The Cathedral Library in Gniezno came into being at the beginning of the XI century. Throughout the following ages its stock systematically increased thanks to purchases, donations and testamentary legacies of Polish kings, archbishops and canons of Gniezno, the first capital of Poland. Nevertheless since its beginnings it used to be robbed: in the year 1038 the Czech prince Brzetysław took away almost all its books; in 1331 it was robbed by the Teutonic Knights, in 1655 by the Swedes and in the years 1939-1944 by the Nazi Germans. In 1944 the Germans tried to take away to the West about 80 most precious illuminated parchment manuscripts, but the transport was seized by the Red Army, who sent the manuscripts to Moscow, which nobody had been informed about. Only after the political changes in the USSR in 1956, 66 manuscripts came back to Gniezno. In 1960 the whole collection was put under the care of the Archdiocese Archive. In the following years the Cathedral Library was enlarged with the former seminary library (medieval parchment manuscripts and prints up to the year 1800) as well with residuary parish and decanal libraries. The whole present collection consists of approximately 80 000 volumes and belongs to the most precious library collections in Poland. It includes more than 1 100 parchment and paper manuscripts, about 1350 incunabula and approximately 78 000 prints, dating from XVI to XIX centuries.
The most precious manuscripts are:
Also among the incunabula there are books unique not only in Poland, but also in the whole world. More than once it turned out that some volumes being in our possession, even those of later centuries, are the only preserved volumes, for example three so-called graphic incunabula, or the XVIII-century catalogue of musical notes, published in Paris.
Considering the matter in general, the collection of Gniezno has a very important meaning for the whole European culture.