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Rare Book Collections: The Gonzaga Collection

The Gonzaga Collection

The Gonzaga Collection

volumes from the Mount St. Michael's Rare Book Collection

Nearly 1800 titles in over 3,000 volumes comprise the The Gonzaga Collection: Rare Books from the Jesuit Oregon Province. This page provides cursory information on the collection. For further details, see the online introduction to the Finding Aid to this collection. 

"Treasures from the Vault" is the debut exhibition of this collection. It was displayed in the Cowles Rare Book Library from February 4 - June 6, 2008, and remains online.

Much of the collection had been the property of Mount St. Michael’s, a scholasticate for Jesuits, established in Spokane in 1916. The Mount was considered one of the finest Jesuit houses of study in the world, partly because of its magnificent 50,000+ volume library including the rare books collection. An observation made by French philosopher Etienne Gilson, who visited the Mount’s library in the early 1950s, testifies to the collection’s importance: "I cannot think of a better place to study philosophy in the whole of North America because of what the Mount has in its collection." Mount St. Michael’s closed in 1970, at which time the scholastics and the library collection – including the rare books – were moved to the Gonzaga University campus. The other books in this collection are from other Jesuit institutions within the Oregon Province, principally the juniorates at Sheridan, Oregon, and at Port Townsend, Washington, as well as missions in the Alaska Territory and in Montana.

Notable are incunabula, books printed in the earliest years of printing, before 1500. The Roman Missal of 1484 records the pre-Tridentine Latin liturgy, and Gonzaga owns one of only two known copies outside the Vatican. Fifteenth-century printers often recycled old manuscripts by using them in lieu of end-papers: The 1490 Summa Theologica by Antoninus is all the more valuable, for instance, because it has manuscript leaves from 1290 as its "paste downs."

A wealth of valuable sixteenth-century volumes is also in the collection, including the 1518 edition of Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s De anima; it appears to be the only copy in the world. Not only does Gonzaga own the full set of Luther’s Opera Omnia (1556-1558): Philip Melancthon and Paul Eber, Luther’s colleagues, personally handwrote in it their own commentaries on specific verses.

The Dominican Missal of 1521, in elegantly marbled slipcase and with abundant woodcuts, sheds valuable light on the Christian tradition of respect for women: The woodcut used for All Saints and also for the liturgy for One or More Apostles shows several saints, male and female, on a hillside, and above them in the sky is a scroll with the words "Hii sunt mei filii delecti," the words that God spoke of Jesus at the Transfiguration, here made plural, indicating that the saints have become Christlike. Manifestly women are included equally with men.

The earliest volumes of the landmark Douai-Rheims edition of the Bible in English are owned by Gonzaga, as are valuable facsimile editions of major ancient manuscripts of the Bible at Mount Sinai, the Vatican, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere.

Two unique seventeenth-century manuscripts with commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics written by Jesuits are within the collection.

Education and the intellectual foundation of the faith are of basic importance in the Jesuit tradition, and this has held true in the Pacific Northwest, as is vividly attested through the book stamps in these rare books. Even the Jesuit missionaries to the territory of Alaska took with them works on theology published in 1621 and 1710. Even the Juniorate library in Sheridan, Oregon, had a scholarly facsimile edition of the celebrated Book of Armagh (begun 807-08), with the earliest documents pertaining to St. Patrick.

75% of The Gonzaga Collection is in Foley Library's online catalog. For the other titles, a five-volume Finding Aid is available in the Rare Book Reading Room. If you are outside the Spokane area and would like further information on a volume identified through the online inventory, please contact Special Collections at or 509-313-3873.