“There are 86,400 seconds in one day. It’s up to you deciding what to do with them”.
This phrase was written behind the business card of a cafe just in front of the Duomo, Verona’s cathedral church. It’s no wonder that the cafe was called “Caffe’ e Parole”, which translates to Coffee and words. As for us, we had already spent some of those seconds well, when we had visited the library just left of the cafe, in the same square the Duomo stood. So, we decided to ‘freeze’ that moment in a recollection filled with historical memories.
Verona’s Biblioteca Capitolare, a downright gem placed in a seemingly anonymous building.
No tourist, only us enjoying that timeless treasure. There were tourists in Verona, don’t get us wrong. But in that corner, to our disappointment, there was absolutely none around.
So, here’s our brief notes to let the world know something about one of the oldest libraries on the planet (where, to mention one, the earliest witness of the Italian language is preserved in a few lines of text). We don’t want to tell its history, which can easily be found on the net: we just want to gently guide you through those ancient and flaking walls to get a glimpse of time passed. The best things, for example, are those one doesn’t see.
Manuscripts, incunabula, librarians such as Monsignor Turrini who during the war passionately defended and saved them. Petrarch and Dante, who often went there to study; the plague, which hit Verona in 1630 and seemed the nth threat to hit the library’s holdings… that were eventfully re-discovered by Veronese humanist Scipione Maffei. Undoubtedly, these stories are shared by many a library. But the Capitolare, Europe’s most ancient library seems a hidden gem, even though many know about its importance. It seems as though the cloister it encloses, which once hosted custodians such as Pacificus and Ursicinus, is enclosed in some kind of past that never went by.
When we arrived, a theology symposium could not have found a better setting. There couldn’t have been a better welcome for us, too, from an old lady. She seemed to bear the weight of all those shelves on her shoulders, and warned us: “there are a lot of books here… very ancient ones!”. Her innocence struck us, especially if we think of many Italian librarians who are bored of their job and jealous of the treasures they must preserve. I don’t know what that woman was called. But I remember how, when we asked her to show us the other rooms, she swiftly replied: “Come, I’ll show you the study room. There are many stories to be told here….”.
It isn’t hard to imagine those stories, once you have gone through those ancient doors…