The Saint John’s Rare Books collection started with two gifts totaling over 1000 books from the Bavarian abbeys at Metten and Ottobeuren. Today, the collection includes nearly 6000 rare printed books and manuscripts, as well as specialized collections of medieval and early modern documents and manuscripts (the Kritzeck, Koll, and Steiner collections). Saint John’s Rare Books also includes over 30 western manuscripts (14th-19th c.), about 20 manuscripts in Arabic script and 15 Ethiopian manuscripts.
Of the three collections under the HMML umbrella, the Saint John’s rare book and manuscript collection is the largest and oldest. When Father Bernard Locnikar, OSB, began the library’s record-keeping in the 1870s, the collection numbered about 1200 books, but in 1877 this number was nearly doubled by two gifts from the Bavarian abbeys of Ottobeuren (1062 volumes) and Metten (179 volumes). Nearly all of these monastic gift books are now in the rare book collections. Today there are nearly 6000 rare books and manuscripts in the Saint John’s Rare Book collection. Noteworthy volumes in this collection include the first book in the SJU collections, a 1572 German-language Bible, as well as the 1657 London polyglot Bible (in 6 volumes, plus 2 additional volumes of linguistic analysis), and the 1590-1591 Arabic Gospels.
Rare printed books: Along with the books from Metten and Ottobeuren, the collection also includes several books by Minnesota authors in the Anderson collection (given in 2012); and almost 500 titles (in 800 volumes) in the Brigham Young University collection (given in 2015). Over half of the Saint John’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collection was printed before the year 1800. It is especially strong in the areas of Benedictine studies, monasticism, theology, liturgy, philosophy, languages, literatures, European history, and canon law.
Incunabula: (books printed before 1500): more than 30 incunabula in the Saint John’s Rare Book and Manuscript Collection
Western manuscripts: approximately 30 manuscripts, from the 13th to the 19th c.; chiefly in Latin, but also in German, Italian, and Spanish; of special interest is a Latin New Testament (13th/14th c.), as well as a 15th-c. Book of Hours, a 14th-c. Gradual, and an early modern Antiphonary
Arabic-script manuscripts: c. 20 codex manuscripts in Arabic or Turkish; chiefly Islamic, but also some Christian texts
Ethiopian manuscripts: 15 codices and magic scrolls; chiefly in Ge’ez
Steiner Collection: mixture of c. 50 codex manuscripts and legal documents, from early modern student notebooks to late medieval parchment rolls; chiefly in Catalan or Spanish
Kritzeck Collection: signed documents from saints, popes, kings, queens, and other rulers from the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Russia, France, etc.; these date from the 15th c. to the 19th c.
Koll Collection: mixed collection of signed documents, chiefly from Italy and in Italian; includes materials signed by popes, cardinals, members of royalty and nobility from across Europe; collection also includes a mixture of printed and documentary works from Italy, dating from the 16th to the 19th c. (the broadside collection).