The Archivist’s Nook: Protecting the Faithful – Knights of Malta at Catholic University

Popular image of the Knights Hospitallers as valiant warriors, courtesy of YouTube, 2019.

The Knights of Malta were among the earliest military or chivalric orders, founded as the Knights Hospitallers[1] in Jerusalem in the 11th century to care for and protect pilgrims in the Christian Holy Land. After the fall of the Crusader States in 1291, the Knights were in Cyprus, then on the Isle of Rhodes, which they stubbornly defended until ejected by the Turks in 1522.  Strategically located near Sicily, the island of Malta was given in 1530 to the Knights by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. They were based there until driven out by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.  The British expelled the French and ruled Malta until granting independence in 1964. The Knights were fragmented after the French expulsion with a complicated constitutional history. Centered in Rome in the twenty-first century they are widely recognized as a sovereign entity in international law, maintaining diplomatic relations with over 100 countries and with a permanent observer mission at the United Nations. The Order has over 13,000 members and employs over 40,000 medical personnel assisted by over 80,000 volunteers worldwide, regardless of distinction, to assist sick, homeless, and otherwise distressed persons.

Goussancourt, Mathieu de. Le martyrologe des Chevaliers de S. lean de Hiervsalem, dits de Malte. Contenant levrs eloges, armes, blasons, preuves de chevalerie,and descente genealogique de la pluspart des maisons illustres de l 1Europe. Avec la svitte des grands-maistres, cardinaux •••Et le catalogue de toutes les commanderies du mesme Ordre ••• Paris, Simeon Piget, 1654. A book devoted to fallen Knights. Catholic University Malta Collection.

Foster W. Stearns (1881-1956) was a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Amherst College, Harvard University, and Boston College. He was a librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and State Librarian for Massachusetts prior to military service in World War I. Thereafter, he worked for the U.S. State Department until 1924 when he returned to librarianship at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1939-1944, was also a Privy Chamberlain of Sword and Cape to Pope Pius XI, and a Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. His collection, donated to Catholic University in 1955, covers over 800 years of history from the founding of the Order in Jerusalem in the 12th century, containing two hundred eighty one items described in a 1955 catalog by Rev. Oliver Kapsner, O.S.B.[2] Materials include Order statues and early papal privileges, member lists, chronologies, and histories of the Order as well as of Rhodes and Malta. As an addendum to the Stearns Collection, Catholic University added nearly one hundred additional items, such as maps and periodicals, via gift and purchase.

The Carol Saliba Family Collection was gifted to CUA in 1999 by Dr. N. Alex Saliba of Louisville, Kentucky, a retired physician born in Malta. He inherited this collection of letters and documents from his father, Carol, a longtime Commander of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Malta (an English branch of the Order). The Saliba Collection consists of one hundred forty two manuscripts, including autograph[3] letters and documents, both originals and copies, primarily from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The material has a focus on the Order’s internal affairs as well as their involvement in European politics, especially the Napoleonic era when they lost Malta and were unable to elect a Grand Master. Included are Maltese stamps and coins, memorabilia of Carol’s service in the Ambulance Brigade, and a seventeenth century water color of the flag and coat of arms of the Order.

Re-engraving of the map originally published by Nicolás de Fer;  printed post 1732, when Mattaeus Seutter became imperial geographer under Emperor Charles VI. Catholic University Malta Collection.

Most of the Foster Stearns collection is cataloged and both collections were the focus of the 2015-2016 collaborative digitization project with the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Access to original Malta and Order materials at The Catholic University of America is by appointment only, please contact lib-rarebooks@cua.edu. For more on CUA Rare Books in general please see the earlier blog post by my colleague, Shane MacDonald.

[1] Officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (Latin: Supremus Militaris Ordo Hospitalarius Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodiensis et Melitensis), commonly known as the Order of Malta.

[2] Oliver L. Kapsner, O.S.B. A Catalog of the Foster Streans Collection on the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Called, of Malta. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Library, 1955.

[3] In this case, meaning original, handwritten documents.

