Library Repair Causes a Plea to the Pope (NYT)

ROME, June 21 — Normally a sanctuary of scholarly meditation, the Vatican Library has been the scene of unusually hectic activity lately, as word has spread that it will close in July for a three-year renovation.

Since the Vatican announced the impending shutdown, dozens of scholars have been lining up each day at ever earlier hours to snatch one of the 92 available spots in the manuscript room, where they can pore over archaic texts in forgotten languages. The library staff, traditionally prompt in responding to requests, has been struggling to keep up with the demand.

“We’re kept waiting like the virgins in the Gospel for their bridegroom to come,” Lucas Van Rompay, a professor of religion from Duke University who specializes in Eastern Christianity, said jokingly. He was referring to Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Virgins, a lesson on maintaining faith, after two particularly frustrating mornings of his own. “It’s getting worse every day.”

Like the British Library and the National Library of France, the Vatican has one of the most important manuscript collections in the world. The prospect of being cut off from their sources with crucial research under way is sowing panic among visiting scholars.

“It’s tragic,” said Barbara Roggema, a scholar who is leading a three-year study on Christian-Muslim relations during the Middle Ages for the University of Birmingham in England and had counted on continued access to the library, which is to close on July 14.

Petitions addressed to Pope Benedict XVI, the ultimate authority on Vatican matters, are circulating among scholars. Some ask that the manuscript division at least remain accessible to the public during the three-year renovation. Others request that the closing be delayed until 2008 so that scholars will have time to wrap up research and meet publishing or teaching deadlines.

The Pope is scheduled to visit the library on Monday, according to Ambrogio Piazzoni, the library’s vice prefect. “He wants to understand what’s going on,” he said in an interview.

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