Looted Library, Reconstructed Library

The Beginnings

In the largest city in medieval Livonia, Riga, Reformation quickly triumphed. The church reform, launched in the city in 1522 under the inspiration of Martin Luther, was fully completed in just a couple of years. The city council appointed preachers, banished the Franciscans and Dominicans from the city, changed the procedure of the divine service and took over church property. The only Catholic institutions remaining in the city after the Reformation were the cathedral chapter and St. Mary Magdalene Cistercian nunnery.

At the end of the Livonian War (1558–1583), Riga fell under the dominion of the King of Poland-Lithuania Stephen Báthory (1576–1586), and Jesuits arrived in this Lutheran city. The Jesuit Order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) in 1540 played an essential role in plans made by the King of Poland and the Papal diplomat, Jesuit Antonio Possevino (1533-1611), to reconvert the north of Europe to the Catholic faith. Riga was to become one of the centres of this Jesuit mission.

Title page of the Psalterz Dawidow (Book of Psalms) translated by Jakub Wujek

Above: a valuable Jesuit book. Book of Psalms in Polish donated to the Riga Jesuit college by its translator Jakub Wujek (1541-1597).

In 1583, with direct support from the king, the Jesuits founded a college in Riga, taking over the Lutherans’ St. James (Jacobs) Church and the adjacent Cistercian nunnery, where only a few nuns of advanced age remained. The falling of the city under the dominion of a Catholic king and the support of the city council for the calendar reform (1582) initiated by Pope Gregory XIII provoked violent riots amongst the townspeople (1584–1589). Their discontent was also targeted at the Jesuits.

College was the place for Jesuits to study and engage in intellectual work, preparing themselves for missionary work. As such, the library as a repository of knowledge played an essential role in the life of each college. It is likely that the library in Riga was created in the same year that the college was founded - some of the ownership marks in the Jesuit books are dated 1583.

Above: A book acquired by the Riga Jesuit college in 1583. Property inscription: 'Liber Collegij Societatis IESV Rigae anno 1583'.

The library of Riga Jesuit College was accumulated gradually but purposefully, acquiring most of its books through purchases. The library also incorporated several other book collections. By taking over the former Cistercian nunnery, the Jesuits acquired the Cistercian nuns’ prayer books, among them Anna Notken’s book of hours (below).

By the end of the 16th century, the library incorporated books that had belonged to several Livonian priests before the Reformation. These books had been collected by Catholic priest Reinhold Gemekow, who in the mid-16th century worked in Livonia and later in Prussia. Some of the books were individual donations and many volumes came to Riga from other Jesuit colleges in Europe. The library contains copies of the Bible and Psalms in numerous languages, works by Catholic and Protestant theologians, textbooks in rhetoric, philosophical treatises, dictionaries, catechisms and liturgy books. Before it was taken away from Riga in 1621, the library contained almost 1,000 volumes and was one of the largest book collections in the Baltic Sea region.

Below: A book owned by priest Reinhold Gemekow.

Below: A book donated by the bishop of Livonia Otto Schenking (c. 1554-1637) to the Riga Jesuit college.

Title page of 'Epistola de transitu et dormitione'