The des Fontaines Jesuit Collection is a deposit made by the Society of Jesus for 50 years to the public library of Lyon. It is a consequence of the decision to close the Centre Culturel des Fontaines located in Gouvieux, close to Chantilly (north of Paris). It counts around 500 000 documents.
On Tuesday the 20th of October, a convention was signed by the city of Lyon, the Society of Jesus and the University of Lyon: “You entrusted us with a college, we entrust you with a library”. Father Jean-Noël Audras, French Provincial Superior, recalled by these words that from 1565 to 1762, Lyon gave the Jesuits the responsibility of teaching in Lyon’s Trinity college (nowadays’ Lycée Ampère).
The public library of Lyon is hence forth in charge of the inventory, preservation and promotion of this prestigious collection. Nothing less than 37 semi-trailers were required for transferring the 1737 cases containing the whole collection. This lasted for 2 months from December 1998 to January 1999.
An incredible 9 846 meters of documents have been moved to Lyon. That is about 32 times the height of the Eiffel Tower. They now fill two and a half storeys from the book reserve on a 1 900 m² surface. Gathered in Chantilly since 1951, the des Fontaines collection was enriched by several successive contributions enabling it to become a resource of the highest importance.
Around 300 000 documents come from the island of Jersey where the Company had to move in 1880 after laws expelling congregations from France where passed.
In 1957, 150 000 documents coming from the theological library of Enghien (Belgium), were added. Finally, the libraries of Vals-près-le Puy in Auvergne (1962) and Baume (1972) enriched the collection with 60 000 books in history, linguistic, and an important collection of thesis in literature starting in 1810.
This collection is as diversified as it is rich
- 800 manuscripts (old and new)
- 200 incunabula, among which a part of the famous Gutenberg Bible
- 3 000 magazines
- 100 000 engravings and religious images
- 12 000 Chinese documents
Universality and encyclopaedism are the main characteristics of this collection, cross-cutting through history and religion. It gives an extremely well-documented vision of theological and religious questions. It also enables a precious perspective on human sciences and on Europe’s civilization from the 16th to the 18th centuries. If the red thread of this collection is Catholicism’s history of spirituality, it is presented in its social and cultural context.
- spirituality (texts and main authors)
- theology (from the middle ages to nowadays)
- holy scripture (large collection of editions and exegesis from the Bible, the Torah and the Qur’an)
- history of the Church
- history of religions
Due to the classification by themes, Luther and Calvin’s books stand next to Voltaire, Marx or Darwin’s work. Beyond religious studies, this collection shows the Jesuits’ insatiable curiosity and the length of their field of research. A good part of this collection is dedicated to history and geography (mainly through missionaries’ work), but also to literature, law, social sciences, and art history. Esotericism, freemasonry, magic, demonology and occultism are also included.
Moreover, an important Chinese collection of 12 000 documents contains many of the Middle Kingdom’s classics, Chinese translations of religious works, hence this testifies for Jesuits’ researches in Shanghai.
The Jesuit collection des Fontaines has been available for consultation since the 26th of March 1999, in the reading room of the Patrimonial Department. The catalogue of printed and handwritten works is available online through the library of Lyon’s search engine.