Visiting Old Libraries: Scientific Books in the Religious Institutions of Early Modern Portugal

in Early Science and Medicine
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Knowledge of libraries and book collecting is a preliminary task for the characterisation of scientific culture and practice. In the case of Iberia, and especially Portugal, this is still a desideratum. This paper provides a first global look at this issue. In early modern Portugal religious institutions organised impressive collections of books, by far the largest in the country. These libraries not only served the religious institutions themselves, but also supplied books to lesser libraries, such as the University Library of Coimbra and the Royal Library. The Portuguese book market mirrored the purchase and selection of books made by religious congregations. This was also true for the circulation of scientific books, which depended above all on the interests, choices and cultural relations of these most peculiar book collectors.

Visiting Old Libraries: Scientific Books in the Religious Institutions of Early Modern Portugal

in Early Science and Medicine




 Jorge Borges de Macedo“Livros impressos em Portugal no século XVI: interesses e formas de mentalidade,” Arquivos do Centro Cultural Português9 (1975) 183–221emphasises on the one hand the great prevalence of religious books in Portuguese book production and complains on the other about the parallel absence of scientific books.


 See Belarmino Afonso“A livraria do Colégio do Santo Nome de Jesus de Bragança,” Boletim do Arquivo da Universidade de Coimbra10 (1988) 313–358.


 See Lisbon BNP COD. 1487Da receita da Bibliotheca do Real Mosteiro de Alcobaça f. 201r; but also Belmiro Fernandes “A livraria de Aquiles Estaço librorum uenator ethelluoHumanitas 45 (1993) 255–306 at 295.


  • View in gallery
    Inventory of the Jesuit Library of São Roque in Lisbon (1759). The scientific section shows a well-furnished collection of books from the most important publishing centers: Paris, Antwerp, Leuven, Nuremberg, Venice, Pisa, Bologna, Rome etc. BNP, COD. 7431, f. 47r. COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF PORTUGAL.

  • View in gallery
    Plan of the Library at Alcobaça (Cistercian Abbey) in 1684. Scientific books constituted about 8% of the total collection. BNP, COD. 7382, f. 3r. COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF PORTUGAL.

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