About Us

The Vatican Library in Vatican City, known officially as the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, counts among its treasures one of the richest collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the world, comprising some 70,000 codices. It is also one of the oldest continuous libraries in Europe, having been conceived originally by Pope Nicholas V (1447–1455) “so that we may have a library for the common benefit of learned men of all books, both Latin and Greek, as befits the dignity of the pontiff and the apostolic see.” It was later officially established in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) in the bull Ad decorem militantis ecclesie. Since that time the Vatican Library has welcomed scholars from around the world.

The Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, was formed as a collection of microfilm reproductions of the manuscripts housed in the Vatican Library and as a research center for medieval and Renaissance manuscripts studies in general. It was created through the efforts of Fr. Lowrie J. Daly, SJ (1914–2000), and with the generous financial support of the Knights of Columbus. The Vatican Film Library opened in 1953 with Charles J. Ermatinger serving as its first librarian until 2000. It moved to its current premises in Pius XII Memorial Library in 1959. See the Letter of Papal Approbation from Pope Pius XII.

Microfilming of Vatican manuscripts began in 1951, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Foundation for the Preservation of Historic Documents in the Vatican Library. The intention was to facilitate the research of scholars in the Western Hemisphere by microfilming the Greek, Latin, and Western European vernacular manuscripts that were then considered of special importance, in addition to ensuring their preservation. It was the largest microfilming project that had ever been undertaken up to that date. During the initial phase of microfilming between 1951 and 1957, some 12,000,000 manuscript pages representing 30,000 codices were captured on microfilm. At present, the Vatican Film Library has copies of approximately three-quarters of the manuscripts in the previously mentioned language groups, in addition to copies acquired later on of the Vatican Library's Arabic, Ethiopic, and Hebrew manuscripts, bringing our microfilm holdings from this institution to around 37,000 manuscripts. In addition, although established for the study of Vatican Library manuscripts, from the 1950s the Vatican Film Library also extensively filmed Jesuit archival material relating to Jesuit activities in the New World, copying documents from the Central Jesuit Archives in Rome and from provincial Jesuit archives in North and South America and the Philippines.

The VFL maintains a fellowship program to support the use of its resources, publishes a bi-annual journal on manuscript studies entitled Manuscripta, and hosts the annual Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies.


Our Mission
Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts represent an important category of primary source material, and are essential to the study and understanding of human society and its achievements. The mission of the Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library is to preserve and make accessible to researchers the manuscript resources of the Vatican Library, and to support and promote research and teaching in manuscript studies through its collections and public programs. To this end, we have built around our microfilm collection of Vatican Library manuscripts a comprehensive reference collection of books, serials, microforms, electronic materials, manuscript facsimiles, and other media in all areas of manuscript studies, with special emphasis on—though not limited to—Vatican Library manuscripts. Our reference resources are particularly extensive on the topics of paleography, codicology, illumination, library history, and textual editing and transmission, and we systematically accumulate manuscript catalogues from a large range of holding institutions worldwide.