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The Library consists in reality of two Library collections: those of the Sélestat Latin School and of the great humanist, Beatus Rhenanus.

 

It is intimately connected to the prodigious rise of one the best known Latin Schools of the Holy Roman Empire. One may consider it as the most precious "relic" of a particularly glorious age, not only for Sélestat, but for all of Alsace.
In 1441, the parish priest, Johann von Westhus, and the civil authorities placed an educator of great talent at the head of the school, Ludwig Dringenberg, who introduced the methods of rhenish humanism. Under his headmastership (1441-1477), then that of his successors, Crato Hofmann (1477-1501), Hieronymus Gebwiler (1501-1509), and Johann Sapidus (1510-1525), the number of students increased continuously. It has been said that there were some 900 in 1515. Nearly the entire first generation of Alsatians humanists was educated in the school.
All schools need reading material and a library. Obtaining books was a very difficult task at a time when manuscripts were rare and expensive. In 1452, when the parish priest Johann von Westhus donated some thirty long manuscripts to the school, he was far from realizing that in doing so he was founding one of the most prestigious libraries in the Western World. Dringenberg also, not long before his death, donated books to the school, as a bequest.
The famous Selestadian humanist Jakob Wimpfeling offered precious incunabula to the school every time he visited his home town. Martin Ergersheim, parish priest from 1503 to 1518, gave over his rich private library, which contained more than 100 volumes.
The school's library was located on the second floor of a chapel on the south side of the parish church. The books were placed on tables or on lecterns. Many were chained to their stands to protect them from theft or, more generally, to prevent home borrowing.

The Library of Beatus Rhenanus (1485-1547)

Some few days before his death, which occurred on the 15th of July 1547, the illustrious scholar Beatus Rhenanus, the close friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, bequeathed to his home town all of his books (some 670 volumes), one of the best and finest libraries of that time.
As public establishments loaning books were extremely rare then, every learned person had to constitute a personal library. That of Beatus was the passion of an entire life. As a pupil in Sélestat he possessed already some sixty works.
During his four years of study at the University of Paris, he acquired 188 volumes. Then he had a long and rich career in Basel and in Sélestat. Little by little, the shelves of his library were filled. His personal fortune allowed him to buy nearly all the books that he needed for his historical and literary studies.
Former professors or fellow students regularly sent their works to him. The Basel printer, Johann Froben, obviously gave him copies of the authors which our humanist, as philologist and corrector, had edited.
These then are the treasures that became the property of the town in 1547. It is a very considerable collection for its time; all the more so as a large number of the books are composite volumes containing as many as fifteen different works. It is also unique, in that the magnificent libraries of the other great humanists have been dispersed. Our "Rhenana" is the sole witness to that age of great intellectual effervescence. It allows one not only to follow the thought of one of the most famous humanists, but also to seize more concretely the literary and religious interests of a great period in our history.


Beatus Rhenanus,
reader, editor, writer


Arms of Beatus Rhenanus, ennobled by Charles V on August 18th 1523

16th Century Binding with the Arms of Beatus Rhenanus

A Page from Beatus Rhenanus’ pupil notebook (1499, Ovid’s Fasti)