Searching for God

In Utrecht, an episcopal city full of churches, cloisters and chapters, theology has always played an important part in the scientific debates from the medieval period onwards. This tradition was continued during the Reformation and beyond, both under protestants as catholics. Well assorted libraries were hence indispensable. Many works of these libraries have found their way to the Special Collections.

The old and rich bookcollections about protestantism are complemented by archival material from preachers and professors from the 18th century onwards. Other major collections are the libraries of the old-catholic church in the Netherlands (including unique material about jansenism) and other catholic libararies, such as those of franciscan institutions. The more spiritual side of Christianity is highlighted by the performance and experience of religious music. That collection stretches from medieval manuscripts to modern organ archives.

Utrechts Psalter
Ex-libris of J.H. Gunning and portrait of Niellius

The rise of the Protestant Church in the 16th century led to drastic change in the northern Low Countries. In 1580, when Utrecht became a Protestant city, Catholic services were banned and the libraries of the city's cloisters and chapters were confiscated and handed over to the city library. Utrecht became a Protestant stronghold, which is still reflected in the manuscripts and old printed works in the Special Collections.

Portrait of Cornelius Jansenius, ODK 580

The doctrine on predestination has always been a controversial issue in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. On many occasions, bitter conflict has resulted from differing beliefs regarding the extent to which our actions can influence our own salvation. The theologist Cornelius Jansen or Jansenius (1585-1638) from Leuven argued that only a select few would receive the grace of God. Although this was met with fierce resistance from Rome, it found support in France and the Low Countries. This story can be followed in the Special Collections.

Den wijngaert van Sinte Franciscus (1518), Thom 7-59 Rar

In 1971, Utrecht University Library purchased an extensive collection of books and journals from various Catholic libraries. The acquisition included around 150,000 volumes from the former Dutch Order of Friars Minor Franciscan monasteries dedicated to study in Alverna, Weert and Venray. An additional 50,000 items were acquired from Rijsenburg and Dijnselburg, the former training institutes of the archbishopric of Utrecht.

Book of Hours of Kunera van Leefdael, Ms. 5 J 26, 14r

Music has always played a key role in the religious culture of the Netherlands. Music has been recorded in writing since the Middle Ages, including in Utrecht cloisters and chapters. In the Protestant parts of the Netherlands, hymns play a key role in religion and in churches the hymns are accompanied by church organs. In the Special Collections the entire spectrum of religious music is represented in manuscripts and printed works.