Christiania Cathedral School Library, Oslo

The Library of the Cathedral School of Oslo, formerly Christiania, is the oldest library in Norway, established in 1663. The school itself dates to the middle of the 12th century, but a series of devastating fires during the 16th and 17th centuries have left the library without a trace of any earlier holdings. The library currently holds some 50,000 items spanning nine centuries. The collections include medieval manuscript material: a papal bull of 1157, a small collection of mostly liturgical book fragments, as well as an English 13th-century bible, and the oldest surviving Scandinavian magic book (Vinjeboka), included in the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. There are five incunabula registered with the ISTC, some two hundred 16th century items, about a thousand items from the 17th century, and some six or seven thousand 18th century volumes in the collection. Most of these books have been with the library for 200 years or more. The library’s archives, catalogues and ledgers document the growth and use of the collection over the centuries.

The Library of the Cathedral School (or Christiania Kathedralskoles Bibliothek, as it is known today) served as the town’s public library well into the 19th century. Before 1846 it also included the municipal Deichmanske library. Until the University of Oslo was founded in 1811, the library was the largest and most important public collection in southern Norway. Because of its public responsibilities, the library’s holdings not only reflect the narrow interests of the school as an institution but of the reading public of 18th and 19th century Christiania. The core of the old collection is a universal library in the Enlightenment sense, with books in a variety of subjects and languages, including imprints such as the 1694 edition of the Quran in Arabic, as well as first editions by Kepler, Adam Smith, Samuel Johnson, among many others.

The historical collection is preserved intact, and as far as we know, no books have ever been sold off or otherwise deaccessioned. During the 18th century, the growth of the library relied heavily on book donations, and the collection thus contains several complete private libraries of that period. The library’s owners, the Oslo Cathedral School Foundation (Stiftelsen Oslo Katedralskole) continue to add to the holdings in order to fill in gaps and develop the collection further. Donations are still welcomed, and in 2016 the library received a private collection 2.500 volumes on pharmacy, botany and medicine, spanning seven centuries.

In addition to the book collection, the library holds a small but important collection of antiquities, mostly Viking age, including a number of insular book bosses dating to the late eighth century.

The library has been open to the public since 1720 and is currently run as a small research library and museum of the book. The institution is an associate member of CERL and a member of the Norwegian Museum Association.

Contact the library’s curator Ernst Bjerke, Ph.D. ([email protected]) for further information.



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