Manuscripts Lost Since the Reformation Era
It is common to hear modern textual criticis justify their craft by making this claim: “We have so many more manuscripts today than those in the Reformation era!” That cannot be proven and it is, in fact, quite unlikely. The following chart documents the destruction of millions of books and manuscripts since that time.
|Name of Library||City||Country||Date of
|Reason and/or Account of Destruction|
|Madrassah Library||Granada||Crown of Castile||1499||Cardinal Cisneros||The library was attacked by troops of the perpetrator in late 1499, the
books were taken to the Plaza Bib-Rambla, where they were burned in public.
|Bibliotheca Corviniana||Ofen||Ottoman Empire||1526||Troops of the Ottoman Empire||Library was destroyed by
|Glasney College||Penryn, Cornwall||England||1548||Royal officials||The smashing and looting of the Cornish colleges at Glasney and Crantock brought
an end to the formal scholarship which had helped to sustain the Cornish language
and the Cornish cultural identity.
|Raglan Library||Raglan Castle||Wales||1646||Parliamentary Army||The Earl of Worcester’s library was burnt during the English Civil War by forces
under the command of Thomas Fairfax.
|Guildhall Library||London||England||1666||Great Fire of London||The Great Fire of London destroyed 436 acres of central London. The fire badly damaged the
Guildhall and burnt down the library which held many manuscripts and the original working
papers for the King James Bible.
|University of Copenhagen Library||Copenhagen||Denmark||1728-10-01||Fire||The collections of the University Library go back to 1482, three years after the foundation of the
University of Copenhagen in 1479. Almost all of the c.35,000 books and manuscripts in the University Library were
consumed by flames during the fire of Copenhagen
|Royal Library of Portugal||Ribeira Palace||Lisbon||1755-11-01||Natural disaster||Great Lisbon earthquake|
|Library of Congress||Washington, D.C.||United States||1814||Troops of the British Army||The library was destroyed
during the War of 1812 when British forces set fire to the U.S. Capitol
during the Burning of Washington.
|University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa, Alabama||United States||1865-05-04||Troops of the Union Army||During the American Civil
War, Union troops destroyed most buildings on the University of Alabama
campus, including its library of approximately 7,000 volumes.
|Birmingham Central Library||Birmingham||England||1879-01-11||Fire||A fire broke out behind a wooden partition serving as a temporary wall during building operations.
The fire caused extensive damage, with only 1,000 volumes saved from a stock of 50,000.
|Library of the Catholic University of Leuven||Leuven||Belgium||1914-08-25||German Occupation Troops||The Germans set the library
on fire as part of the burning of the entire city in an attempt to use terror
to quell Belgian resistance to occupation.
|Library of Berlin University||Berlin||Germany||1940-44||WWII||20,000 volumes lost|
|The Hessische Landesbibliothek||Hessische||Germany||1940-44||WWII||760,000 volumes lost, including 2,217 incunabula and 4,500 manuscripts|
|National Library of Germany||Frankfurt||Germany||1940-44||WWII||2,000,000 volumes and manuscripts lost|
|Municipal and State Library of Dortmund||Dortmund||Germany||1940-44||WWII||250,000 volumes lost|
|Sächsische Landesbibliothek||Sächsische||Germany||1940-44||WWII||300,000 volumes lost|
|Library of Bremen||Bremen||Germany||1940-44||WWII||150,000 volumes losts|
|University and State Library of Hamburg||Hamburg||Germany||1940-44||WWII||600,000 volumes lost|
|Library of the Catholic University of Leuven||Leuven||Belgium||1940-05-01||German Occupation Troops||Caught fire during German
invasion of Louvain, Belgium.
|National Library of Serbia||Belgrade||Yugoslavia||1941-04-06||Nazi German Luftwaffe||Destroyed during the World
War II bombing of Belgrade.
