Approximately 6,300 manuscripts are housed in the Bamberg State Library, including 1,000 mediaeval codices and fragments, which came into the library’s possession from monasteries and religious collections after the secularisation in 1802/03.
Outstanding examples of the flourishing art of book illumination movement at the turn of the first millennium are the Bamberg Apocalypse (Msc.Bibl.140) and the Commentary to the Song of Songs (Msc.Bibl.22), which both come from the scriptorium of the Benedictine monastery on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance. The two Reichenau manuscripts were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World programme in 2003.
In 2013, the Lorsch Pharmacopoeia (Msc.Med.1) was added to this register. The manuscript was created circa 800 in the Benedictine abbey of Lorsch in southern Hesse and is the oldest surviving medical-pharmaceutical book of the Western Early Middle Ages.
All three manuscripts that are part of UNESCO Memory of the World are accessible via the digital collection Bamberg Treasures.
When Emperor Henry II (973–1024) founded the Bishopric of Bamberg in 1007, he furnished the cathedral and its library with books for liturgical use and clerical training. Today, there are still 165 codices and manuscript fragments in the Bamberg State Library, which were collected before the death of the founder of the diocese and therefore most likely came to Bamberg as a part of his donation. They are accessible online via the digital collection Manuscripts of Henry II. Thus, the State Library has the world's only preserved imperial book collection from the late Middle Ages.
The cathedral school already gathered prominence during the first century of its existence. Manuscripts collected in this period still make Bamberg an indispensable place for international canonical research and philological studies. The oldest item in the Bamberg State Library are fragments of a Livy text (Msc.Class.35a), which date back to the middle of the 5th century.
Due to its imperial origins, the Benedictine abbey, which was founded in 1015 on Michelsberg, also possessed a rich collection of books. After the reforms by Bishop Otto the Holy (d. 1139), the scriptorium of the monastery flourished. The so-called Bamberg Schreiberbild in a manuscript with works of the church father Ambrosius (Msc.Patr.5) represents the phases in the manual production of a book. The most important Michelsberg manuscripts have already been digitized and can be viewed via the digital collection Bamberg Treasures.
Before the dissolution of religious institutions (secularisation), some monastic libraries in the Bishopric of Bamberg were listed in manuscript catalogues, which are now in the State Library and Archive of the Archdiocese of Bamberg and provide insights into the former organisation of the collections. After the libraries were merged in the early 19th century, the manuscripts were organised according to subject areas. In order to distinguish their shelfmark from those of printed books, the shelfmarks of manuscripts begin with “Msc.” (Manuscriptum).
The first librarian of the library after its formation in 1803, Joachim Heinrich Jäck (1777–1847), brought together his own collection of literature related to Bamberg. It is also arranged by subject (RB.Msc., Msc.Misc.). Manuscripts with reference to Bamberg can also be found in the holdings of the art collector Joseph Heller (JH.Msc.) and the scholar Emil Marschalk von Ostheim (MvO.Msc.). The manuscripts of the Bamberg Historical Society which are on deposit in the State Library have been separated from a larger complex with archival material and are also organized by subject (HV.Msc.).
The manuscript collection is continually growing. New acquisitions enrich in particular the collection of modern family albums from the 16th to the 20th century, many of which are of Franconian origin. Occasionally, outstanding mediaeval manuscripts are acquired, for which, the generous support from third party funding agencies such as the Oberfrankenstiftung, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, and the Kulturstiftung der Länder is indispensable
Descriptions of the medieval and modern historical manuscripts can be found in the printed catalogues.
Handschriften aus dem Augustiner-Chorherrenstift Neunkirchen am Brand. Neunkirchen am Brand, 1989 (catalogue).
Schreibkunst. Mittelalterliche Buchmalerei aus dem Kloster Seeon. Augsburg, 1994 (catalogue).
Taegert, Werner: Edler Schatz holden Erinnerns. Bilder in Stammbüchern der Staatsbibliothek Bamberg aus vier Jahrhunderten. Bamberg, 1995 (digitized version).