 

New appointments in Special Collections

The University Libraries is pleased to announce new appointments in our Special Collections. John Shepherd has been named as the new University Archivist and Head of Special Collections at the Catholic University of America. Dr. Maria Mazzenga has been named as the new Curator for the American Catholic History Research Center at the Catholic University of America. Shane MacDonald will also officially take on expanded responsibilities as our Special Collections Archivist.

Mr. Shepherd earned his MA in History in 1986 from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He has been employed at Catholic University since 1989, most recently serving as the Associate Archivist since 2002 and Acting University Archivist since April 2018. He is the creator, editor, and a principal writer for the blog, The Archivist’s Nook. He has served as a panel grant reviewer for The National Endowment for the Humanities. He has contributed to numerous books and authored many articles on military, Mid-Atlantic, and U.S. Catholic histories.

Dr. Mazzenga has served as Education Archivist at Catholic University since 2005. She has taught in the Departments of History and of Library and Information Science. She received her Ph.D. in U.S. History from Catholic University in 2000 and has presented and published in the field of American Catholic history and Archival Education and Outreach for more than a decade.

The Special Collections unit of the University Libraries oversees: the University Archives, the American Catholic History Research Center, the Museum collection, and the Rare Books collections. The mission of Special Collections is to collect, organize, preserve, make accessible, and promote scholarly and public understanding of the records of The Catholic University of America and the unique books and materials which document our Catholic intellectual and cultural heritage.

The Archivist’s Nook: Introducing Students to Rare Books

Stacks of the Clementine Library. I would best describe its scent as warm and toasty.

Think back to the last book you read. How old was it? Were the pages brittle or waxy, thick or thin? How did the cover and pages feel in your hands? Was there a smell to the book – freshly printed or a musty odor? Did the book catch the eye with its cover, type, or images? Did it make a sound when opened – a crisp snap of a never-before-opened spine or the dull groan of well-worn binding? Was picking up this book an experience of all the senses?

While we certainly do not taste our books, there is no way to avoid having an otherwise full sensory experience when entering Rare Books and Special Collections. Contained within its stacks are 70,000 volumes, spanning 10 centuries. The collection includes a wide range of materials from medieval legal texts and early modern musical pieces to twentieth century textbooks and first edition novels. The aroma and sights immediately catch one’s attention, and the feel and sound of each book as you open it offers a reminder of its age.

This past academic year, the Archives staff has been assisting in Rare Books. In addition to answering reference questions and exploring the materials contained within its stacks, we have hosted three classes in the space. Each class came from a distinct program and reviewed different materials with varying learning goals in mind. Much as we are whenever a class comes to handle archival documents for the first time, we were excited to provide the students with their potential first experience of accessing rare books.

Tafsīr wāsiʻ ʻalá al-taʻlīm al-Masīhī (Translation of a Catechism for Confession and Communion), 1770.

In the fall, we hosted students from the School of Theology and Religious Studies as part of a “History and Theory of Catechetics” course. During their visit, the students were able to work with dozens of catechisms spanning several continents, numerous languages, and six centuries. Tapping into the collections of sixteenth-century folios and assorted Catholic theological and lay devotional publications, we were able to create an evolutionary display of catechisms from the fifteenth century to the present. Among the highlights were an Arabic catechism from 1770, a Navajo catechism from 1937, and a series of pocket catechisms from the nineteenth century. Supplementing this collection with materials from the Archives, we were able to bring the students from the Council of Trent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As the new semester began in the cold of January, our staff prepared to host another visiting class, this time from the School of Philosophy. Entitled “Before Printing: The Establishment and Transmission of Ancient and Medieval Texts,” the course’s professor wished to expose her students to the physicality of the manuscripts they would study over the coming months. From our medieval manuscript and incunabula collections, we provided several Thomistic philosophical and theological treatises. Through a partnership with the Semitics/ICOR Library, the class was also able to review Arabic philosophical texts. While the students would primarily continue to work with facsimiles and digital copies of manuscripts this semester, having that initial opportunity for a full sensory experience is key to both contextualizing the sources and eliciting excitement.

Lectionarium, ca. 1200 (MS 158). Some of the volumes have intricate bindings and clasps, added by much later owners. This particular binding is seen in numerous manuscripts in our collections.

