I've heard a lot about the St. Gallen library in Switzerland which hosts a number old manuscripts. I've looked at some of pages from the books that they have at the e-codices site. It seemed like the most wonderful place in the world for someone like me, who is very much into calligraphy.
St. Gallen was at the top of my list of destinations in Switzerland. As soon as I was done with work in Zürich, I hopped on a train and headed to St. Gallen Abbey.
The abbey itself is a cute little town, and I had little trouble finding the library. However, when I got to the ticket office, I had to face my first disappointment: taking photos is not allowed at the library. I specifically asked to make sure they weren't just talking about flash photography, but no: it was any kind of photography. I put my purse and my phone into a locker, put on slippers, and went into the library.
I have to say, it was much smaller than I had imagined. The walls were lined with books behind iron lattices, and there were five or six small displays in the middle. In total, there were about 20 open spreads that you could look at through glass, and that was it. You could touch the books in the cases, but not take them off the shelves. Those were pretty recent books too (17th century and later), and I'm sure they weren't tremendously valuable.
There was also a mummy in the library. I have no idea what the connection could be between an Egyptian mummy and an Abbey in Switzerland, but there is lay, all black and withered. There wasn't any information about it available in English, and my German does not extend past the simples daily tasks.
On the second floor, there were more books, but there was no access to even go up there. I wonder if that's where the older books were.
The manuscripts that were on display in the glass cases were pretty cool. One of them was written entirely in gold ink. Another one had an old form of musical notation and the words for several hymns. Yet another one dated back to 800 AD and looked quite worn with a couple of holes in it. It was also an exemplar of most beautiful writing I had ever seen in my life. It was so regular that it almost looked printed. I wish I could copy it until I could write just as well. I would love to show you a picture, but I simply don't have one. I tried to find a scanned copy online, but haven't succeeded so far.
Another manuscript was, to be honest, quite sloppy. The x-height varied between different lines, and there was a lot of variation between the letterforms as well. I was amused to see that the little note explaining what it was said that the scribe was likely educated in England. That sounded pretty scornful: almost like those English scribes don't know what they are doing.
Most of the manuscripts were either about the lives of saints, miracles, or medicine. I really wish I could sit down and study some of them more closely, even though I have no particular interest in any of those subjects. Unfortunately, there wasn't an easy option to do that. I would probably need to be doing some serious research in order to be allowed anywhere near the manuscripts. Sigh.
Overall, I'm glad I visited St. Gallen so that I know what it looks like, but I am sorely disappointed about the number of specimens on display, and about the lack of opportunity to take a closer look or at least photograph them.