Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Cosmas de Villiers’ Bibliotheca Carmelitana online

Philip Harvey

Cosmas de Villiers’ Bibliotheca Carmelitana has been loaded onto a database and is now ready to be tested on the internet. This is very welcome news for all scholars and historians in Carmelite studies. The news reached us today from Rome via the Carmelite Curia’s  e-list, Centrum Informationis Totius Ordinis Carmelitarum, or for short ‘CITOC on line’: 

Meeting of the Bibliotheca Carmelitana Nova Commission
On 3rd and 4th June members of the commission overseeing the Bibliotheca Carmelitana Nuova project met in Dresden, Germany in the offices of FOVOG – the “Forschungsstelle fur Vergleichende Ordensgeschichte". This is an institute in the University of Dresden which specialises in the comparative study of religious orders. The commission is made up of Giovanni Grosso (President of the Carmelite Institute), Ton van der Gulik (Carmelite Librarian), Paul Chandler (who participated via Skype), Edeltraud Klueting (Third Order Carmelite scholar), Kevin Alban (Bursar General), Gert Melville (Director of FOVOG) and Coralie Zermatten (researcher). The project involves putting all the entries in Cosmas de Villiers’ Bibliotheca Carmelitana on a database, and in addition searching out other names and works of medieval Carmelites. So far about 1,200 names have been loaded on to the database which is now ready to be tested on the internet. This will be an important tool for all researchers in Carmelite studies.

In 1752 the Bibliotheca Carmelitana  was published in two volumes. The work listed the literary output of all Carmelite monks and nuns, both of the Order of the Ancient Observance (O.Carm.) and the Discalced Order (O.C.D.) “All Carmelites” is a bold claim, but we are talking here of seriously substantial representation. The Library’s 1927 reprint reveals Cosmas de Villiers’ remarkable attention to detail, as well as the extent of access he had to Carmelite primary sources. There are more than 2000 names, but what is more amazing are the numbers of individual works listed under each name, published works, manuscripts, and related writings. It is a great exercise in bibliographical research, similar in ambition and scope to its later Jesuit counterpart, the Bibliotheque of Carlos Sommervogel. It is Migne before Migne, a Catholic encyclopedist working from the ground up in order to present an image of the Carmelite written landscape.   

The FOVOG (in English,  The Research Centre for Comparative History of Religious Orders) website states: “In his Bibliotheca Carmelitana Cosmas de Villiers created a piece of cultural history, summarising and listing Carmelite intellectual achievements from the middle to the eighteenth century and displaying its fundamental elements: the construction of sanctity, the dispute about the orders’ history, but also many obituaries for Carmelites.” It is welcome when the Centre says, “The essential advantage of a database is its ability to store and sort large quantities of information. In addition there is the possibility to expand and update the data. The Bibliotheca Carmelitana Nova has the potential to grow exponentially.” This shows a healthy sensitivity to the future of Carmelite research. The expansion of the database means we are looking at an established book and name authority. This database is not auxiliary to but an essential extra to existing databases, especially those in the United States. It will enhance our knowledge and use of the online catalogue of the Bibliotheca Carmelitana of the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome.

It is pleasing to note that amongst the access points, there will be identification of every Carmelite with his various names and information as to the origin. The website says that “This is especially important because many brothers bore the same religious name.” And that’s only the start, when you catalogue Carmelite authors. One person with various names is always a complicated business. Which name is the authority? If he only uses one name in his books, is that the one we use first, or the name by which he is best known? Recently I catalogued retrospectively all available works of the little-known Discalced Carmelite Anastasio del Santissimo Rosario, or Anastasio of the Holy Rosary. His writings of spiritual direction, mostly in Italian, were clearly popular throughout the last century. Only, something didn’t make sense to me about some of the jacket information, and when digging deeper online I discovered that this writer was also, in fact, Cardinal Ballestrero, who in the 1980s was Archbishop of Turin. One stares at some of the names in Cosmas de Villiers with the same sense of trepidation and uncertainty about the full story. Fortunately our catalogue has See References, but I still had to establish the name authority for Anastasio. Even this one example reminds us of the difficulty of differentiating personal Carmelite names due to language variations, their adopted name in religion, and the authority language of the catalogue or bibliography itself, which is not always in Latin. The website will help relieve some of our anxieties.
The Bibliotheca Carmelitana Nuova project offers other advantages for the student. The Committee has been far-seeing, as we can judge by these words from FOVOG: “Although author- and person-related research stand at the centre, the database has the potential to include other categories, like biographical data, iconography, an inventory of the respective manuscript tradition as well as secondary literature. For instance, the redactions of a text can be recorded and called up quickly. It is also possible to link information concerning manuscripts or persons.” It will be interesting to see how information is added to the database, how it is monitored and edited. Further information can be found here: http://www.fovog.de/englisch/projbibcarmelitanaen.html

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