My own first exposure to manuscripts was in Rare Books at Catholic University. Working with a medieval copy of Gratian’s Decretum as part of a class project helped me appreciate the beauty and wonder of these texts, and solidified my excitement for curation and historical research. I would never have guessed I would be helping provide access to these same materials years later!

Finally, our most recent academic visitors came as part of a Greek and Latin course, “Latin Paleography.” In addition to two codicology workshops held in Rare Books, the students will each work closely with a medieval manuscript in our collections to create a catalog entry. The manuscripts held by the University are thus providing valuable tools for the students to better understand the materiality and scribal norms of the medieval written word.

In addition to its strengths in Catholic history, Rare Books contains several unique collections, including a Malta collection, the Clementine Library, the Connolly Irish Collection, the Richard N. Foley Modern English Collection, its American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories Collection, and much more.

Book of Hours, ca. 1460 (MS. 136b)

Fundamentally, the collection’s value to the Catholic University community and broader scholarly world lies in its ability to provide students and scholars with opportunities to connect with the history of the written word as well as the contexts and ideas provided by each text. Plus, as the class visits illustrate, it is a wonderful source of collaboration for its sister special collections on campus!

For more information on Rare Books, see: http://libraries.cua.edu/rarebooks/index.cfm

Questions may be addressed to: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu

Unigenitus cataloging project update

Three hundred early eighteenth-century French and Latin titles from the Albani collection, many of them the only exemplars in the United States, are now cataloged and available to researchers in Rare Books and Special Collections (214 Mullen). A sampling of their content may be found at the RBSC blog:   http://ascendonica.blogspot.com/

BOOK SALE 26-28 October

The annual Friends of Rare Books benefit sale, open to the public, will be held in Mullen Library,  Room 214.

Hours are:

Friday 26 Oct. 12 noon to 6 PM

Saturday 27 Oct. 9 AM to 5 PM

Sunday 28 Oct 12 noon to 5 PM

Books include art, literature, philosophy, classics, biography, medieval studies and more. Prices are 50 cents per volume and up.  Sunday’s sale: buy 2 get one free.

 

 

 

Nineteenth Century Collections Online: Primary Resources

Nineteenth Century Collections Online  (NCCO) provides full-text, fully searchable content from a wide range of primary sources for the “long” 19th century, 1789-1914. NCCO indexes the full text of books, newspapers, pamphlets, manuscripts, maps, diaries, photographs, statistics, literature, government reports, treaties, and other kinds of documents in both Western and non-Western languages.  Released incrementally beginning in 2012, NCCO’s first four topical collections include: British Politics and Society; Asia and the West: Diplomacy and Cultural Exchange; British Theatre, Music, and Literature: High and Popular Culture; and European Literature, 1790-1840: The Corvey Collection.

 

Rare Books launches the Unigenitus collection cataloging project

After some 80 years at CUA, the collection of pamphlets and manuscripts related to the 1713 papal bull Unigenitus is being cataloged in advance of the 300th anniversary of this document, issued by Pope Clement XI to combat the doctrinal errors of Jansenism.

More information on this collection,  once part of  Pope Clement’s library,  may be found on the RBSC blog:

http://ascendonica.blogspot.com/2012/05/unigenitus-101.html

As cataloging progresses more details will be available on specific items in this extensive collection, along with information about the project’s impact on other departmental activities, including possible reading room closures.

 

Lecture on Conservation of Archimedes Codex

On Monday, Feb. 27 at  6:oo PM, Abigail Quandt, Senior Conservator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum will present “Putting the Pieces Together: The Codicology & Conservation of the Archimedes Palimpsest.”  Ms. Quandt led the 12-year effort to stabilize the Archimedes Codex for the imaging which would reveal the earliest manuscript of Archimedes’ treatises. She is widely published and an internationally recognized expert in the conservation of medieval manuscripts and illuminations.

The lecture will be held in the Pryzbyla Center, Room A, with a reception to follow, and is sponsored by Rare Books & Special Collections, Mullen Library and the Department of Chemistry. For further information contact Rare Books at (202) 319-5091 or rouse@cua.edu