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Guest Post: The Ossolineum Library, by Laura Kreigere-Liepiņa

This month, I am pleased to present a guest post by Laura Kreigere-Liepiņa, MA (Humanities), Researcher of the Early Modern Period Prints and Rare Book collections at the Library of the University of Latvia. Kreigere-Liepiņa studies 16th-century humanist literature of Riga; Jesuit books from Riga and Europe; and conducts provenance research. I was privileged to meet her via the Baltic Battle of Books conference (2021), which resulted in the publication of The Baltic Battle of Books: Formation and Relocation of European Libraries in the Confessional Age (c. 1500–c. 1650) and Their Afterlife, edited by Jonas Nordin, Gustavs Strenga, and Peter Sjökvist (Leiden: Brill, 2023). Her chapter in that volume is "The Fate of the Riga Jesuit College Library (1583–1621): Aspects of Research into a Historic and Unique Book Collection in the Digital Age."


Many thanks to Laura Kreigere-Liepiņa for her work and her support of the EJLPP!


Poland is the largest Catholic country in Europe, with a long and rich history. The Roman Catholic Church has been dominant in this country and in the lands that Poland conquered. Over the centuries, the borders of the lands and unions changed, but the churches and monasteries built by Roman Catholics continued to exist. The Jesuits, one of the largest religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church, left their religious and cultural heritage in many places in Poland and in the countries and towns they visited. The most precious heritage of the Jesuits for librarians are the books they published, purchased and used, which served both educational purposes and the needs of the Church. Interestingly, many valuable books ended up in Jesuit colleges and other Jesuit institutions as gifts, as we know today from the inscriptions and stamps in the books.

The Ossoliński National Institute (Ossolineum), located in Wrocław, Poland holds real treasures - several hundred Jesuit books. Thanks to CERL 2023 Internship and Placement Grant I was able to work there with early printed books and provenance information in the books held in this library collection. My task was to create provenance descriptions and to add these descriptions to the CERL database Provenance Digital Archive (PDA). During my Internship at the Ossolineum Library, I focused specifically on describing handwritten inscriptions of different Jesuit colleges and institutions. These were mostly book inscriptions of various more and less known Jesuit colleges operating in the territory of present-day Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Czech Republic in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Thanks to the printed catalogue (Doroty Sidorowicz-Mulak, ed., Katalog druków XVI wieku z historycznej kolekcji Ossolineum [Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Ossolineum, 2017]; see this site for further information), which includes bibliographic records of 16th-century printed works in the Ossolineum collection and a valuable provenance index, it was possible to find out the names of the former owners of the books. Information on books published after the 16th century can be found in the card catalogues of the Rare Book Department at Ossolineum. Provenance information for incunabula in the Ossolineum collection can be found in several 20th-century printed incunabula catalogues, as well as in the MEI database for a large number of them.  

What do we know about the Jesuit colleges from Ossolineum books? The colleges were established not only in large cities (Braniewo, Kraków, Lviv, Vilnius, Warszawa), but also in towns and villages in the east of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and in the territory of present-day Ukraine, Belarus and Czech Republic (all names are given in Latin, Polish or in original language, mostly as they appear in catalogues): Bobrujsk, Chodel, Duneburg, Hradec, Hradiště, Kalisz, Kowno, Krosno, Nesvizh, Nowy Sącz, Orsza, Połock, Sambir, Sandomierz, Znojmo, Żagań, etc.) The Ossolineum also holds the books of the large Jesuit colleges in Western Europe – Antwerp, Augsburg, Vienna, Paris, Rome etc.

Descriptions of records from other spiritual institutions and Catholic Order estates were also added, e.g. inscriptions from various Libraries of Basilian Monasteries, including the Library of the Basilian Monastery in Krekhiv, Library of the Basilian Monastery in Lavriv, Library of the Basilian Monastery in Zhovk, also – Library of the Cistercian monastery in Szczyrzyc. 

Descriptions of the provenances of the Jesuit colleges mentioned and of the other Jesuit colleges can be found in the PDA database, but also in the books in the Rare Book Department of the Ossolineum Institute in the beautiful city of Wrocław. I hope that the records I have created will help to identify typical inscriptions of Jesuit colleges in the books, with special attention to little-known Catholic congregations and monasteries in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Czech Republic.

Thanks to these books we can today reconstruct the pages of the history of the Catholic Church and the paths of the Jesuit missions.

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