The Library of Avignon

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The Library of Avignon, also known as the Musée Calvet, has a double origin, the Municipal Library itself and Calvet Library.

The former was formed, as similar establishments, with the books of religious institutions abolished during the Revolution. In order of their bibliographical importance, these were : for Avignon, the Celestines, the Dominicans, the chapter of Notre-Dame des Doms, the Carmelites, the Franciscans, the Doctrinaires, the Récollets, the Orators, etc... and outside of Avignon, the Celestines of Gentilly (in Sorgues), the Carthusians of Bonpas, those of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, the Benedictines of the same city, the Capuchins of Montfavet, etc.. The books of emigrants were few and of little importance.

The latter library constituted, with the confiscated paintings and art objects, a "Literary Museum and filing" ["Muséum et dépôt littéraire"] established in the Gothic abbey of Saint-Martial; its curator was Vincent Meynet (1739-1804), former co-adjuvant canon of Saint-Agricol.

In year XII (1804), the State, which owned the Museum and the literary filing, assigned it to the City. The Museum and the Library were separated then or rather each of them was given a special preservative. The librarian was the former canon André-Guillaume Calvet (1759-1825), who ranked the library, catalogued and opened it to the public in 1806.

This library was already abundant; it had 26.451 books, including 619 manuscripts, the most precious of the current library, including the Illuminated Gospels of Saint-André de Villeneuve, 9th century; the Pontifical noted of the papal chapel, given by Pope John XXII at Notre-Dame des Doms; the missals of the 14th century, especially that of Pope Urban V represented several times in the initial letters; the Book of Hours of Blessed Peter of Luxembourg; the Psalter of Boucicault, etc...

In 1810, Esprit Calvet, physician and archaeologist, founded by will a second public library. "Called by a taste for study and celibacy, he said, I had proposed, at the age of fifteen, to establish in my country a perpetual public library that was missing". The creation of the municipal library did not make him give up his intention; but he was careful to specify that his books should "never be confused and mixed up" with those of the City. His library was "small but chosen" - these are his own words - it had 1,400 printed works mainly on history, archaeology and ancient literature,some manuscripts including a beautiful illuminated Lactantius, the autobiographic works of Calvet and the copious correspondence between this scholar with the scholars of his time. In his library, he had added cabinets of antiques, coins and natural history which he bequeathed at the same time, as his entire fortune.

In 1826, the Municipal Library and Calvet Library, called "Muséum Calvet" were united into one establishment. As Calvet, the providing testator, had prohibited the merger to his detriment, they avoided this difficulty by simply "donating" the Municipal Library to Calvet Museum; this explains why the Library of Avignon has a special constitution, absolutely unique in France, resulting from the testamentary provisions of Calvet codified in an organic regulation established by the State Council on March 19, 1823, amended on August 26, 1831 and on March 7, 1832.

An integrant part of Musée Calvet, it enjoys the quality of a public establishment this institution had been endowed with since its foundation, which allowed him to directly receive donations and inheritances.

It is managed by a Managing Board which has no analogous except for the Boards of Trustees of the British Libraries. The trustees of Avignon are:
1°) The Mayor of Avignon, President ;
2°) three will executors of Calvet recruited by themselves by co-optation ;
3°) five managers appointed by the Municipal Council, each for a period of ten years.

Since its establishment, the Library of Avignon has increased significantly. It now has 85,401 printed works (in this number, even substantial collections such as the "Documents inédits" or the collections of Guillaume Budé appear only as one entry) 703 incunabula, 5,367 manuscripts, 371 sets of embosses. The main funds are those of ancient theology, of local history, Provence literature, history of art; Paul Mariéton Library, received in 1921, added an abundant fund to the French literature and of first importance to the Romantic period.

These different sets contain all the rare and precious books; the impressions of Lyon and of Paris of the 15th and 16th centuries are especially abundant. But what makes the bibliographic fame of the filing of Avignon, is its copious collection of ancient and modern manuscripts. Besides the beautiful illuminated volumes, the main ones having been noted above, one can cite many paleographic monuments from the 9th to the 15th centuries, books from the papal library including several books donated by the popes of Avignon to the convents of the city; funds of archives of large families of Provence, such as the Porcelets d'Arles ;a very rich, full of interest and almost unexplored collection of autographs of famous men.

The library is established with Calvet Museum, in the magnificent hotel built from 1741 to 1754 by the architect of Avignon, J.-B. Franque for the Peer of Villeneuve-Martignan. It has a special entrance in the courtyard.

Joseph GIRARD,
Formercurator of Calvet Library and Museum from 1906 to 1949