The Mesmerizing Library of Henry Charles Lea

Between the commission of an offense and its proof in a court of justice, there lies a wide field for the exercise or perversion of human ingenuity.
— Henry Charles Lea

The Henry Charles Lea Libray, uPenn (PA, USA)

Henry Charles Lea (1825-1909), Philadelphia publisher and civic reformer, was also America's first distinguished historian of the European middle ages, focusing on institutional, legal, and ecclesiastical history, as well as magic and witchcraft. His library became a specialized working collection out of which Lea wrote his History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages (1888), History of the Inquisition of Spain (1906-1908), and other studies. Lea discovered and acquired most of his materials from European sources, purchasing manuscripts and incunabula as well as other early printed books. The room holding his collection, built in 1881 as an extension to his house at 2000 Walnut Street, was conveyed to the University in 1925 by Lea's children. Since 1962, both the room and Lea's collection have been part of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1995, as part of a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust to PACSCL (Philadelphia Area Consortium for Special Collections Libraries), Lea's personal papers, research notes, and book manuscripts were cataloged and preserved.

The Henry Charles Lea Library is located on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library, the primary library at the University of Pennsylvania. It collects primary materials for the study of the late medieval and early modern period. The Library focuses on the history of religion with a special interest in the institutional, legal, and ecclesiastical bases of Church organization and governance during these periods and, most especially, the Inquisition in Europe generally, Spain particularly, and Spanish America. Witchcraft and magic are also subjects that the Lea Library collects extensively. A secondary Lea specialty is the history of Italian city-states. In particular, the Florentine Medici-Gondi archive, comprising manuscript materials from the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries, documents the business activities of the family firm specifically as well as commercial, social, and familial relationships of the period in general.

A Vintage photograph of Lea's library in his home at 2000 Walnut Street (PA, USA)

Paul Klimos at the Henry Charles Lea Libray, uPenn (PA, USA)

However, my presence at this unique library was not simply touristic. I sat with Prof. Michael Zuckerman and discussed deep issues related to history, religion, democracy, diversity and peace building. It is hard to describe the stimulating feeling of intellectual fulfillment I felt within the community of the University of Pennsylvania that day. If you haven't been there, do it!

For reference and more information: Henry Charles Lea Library at UPenn