About Lyon Public Library

The public libraries of the City of Lyon are a public service with the mission of contributing to the leisure, information, education and culture of all.

History of Lyon Public Library (BmL)

The collections now housed in the Part-Dieu library actually appeared over the centuries in various parts of the city. Whether private libraries or collections of religious institutions, their history is inextricably bound to that of the old city of Lyon.

At the origins of the library: a long history…

The history of the book in Lyon is reflected particularly well in the collections which have been assembled there over the centuries and now constitute the library’s old collections. Merovingian manuscripts probably from the scriptoria of the large abbeys of the Ile Barbe or Ile d’Ainay are symbols of the city’s first urban and intellectual renaissance. These manuscripts from the 5th and 6th centuries are the oldest documents in the collections now held in the Part-Dieu library. Until the French Revolution, they were kept by the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter, with the manuscripts of the Carolingian renaissance. Indeed, in the 9th century, the Carolingian bishops of Lyon formed, around the Saint-Jean cathedral, a large library which contained over 600 manuscripts at its peak. Some fifty manuscripts now visible on the internet have remained there in Lyon and, together with the collections of Lyon’s main convents, form part of the prestigious heritage confiscated at the time of the Revolution.

During the Renaissance, in the final quarter of the 15th century, when four fairs were held annually in Lyon, the intense production of the printing workshops around Rue Mercière made the city one of the book capitals after Venice and Paris. At the heart of this commercial and intellectual activity, humanists and "antiquarians" rediscovered the history and the remains of the ancient city. It was then that, in the absence of a university, the Lyon consulate, at the initiative of the doctor and philosopher Symphorien Champier (1472?-1539?), created towards the end of the 1520’s a college in the “barns” handed over by the Trinitaires, Rue Neuve, on the banks of the Rhône (now the Lycée Ampère), to meet growing educational needs.

In its early days, this college was to experience financial difficulties. Placed in the hands of humanist regents, Latin, Greek, French and Hebrew were taught there from 1540. The city then encountered some trying times. In 1561, on the eve of Lyon’s occupation by protestant troops, the crystallisation of religious tensions reached their height with the murder of the college regent, Barthélémy Aneau (1505-1561), suspected of being a sympathiser of the Reform.

The library of the Collège de la Trinité, at the origin of the BmL, was thus formed very gradually and enjoyed its golden age under the administration of the College by the Jesuits to whom it was entrusted in 1565. The first major donation which helped towards its establishment was that of King Henry II to his confessor, P. Emond Auger (1530-1591) in 1587. In 1610, the library received from the Lyon lawyer François Bullioud (1583-16..), a collection of several hundreds of volumes in Latin, Greek and Hebrew which had belonged to his father, the king’s procurer Pierre Bullioud (1548-1597), who was fascinated by ancient languages. These first substantial donations to the college’s library were followed in the late 17th century by a major legacy: that of Camille de Neufville de Villeroy (1603-1693), archbishop of Lyon from 1653 to his death, whose library contained books from the 15th to the 17th century, manuscripts and a large Spanish collection.