started to digitise the manuscripts to provide online access to them. So far there are 405 available on the Codices Electronici Sangallenses (Digital Abbey Library of St. Gallen) web page.
The "real" library is open to the public and is visited by both tourists and researchers from all over the world.