A Concise History of the Imperial Charterhouse Buxheim and its Library

The little town of Buxheim is located in southern Germany, just outside Memmingen and south of Ulm. A monastery at Buxheim is first attested as a house of secular canons in the early thirteenth century. After steady decline, the house was given over to the Carthusian order in 1402, being initially settled by 6 monks from Christgarten. It soon flourished and further cells were donated throughout the fifteenth century, so that by 1522 Buxheim had a total of 22 cells. Its library grew as well, and through impressive donations and the labor of its inhabitants, the first library list of ca. 1450 shows some 200 manuscripts as part of the “liberarie superioris.” Through the donation of Hilprand Brandenburg around 1505, the library grew by over 450 volumes, both in manuscripts and early printed books. In fact the library’s collection was so impressive that by 1600 the library could claim ownership of over 700 printed books and some 500 manuscripts. The library remained a shining light of learning and knowledge until well into the eighteenth century.

The monastery was secularized in 1803, as were practically all monasteries in Bavaria, but its library did not go to the Bavarian State Library in Munich but was instead placed in private hands. Count von Ostein allowed the few Carthusian monks to remain on the property, but after the death of the Count in 1809 the property passed to the estate of the counts of Waldbott von Bassenheim. The Carthusians left in 1812. After a period of poor estate management the Count was forced into liquidation and put up his entire holdings at Buxheim for auction. This included the choir stalls, the library shelves, and the books themselves.

At the 1883 auction in Munich, most of the library was purchased by Ludwig Rosenthal, a young antiquarian dealer. Approximately 400 manuscripts were included in this purchase, and these began to be offered to the public in the years that followed. Consequently many libraries came to possess Buxheim manuscripts, as did private persons. The bulk of the collection was purchased by the Bavarian State Library in the 1920’s and 30’s. Currently, some 450 manuscripts can be identified and located, but about 300 manuscripts listed in the 1883 catalog are still not positively identified.