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Announcing the Rīga Jesuit Catalogue: A Guest Post from Our Partners in Latvia and Sweden (11/8/21)

In a previous blog, we informed you about the festive inauguration of the reconstructed collection from the Jesuit College of Riga at Uppsala University Library, which was visited by the president of Latvia. Last week, another milestone in this work was passed, when the printed catalogue on the collection, together with several essays on the material, was published and publicly released, and an exhibition opened at the National Library of Latvia in Riga. Only one item was on exhibit: the Catechismus Catholicorum of Petrus Canisius translated into Latvian – the oldest printed text in Latvian still extant – which is there on loan from the Riga-collection at Uppsala University Library.


The Catalogue of the Rīga Jesuit College Book Collection (1583–1621) History and Reconstruction of the Collection/Rīgas jezuītu kolēģijas grāmatu krājuma (1583–1621) katalogs. Krājuma vēsture un rekonstrukcija (Gustavs Strenga, editor in chief; publication Rīga: National Library of Latvia, 2021) is now available both online and in a printed version, and the detailed descriptions in it help the reader to see patterns and aspects characteristic of this library, when compared to others. (Below, this book is abbreviated CRJCBC.) An example, which we would like to say a few words about here, is the relatively high presence of Protestant titles in the Jesuit College Library of Riga, in comparison to other Jesuit libraries. Riga was one of the first Lutheran cities in Northern Europe, with Lutheran churches, a Lutheran City Council and Lutheran cultural heritage. Thus it is in fact to be expected that Jesuits in Riga obtained Protestant editions. As forbidden literature, it is an example of the “false doctrine.” On the other hand, it was of course important for the Jesuits to get to know their confessional enemies better.


Two especially noteworthy and intriguing copies shoud be named in this context:

(1)The book of the great German Lutheran theologian and Reformer David Chytraeus (1530–1600), Catechesis Davidis Chytraei, once belonged to the novice Jesuit Theodorus Maidell (Meidel), (*ca. 1564 – †1588, Poznań) who studied at the pontifical seminary in Braniewo (Braunsberg in German; Prūsa in Lithuanian). According to the data he was a resident of Riga, but we do not know how his book came to the Riga Jesuit College. The book is full of handwritten notes (David Chyträus: Catechesis Davidis Chytraei [Rostock: Andreas Gutterwitz; Hans Stockelmann, 1572, CRJCBC No. 254]).

(2) A Lutheran book written by Philipp Melanchthon with a beautiful decorative frame on the title page depicting the Biblical motif after Lucas Cranach’s Law and Gospel is another example. The copy contains a donation inscription by Wenceslaus Lemchen (*1510, Königsberg – †1571, Riga), who was a Lutheran pastor of the Riga Cathedral Church. It is not known how the book reached the Riga Jesuit College, but the most intriguing thing about this copy is a puzzling provenance inscription. If the receiver of the book was a German Reformer Johannes Piscator, (= Johann Fisher?) (1546 – 1625) why did it stay in Riga? (Philipp Melanchthon. Loci theologici recens recogniti [Wittenberg: Peter Seitz, 1545. CRJCBC No. 571]).


Books of the enemy could easily be destroyed, but in some cases they survived. Perhaps the books were inherited, being particularly valuable for someone or something. Brought to Sweden in 1621, the books are now a significant part of the Uppsala University Library collection, safe and ready to be studied. We invite you to start with the modern catalogues of the extant Riga Jesuit College library, both online and in the printed version.


You can also see a second exhibition related to the Riga Jesuit collection here.


Laura Kreigere-Liepina, The National Library of Latvia

Peter Sjökvist, Uppsala University Library