Welcome to St Andrews – a ‘fountain of science’

August 27th, 2009 by John

The current Pope, Benedict XVI, recently issued an encyclical devoted to social issues. In it the Pope expresses concern about unjust intellectual property practices and the use of them to withhold information from those most in need – views which are often made for our community in the more familiar venues of scholarly publishing and open access.

The university which hosts our European office, St Andrews, a leading research-intensive university in the UK to this day, was established almost 600 years ago by an earlier Pope Benedict. The University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics has some interesting historical information:

The University of St Andrews was founded by Bishop Henry Wardlaw. His charter of incorporation is dated 28 February 1412 … and he set up the University partly for prestige but mainly so that students could be educated for the Church. Prior to this bishops in St Andrews had provided funds to send their students to the universities of Bologna, Paris and Oxford but the political situation at the time made it increasingly difficult to continue this practice. A Papal Bull of Foundation was issued on 28 August 1413 by Pope Benedict XIII who wrote:-

… considering also the peace and quietness which flourish in the said city of St Andrews and its neighbourhood, its abundant supply of victuals, the number of its hospices and other conveniences for students, which it is known to possess, we are led to hope that this city, which the devine bounty has enriched with so many gifts, may become the fountain of science…

Lovely words – though from an Antipope. The Scottish church was one of the few in Europe still to recognise Benedict XIII as Pope in 1413, when his bull establishing the University was issued. University historians today are quick to point out that any doubt over the validity of this bull once Scotland came once again into line over Papal allegiance was dispelled by its reaffirmation by a later post-schismatic Pope.


Flickr image of St Salvator’s College by garethjmsaunders

St Andrews University Library is rich in special collections. A succinct overview is given on the Friends of St Andrews University Library pages:

The University of St Andrews Library has its origins in the fifteenth century in the separate libraries of the colleges of St Leonard, St Salvator and St Mary … These formed the first collections of books within the institution, and were significantly enhanced in 1611-1612 when King James VI and I and members of his family presented over 200 volumes to the University to mark the founding of the Common Library. From 1710 to 1837 the Library was entitled to a copy of every book printed in Britain under the Copyright Deposit Act, which has resulted in a particularly strong collection of eighteenth-century material, with a special emphasis on books relating to the Scottish Enlightenment … The Library also holds one of the largest and most important collections of historic photography in Scotland, reflecting the fact that St Andrews played a key role in the development of the photographic process … Manuscript holdings are similarly rich, ranging from Greek papyri and medieval philosophical treatises to modern business records.

The Friends of the University Library recently launched a lecture series to celebrate the impending 600th anniversary of the founding of the University, and the 400th anniversary of the King James Library. The first lecture was delivered a few weeks ago by Dr James Billington, Librarian of Congress, who spoke of the role of the library in protecting and promoting knowledge for the good of humanity – values which Popes and other religious and civic leaders have approved, and universities have sustained, for 600 years and more.

We are delighted to announce that St Andrews has now joined the RLG Partnership, and proud to welcome this distinguished library to our community.

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2 Responses to “Welcome to St Andrews – a ‘fountain of science’”

  1. Dean L. McLeod Says:

    I will be delighted to be kept informed as this collaborate continues. Access by U.S. researchers to these wonderful archives promises much good and valuable knowledge being brought to the coming generations of learners and teachers.

  2. Mattie Says:

    Wow, I was quite taken by this post. Thank you so much for talking about an issue that is very important but citing a source most people overlook: the Pope. Thanks for a great & thought provoking read!