Skip to content

Rome Notes: Vatican Library Going High-Tech; Lady Carey's Journey

Turning to Computer Chips to Track 1.6 Million Volumes

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, APRIL 1, 2004 (Zenit) - The Vatican is not normally associated with high technology. But buried deep in the frescoed rooms of the Vatican Library, employees are working to install the first electronic cataloguing system of the West's most precious books and documents.

The technology consists of placing a computer chip, called a radio frequency identification tag, inside the cover of every book so that its movement can be traced anywhere in the library.

"If a book is re-shelved incorrectly here," said the library's vice prefect, Ambrogio Piazzoni, "it is lost forever, unless you happen on it by chance."

The new system enables librarians to know exactly where a book is at any given time and by placing a computer wand in front of a stack, to know exactly which books are missing.

The Vatican Library is the first in the world to attempt this system, every aspect of which had to be carefully considered, including the type of glue to be used to adhere the chip to the books.

"The biggest problem here is space," said the prefect, Salesian Father Raffaele Farina, as he led a group of journalists down a series of narrow hallways to the heat-controlled stacks below the library. The stacks run some 30 miles long and contain 1.6 million printed volumes, ancient and modern.

"The new system will enable us to know which books are most used and should be kept upstairs, while less-consulted books can remain in the back," said vice prefect Piazzoni.

So far, chips have been placed in 50,000 books and periodicals.

The more than 150,000 ancient manuscripts are the library's most precious holdings, but rarely are they brought out, even for academics.

"There are maybe four or five academics in the world who would need to see an original manuscript," said Piazzoni. "Others can make do with very good copies."

The parchments of original manuscripts are easily damaged, pages curling from the humidity of even two or three people near them.

"The Codex B is the oldest complete Bible we have," explained Father Farina. "It contains the canon of the Council of Nicaea, from 325, the time of Constantine, when he had 50 copies reproduced to place in the basilicas of the empire."

The oldest document is a copy of two letters of St. Peter dating from A.D. 206.

John Paul II presented each of his cardinals a copy of the letters as a gift on the 25th anniversary of his pontificate last October.

The Vatican Library is not a lending library. Only the Pope can request books or documents, says Father Farina, "since much of the collection originally came from his private apartment."

Others who wish to consult manuscripts will find entry into the library not so simple. Students are not accepted and academics must have several letters of recommendation.

Those who do manage to get in -- around 150 researchers use the library each day -- had better know what they're looking for.

"The catalogues here are incomplete," says the prefect. "You've got to ask for what you want and if you don't know, you're better off at home."

* * *

The Vicar's Wife

I once read an argument, written by an Englishwoman, in favor of celibacy for Catholic priests. The argument placed great stock in the fact that if priests were allowed to marry, Catholics would become like Anglicans and "we would have all these vicar's wives everywhere." Vicar's wives, it seems, are not so popular.

Last Tuesday, I met a vicar's wife, Lady Eileen Carey, wife of the former Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, at a gathering at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita in Rome. Her intelligence and sense of humor put paid to the unfair reputation of vicar's wives.

For one used to Catholic clergy, the introduction of the "Archbishop and his wife," was a novelty in itself, and though the talk was about milestones in Lord Carey's ecumenical journey, it was clear that this was a journey shared and encouraged by his wife.

Lady Carey spoke of her and her husband's "narrow evangelical background."

"The word Roman Catholic was never mentioned in church or in my home," she said. "I was brought up thinking that Roman Catholics were not part of the church and we Anglicans had all the answers."

That thinking changed in the late 1970s when she began to accompany her husband on trips to Rome.

Welcomed by the Catholic community here, Lady Carey "began to think ecumenically," and now, she says, she has a deep love for the Catholic Church.

It is a love which grew in her husband at the same time as the Careys found themselves leaving behind the "cultural narrowness" of their evangelical backgrounds ("no drinking or dancing," said Lord Carey) and embracing a broader Anglicanism which looked toward Rome.

"Rome belongs to me, as well," Lord Carey remembered thinking during his visits here in the 1970s, "and out of that came a very strong commitment to ecumenism."

I asked Lord Carey if he ever considered converting to Catholicism.

No, he answered. "I love my church. I love its argumentativeness, its untidiness, its openness."

While Lord Carey appreciates his tradition for its "willingness to ask questions, to confront weakness and entertain doubt," he admires the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church.

"Sometimes one longed for some structure," he said of Anglicanism.

And, he concedes, the Anglican tradition "has no faith of its own."

"At the Reformation, we didn't see ourselves as a new church, but as carrying on Catholicism," he said.

Lord Carey is concerned about the potential split in the Anglican Communion caused by the installation of homosexual bishops in America.

"I do not believe there are cogent reasons for making practicing homosexuals ministers in the church of God," he said.

"The consecration of homosexual bishops creates a deep disunity in the Anglican Communion," he said. "I am encouraging the traditionalists to stay in [the Communion], this is not the time to leave."

* * *

Anglicans and Ecumenism

At the same time as Lord Carey is completing his turn as visiting professor at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University, another prominent Anglican, Mary Tanner, is finishing her term as visiting lecturer at the Angelicum, the Dominican university in Rome.

At a lecture last Monday, Tanner remarked on the fact that two pontifical universities were hosting two Anglican professors: one an archbishop, the other a laywoman. "You couldn't get much nearer to Anglican comprehensiveness than that," she observed.

Tanner spoke of the latest ecumenical efforts of the Faith and Order Commission, which is the most widely representative theological body in the ecumenical movement, and includes 12 voting Catholic members from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Faith and Order Commission is represented at the World Council of Churches and spends many years devising "convergence" documents, on such interfaith issues as baptism and ministry and more recently, "The Nature and Purpose of the Church."

As examples for the ecumenical movement, Tanner cites John Paul II and the encyclical "Ut Unum Sint."

"The ecumenical commitment of the Holy Father in 'Ut Unum Sint' is important and a challenge to all of us," she said. "The vision of that document is consistent and convergent with the vision I hear from the Faith and Order movement."

Tanner also applauded the Pope's "mea culpas." "The repentance of failures of the past is very important for the ecumenical movement," she said.

"The fact that the Holy Father can invite other churches to help him understand his ministry in the service of unity is just the challenge that is needed," Tanner said. "If Roman Catholics say that a ministry of authority is required for visible unity, then all of us are bound to respond to that."


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Vatican, Rome, Catholic, Vicar

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.