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Sainte-Geneviève Library

File:Bibliothèque St Geneviève Paris.jpg
The Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, Henri Labrouste
File:Salle de lecture Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve n03.jpg
Reading room of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève

Sainte-Geneviève Library (French: Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève) is a public and university library in Paris, which inherited the collection of the Abbey of St Genevieve. The library contains around 2 million documents.[1]


Main article: Abbey of St Genevieve

The Abbey of St Genevieve, one of the largest and oldest abbeys in Paris, was founded in the sixth century by Clovis I and subject to the rule of St Benedict. As part of a reform of its practices in 1148, the Canons Regular of St Augustine were installed at the abbey. Until the French Revolution, they maintained its library and a school of copyists. The oldest known manuscript from the library of the abbey, now preserved at the Public Library of Soissons (ms 80) is an ex-libris of the twelfth century: Iste liber is Sancte Genovefa parisiensis. As was the custom in ecclesiastical libraries, this mark of ownership warns that stealing the book or masking the ex-libris carries a penalty of excommunication: Quicumque furatus eum fuerit, vel celaverit, vel ab ecclesia subduxerit, vel titulum istum deleverit, anathema sit (Whoever steals this, or uses the offices of the church to withdraw it, or removes or otherwise conceals its title, he is anathema).[2]

The library catalogue, executed in the thirteenth century (Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 16,203, fol. 71V) listed 226 volumes. Only a few now in the collections of Library Sainte-Genevieve can now be traced to that enumeration. That manuscript inventory included collections of sermons, canon law, the works of the fathers of the church, the glosses and commentaries on the Scriptures of Rabanus Maurus and those of the Venerable Bede. The abbey had other books, bibles, missals or graduals earmarked specifically for worship. During the sixteenth century, a weakening of community and misrule resulted in the dispersal of the library's volumes. Many manuscripts that the library of the abbey tried to recover the next century were then sold, sometimes for the value of their paper alone. Later reform resulted in the foundation of the Royal Library Sainte-Genevieve, inherited by present institution.[2]


Between 1838 and 1850, a building for the Sainte-Geneviève Library was designed and constructed under the direction of the architect Henri Labrouste. The glass and iron reading room has been described as "magisterial" and the building itself as a seminal work in the creation of the modern library as "a temple of knowledge and space for contemplation".[3] The names of 810 illustrious scholars are inscribed on the building's facade.[4]

In one scholar's estimation:[5]

One of the greatest cultural buildings of the nineteenth century to use iron in a prominent, visible way was unquestionably the Bibliothèque Ste.-Genevieve in Paris, designed by Henri Labrouste. He presented the design on December 19, 1839. It took six to seven years to complete the construction, from 1843–50. The large (278 by 69 feet) two-storied structure filling a wide, shallow site is deceptively simple in scheme: the lower floor is occupied by stacks to the left, rare-book storage and office space to the right, with a central vestibule and stairway leading to the reading room which fills the entire upper story. The ferrous structure of this reading room—a spine of slender, cast-iron Ionic columns dividing the space into twin aisles and supporting openwork iron arches that carry barrel vaults of plaster reinforced by iron mesh—has always been revered by Modernists for its introduction of high technology into a monumental building.

Labrouste's structure stands at the Sainte-Genevieve hill, across the street from the Panthéon in the Latin Quarter. When developing his design, Labrouste may have added the leafy garland band above the windows on the first level exterior nearly identical to the band on the Pantheon as a gesture of respect to its neighboring monument.

Charles Follen McKim used the Sainte-Geneviève Library building as the model his design of the main building of the Boston Public Library.[6]

Directors and principal keepers

  • Charles Kohler ( ? - 1917)
  • Charles Mortet (1917–1922)
  • Paul Roux-Fouillet (1977–1987)
  • Geneviève Boisard (1987–1997)
  • Nathalie Jullian (1997–2006)
  • Yves Peyré (2006 - )

Notable readers

Architectural drawings


  1. ^ Sainte-Geneviève Library, retrieved 1 April 2013
  2. ^ a b Sainte-Geneviève Library: History, retrieved 1 April 2013
  3. ^ "Henri Labrouste: Structure Brought to Light". March 10, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013. 
  4. ^ Henri Labrouste et la bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Annie Le Saux, BBF 2002 - Paris, t. 47, n° 2
  5. ^ Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman, Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism, p 478
  6. ^ Meyer, Adolf Bernhard (1905). Studies of the museums and kindred institutions of New York City, Albany, Buffalo, and Chicago, with notes on some European Institutions. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 594ff. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 48°50′49.5″N 2°20′45″E / 48.847083°N 2.34583°E / 48.847083; 2.34583{{#coordinates:48|50|49.5|N|2|20|45|E|region:FR_type:landmark |primary |name= }}