Humanist Library of Sélestat

The Humanist Library in Sélestat is one of the most important cultural treasures of Alsace, France. According to a traditional saying, Alsace has three great treasures: Strasbourg Cathedral, the Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar and the Humanist Library in Sélestat. Actually, there are in fact two Renaissance humanist libraries involved, the library of the Humanist School and the private library of the famous scholar, Beatus Rhenanus (1485-1547).

In 1441, the municipal authorities of Sélestat appointed Ludwig Dringenberg, born in Westphalia, to be the leader of the local Latin school. The appointment proved to be a stroke of luck. Dringenberg turned out to be a gifted and committed educator, who had an open attitude toward intellectual trends of the time. Under his leadership emerged the first school on the Upper Rhine where Humanist thinking was fostered. His successors, Kraft Hofman (1477-1501), Hieronymus Gebwiler (1501-1509) and Hans Sapidus (1510-1525), knew how to increase the reputation of the school still further. Thus, the school was the training place of an entire generation of Alsatian Humanists. The school also had a library which steadily grew in extent through endowments and gifts (from Jakob Wimpfeling of Sélestat, among others).

Beatus Rhenanus bequeathed his entire private library to his home city of Sélestat. This library contained about 670 bound leather volumes at the time of this death in 1547, which Rhenanus had collected during his studies and his work in Strasbourg,Basel, Paris and Sélestat. Even at that time, the library was of inestimable value, since books were only published in small numbers of copies and they were extremely expensive. The library of Beatus Rhenanus is the only larger Humanist library preserved virtually intact. Other large libraries, such as those of Erasmus von Rotterdam or Johannes Reuchlin, were scattered after the deaths of their owners. The Library of Beatus Rhenanus was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2011

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