|Methodius National Library||Sofia||Bulgaria||1943-1944||Allied air forces||Allied bombing|
|Załuski Library||Warsaw||Poland||1944||Nazi German troops||The library was burned down
during the Nazi suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The burning of
this library was part of the general setting on fire of a large part of the
city of Warsaw.
|Lebanese National Library||Beirut||Lebanon||1975||Lebanese Civil War||The 1975 war fighting began
in Beirut’s downtown where the National Library was located. During the war
years, the library suffered significant damage. According to some sources,
1200 of most precious manuscripts disappeared, and no memory is left of the
Library’s organization and operational procedures of that time.
|Jaffna Public Library||Jaffna||Sri Lanka||1981-05-01||Plainclothes police
officers and others
|In May 1981 a mob composed
of thugs and plainclothes police officers went on a rampage in minority
Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library.
At least 95,000 volumes – the second largest library collection in South Asia
– were destroyed.
|Central University Library of Bucharest||Bucharest||Romania||1989-12-2?||Romanian Land Forces||Burnt down during the
|Oriental Institute in Sarajevo||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1992-05-17||Bosnian Serb Army||Destroyed by the shellfire
during the Siege of Sarajevo.
|National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1992-08-25||Bosnian Serb Army||The library was completely
destroyed during the Siege of Sarajevo.
|Abkhazian Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia||Sukhumi||Abkhazia||1992-10-01||Georgian Armed Forces||Destroyed during the War in
|Pol-i-Khomri||Afghanistan||1998||Taliban militia||It held 55,000 books and
|Iraq National Library and Archive,
Central Library of the University of Baghdad,
Library of Bayt al-Hikma,
Central Library of the University of Mosul
and other libraries
|Baghdad||Iraq||2003-04-01||Unknown members of the
|Several libraries looted,
set on fire, damaged and destroyed in various degrees during the 2003 Iraq
|Egyptian Scientific Institute||Cairo||Egypt||2011-12-01||A first estimate says that
only 30,000 volumes have been saved of a total of 200,000.
|Ahmed Baba Institute (Timbuktu library)||Timbuktu||Mali||2013-01-28||Islamists militia||The library was burned
down, it contained over 20,000 manuscripts with only a fraction of them
having been scanned as of January 2013.
|Saeh Library||Tripoli||Lebanon||2014-01-03||Unknown||The Christian library was
burned down, it contained over 80,000 manuscripts and books.
|National Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzego||2014-02-07||Seven Bosnian rioters
suspected of having started the fire; two (Salem Hatibović and Nihad
Trnka) were arrested.
|During the 2014 unrest in
Bosnia and Herzegovina large amounts of historical documents were destroyed
when sections of the Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, housed in the
presidential building, were set on fire. Among the lost archival material
were documents and gifts from the Ottoman period, original documents from the
1878-1918 Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as
documentations of the interwar period, the 1941-1945 rule of the Independent
State of Croatia, papers from the following years, and about 15000 files from
the 1996-2003 Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the
repositories that were burnt, about 60 percent of the material was lost,
according to estimates by Šaban Zahirović, the head of the Archives.
|Mosul University libraries and private Libraries||Mosul||Iraq||2014-12-01||Ongoing ISIS Book Burning||Book burning.|
|Libraries in Anbar Province||Anbar Province||Iraq||2014-12-01||Ongoing ISIS Book Burning||Book burning.|
|Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences||Moscow||Russia||2015-01-29||Unknown.||Fire spread to 2000sqm in
third Floor. Roof caved in. Additional water damage. Ambient temperature too
high for self-freezing of damaged Works. Library contains 14 million books,
including rare texts in ancient Slavic languages, documents from the League
of Nations, UNESCO, and parliamentary reports from countries including the US
dating back as far as 1789.
|Mosul public library||Mosul||Iraq||2015-02-01||ISIS Book Burning||8,000 rare old books and manuscripts. Manuscripts from the eighteenth century,
Syriac books printed in Iraq’s first printing house in the nineteenth century,
books from the Ottoman