The “Virtual Library of St Peter” project

With the Virtual Library of St Peter, the University Library and other partners are attempting to reconstruct the Baroque abbey library using the historical sources in its core collection and to create a virtual space for the books, which are now physically scattered across various holdings.

About the project

The historic library at the Abbey of St Peter in the Black Forest sadly no longer exists in its original form and with its original holdings. As a result of the mass secularisation in 1806, the collections of books and manuscripts – which had reached 20,000 volumes by then – are now distributed between various libraries in the state of Baden-Württemberg, but above all the Baden State Library in Karlsruhe and University Library Freiburg. A small portion of the holdings nevertheless remained in St Peter. Many of the books were systematically classified by content when placed in the existing collections of the institutions accepting the books and therefore taken out of the easily recognisable context of their provenance. So although the institutions now using the books were able to preserve some of the heritage at the material level for individual books, the ways in which they were acquired contributed to tarnishing the notion and image of the then famous collection in St Peter. This therefore compromised the abbey’s culture of knowledge during the Baroque period. It is now usually just the owner’s marks or records of purchase in the books themselves that indicate they came from St Peter.

Even the abbey’s archives did not remain securely on site. The historic abbey archives can now be found in the General State Archives Karlsruhe. Archives, especially from the period of mass secularisation, can also be found in St Peter (now: Geistliches Zentrum der Erzdiözese Freiburg, the Religious Centre of the Archdiocese of Freiburg), in the Erzbischöfliches Archiv Freiburg (Archiepiscopal Archive Freiburg) and the University Archive Freiburg.

One of the aims of the Virtual Library of St Peter is to create a digital compilation of the holdings, which are now physically distributed between a number of locations, and to enable online access to individual documents. The University Library Freiburg, the Baden State Library in Karlsruhe and the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg/General State Archives Karlsruhe are major contributors to this project as partners of “LEO-BW – Discover Regional Studies Online”. In addition to presenting the digitised holdings from St Peter in the wider context of the local region and culture in LEO-BW, the Virtual Library of St Peter also offers the opportunity to explore the historic library in an entirely different way.

The Baroque abbey library is the focal point of the Virtual Library of St Peter. The various ongoing projects at University Library Freiburg aim to use the surviving sources, the previous research on St Peter and the collaboration with other institutions to reconstruct the core collection and create a virtual space for the books, which are physically scattered between a number of institutions today. 

The existing sources include the handwritten historic library catalogue, which is held at University Library Freiburg under Hs. 562. This document has facilitated the reconstruction of the Abbey of St Peter’s library for the period up to 1774. As such, one of the University Library Freiburg’s projects specifically aims to index this catalogue. The catalogue was completely transcribed and the records transferred to a database in the first project phase from 2010 to the end of 2011. Since 2012, the next project phase has been to index these titles in more detail in a database. To do this, the title records in the historic catalogue have been linked to modern catalogue data, and appropriate holdings (for the time being) in University Library Freiburg and in the Religious Centre in St Peter have been identified and verified for their possible provenance from the historic library at the Abbey of St Peter. These outcomes have also been entered in the database and are searchable. So for the first time ever, the copies of many of the 16th to 18th century prints from St Peter can be precisely located. The holdings, which have been identified in this way in today’s St Peter and in University Library Freiburg, are being digitised and issued online in full-text editions in another project run by University Library Freiburg. If a location has not been defined for titles in the historic catalogue originally located in the abbey library, a link will be provided to the online editions of other copies of the title. 

With the specific goal of providing online editions of books and manuscripts from the historic library at the Abbey of St Peter in direct connection to the historic catalogue, this is the first time that we are able to describe in more detail the subjects covered and thus the profile of the Baroque book collection in St Peter on a broader scale. The indexing database is already a valuable indexing and search tool for the historic catalogue and the history of St Peter’s library. 

The outcomes of another one of the University Library Freiburg’s projects are also being incorporated into the Virtual Library of St Peter. Since the end of 2009, all prints that pre-date 1800 and are still located in St Peter are being catalogued and listed in online catalogues. For the first time, this will provide transparency on which of these prints were already part of the historic abbey library’s collection and are still there, even after the secularisation of the abbey. As we catalogue by visual inspection, information on the purchase or ownership of the work can be recorded and analysed. This information will now also be used by the other projects. It has been included in the indexing database for the historic catalogue and in the indexing and presentation structure behind the Virtual Library of St Peter. 

In addition, the Virtual Library of St Peter’s portal pages provide access to special collections from the historic abbey library, including the collection of maps currently held at University Library Freiburg. They also enable access to a selection of other sources on the history of the abbey and the works of its abbots, as well as to a directory of previous research on St Peter. 

If nothing else, the Virtual Library of St Peter has created an initial basis for viewing and interpreting the Baroque establishment’s room designs and visual concepts in the context of its former amassed collection, which will enable further thought into the Baroque library’s programme – from the images to the texts. 

(German text: Dr Angela Karasch)

Project team

University Library Freiburg / Special collections:
Dr. Angela Karasch (–2016)
Dr. Marcus Schröter (today)

Sub-project team members:
Transcription, data cataloguing and enhancement, provenance research: Dr. Dietrich Hakelberg
Indexing database for the historic catalogue: Dipl.-Inf. Martin Helfer
Cataloguing historic book collections pre-dating 1800 in St Peter today: Dipl.-Bibl. Holger Richter

Project partners

The University Library Freiburg’s partners for the Virtual Library of St Peter project are:

Publications on the project

Karasch, Angela: Die "Virtuelle Bibliothek St Peter". (The “Virtual Library of St Peter”.) In: Kloster, Priesterseminar, Geistliches Zentrum - Von Kunst, Geschichte und Gegenwart der vormaligen Benediktinerabtei St Peter auf dem Schwarzwald (Abbey, Seminary, Religious Centre - On Art, History and the Present of the Former Benedictine Abbey of St Peter in the Black Forest) / ed. by Hans-Otto Mühleisen, Arno Zahlauer. Lindenberg/Allgäu: Kunstverlag Josef Fink, 2016, p. 153–169.

Karasch, Angela: Vom Wert und Nutzen alter Kataloge: der Bibliothekskatalog des Klosters St Peter i. Schw. in der Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg i. Br. (On the Value and Benefits of Old Catalogues: the Library Catalogue of the Abbey of St Peter in the Black Forest at the University Library in Freiburg im Breisgau.) Freiburg: University Library, 2008, (Bibliotheks- und Medienpraxis. 10). (Read online)

University of Freiburg