"arrow-bolts of heretical godlessness"

Bibliotheca Palatina as spoil of war; Catholics carried away its history--but a digital happy ending.

Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, captured the Bibliotheca Palatina from Heidelberg  (1622) during the Thirty Years' War and gave it to Maximilian of Bavaria who was told by Pope Gregory XV that the gift of the famous Heidelberg library and its transfer to Rome would be an extraordinary act of piety.1

“That which, in Heidelberg, had been arrow-bolts of heretical godlessness, shall now in Rome become the defense of the Catholic faith” —Pope Gregory XV who claimed the Bibliotheca Palatina as spoils of war.2

The Vatican librarian, Leone Allacci, supervised the six-monthlong transportation of the Palatina to Rome.

One important aspect of the Palatine case makes it different from later booty libraries. The victors were concerned not just to carry away the collection and thus strip the Calvinist party of one of its most important intellectual symbols; they also wanted to carry away its history, perhaps even making it impossible to reconstruct in memory. 3

But 400 years later there has been a reconstruction of this memory.

Today this most valuable collection of medieval and early modern manuscripts - the Bibliotheca Palatina - has been virtually reunited after centuries of “separation.” Heidelberg University Library has not only digitized the German-language manuscripts in its own holdings, but also the Latin codices of these “ Mother of All Libraries, ” which has been located behind the walls of the Vatican in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome for almost 400 years.4 


Elmar Mittler. ed., Bibliotheca Palatina: Katalog zur Ausstellung vom 8. Juli bis 2. Nov. 1986, Heiliggeistkirche Heidelberg (Heidelberg: Braus, 1986).


Probst, V. (2017). Digitization at the Heidelberg University Library: THE DIGITAL BIBLIOTHECA PALATINA PROJECT. Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures6(2), 213–233. ABSTRACT: The world-famous Bibliotheca Palatina holds more than 3,000 medieval manuscripts, which are today divided between the Vatican Library in Rome and the Heidelberg University Library. This article discusses the academic, technical, and organizational challenges and solutions for a digitization project that is now drawing to its close. Its goal has been to digitally reconstruct the Bibliotheca Palatina and to make it available, as one single online edition, to scholars all over the world, with new opportunities for access and research.


Bepler, J. (2001). Vicissitudo temporum: some sidelights on book collecting in the Thirty Years War. Sixteenth Century Journal32(4), 953–968.