Confiscated cloister and chapter libraries form the core of the collections of early manuscripts and printed works in the Special Collections. These are unique collections in the Netherlands and a number of them include world-famous documents.
These libraries were seized when the Utrecht cloisters were closed following the Reformation. The books had to be moved to Saint John’s Church (Sint-Janskerk), where the new city library was established in 1584. This became the university library in 1636.
Two cloisters had almost their entire collections confiscated: the augustijnian monastery (Regulierenklooster) which was established in 1292 (now at Springweg 102-4 and Tivoli on the Oudegracht) and the Carthusian monastery Nova Lux (Nieuwlicht), also called Vallis Floris (Bloemendaal), founded a century later (now where the Marnixlaan crosses the Laan van Chartroise near the Nieuwlichtstraat). From each cloister, around 150 manuscripts and 70 printed works have been preserved.
Thirty-eight manuscript volumes and 66 early printed works have been preserved from Saint Paul's Abbey (Paulusabdij) (now the Utrecht Archives on Hamburgerstraat). The earliest of these manuscripts date back to the eleventh century, when the abbey was founded. From other cloisters such as the Sint Hieronymus cloister, the Sint Caecilia cloister and the Oostbroek abbey (in De Bilt) only a few books remain.
Each of the five Utrecht chapters was associated with one of the churches: the Cathedral (Domkerk) (dedicated to Saint Martin), Saint John’s Church (Janskerk), Saint Peter’s Church (Pieterskerk), Saint Mary’s Church (Mariakerk) and Saint Salvator (Sint Salvator or Oudmunster). In 1580, the chapters were still in place and even able to resist the confiscation of their libraries.
It was not until after 1811 when the chapters were eliminated, so that in 1844 the remaining books were added the Utrecht University Library collection via the Demesne Archive (Domeinarchief). In the process, more than 50 additional manuscripts and 270 early printed works were introduced to the collection. This included 37 manuscripts that were formerly owned by the wealthy chapter of Saint Mary's, including the beautiful Liber Pontificalis, the renowned Zwolle Bible (Zwolse Bijbel) and several extraordinary liturgical manuscripts. The rest of the collection of the chapters had in the meantime been sold or gone missing.