The foundation of Moyenmoutier Abbey in Lorraine, France, is attributed to Saint Hydulphe, who established an hermitage there in or around AD 671. After a chaotic first centuries of internal disputes and barbarian invasions, the abbey was rebuilt and reorganized following the Benedictine rule around AD 960 by its abbot Adalbert, who also founded its library. The collection developed in the following decades to support the study and translation of sacred texts, notably the Épinal-Erfurt Glossary, a Latin-English glossary considered to be the first European dictionary and possibly the earliest body of written English. Sadly, a fire in 1252 destroyed much of the abbey and its library, and very few books survived.
The collection was subsequently rebuilt and numbered over 10,000 documents by the 18th century, when architect Ambroise Pierson was tasked with building a new, larger abbey. The new complex included a new library on the first floor, completed in 1765, and fitted with a series of oak shelves perpendicular to the walls and separated by scriptoriums. This arrangement was quite rare at the time; most libraries instead had shelves lining the walls and perpendicular shelves would not become standard until the 19th century. Intricately decorated and wide enough to accommodate books on three sides, the style of the Moyenmoutier shelves however hint that they may have been anterior to the construction of the library.
Shortly after the completion of the new abbey, the French Revolution led to the dissolution of the convent and the confiscation of all its property, including the library and its furnishings. Most of the library volumes and the oak shelves were attributed to the town of Épinal, seat of the prefecture. Due to the lack of a suitable location, the library remained at Moyenmoutier until 1824, when it was transferred to the Épinal college building and was renamed bibliothèque de l’École.
In 1892, Madame Leclerc-Morel, a rich heiress, commissioned architect Jean Boussard to build her a villa following the Roman style on the banks of the river Moselle in Épinal. This ambitious project however led its patron to ruin, and the Maison Romaine was eventually acquired by the municipality in 1902 with the goal of transforming it for its library, which had outgrown its École location. The city completed the construction, including a long colonnaded wing facing the river, where the Moyenmoutier shelves and library were transferred in 1905.
The Maison Romaine continued serving as the Épinal library until 2008, when it was replaced by a new building designed by Jean Chabanne & partenaires in collaboration with ASP Architecture. Occupying a former industrial brownfield not far from the town centre, the new Bibliothèque Multimédia Intercommunale (BMI) opened in April 2009 and combines a state-of-the-art preservation room for the Moyenmoutier collection and its original shelves with a modern library.
Conceived as a “library within the library”, the Moyenmoutier collection is not open to the public but can nevertheless be admired through a window opening to the entrance atrium. Access to the rare book collection is however possible upon request, and regular public visits are organized. A selection of documents is often displayed in a little exhibition area in the atrium and the very active social media presence of the library team offers other occasions to bring this exceptional collection to life. Many of the treasures in the BMI’s patrimonial collection have been digitized and are available on the Limédia platform, including the Épinal-Erfurt Glossary.
While the main floor is dedicated to the entrance atrium, patrimonial collection, a conference room and offices, the modern library occupies the entire upper floor. Situated immediately above the patrimonial collection, the children’s collection is connected to the rest of the library by walkways that bridge a gap that serves both as a light well and as a symbolic separation between the Moyenmoutier collection and the rest of the library.
As for the Maison Romaine, it is currently standing empty, but a project to convert it into a cultural centre is in the works and it will hopefully open to the public again.
I’m very grateful for the team at BMI Épinal who welcomed me in September 2022 so I could tour their library and take the photos presented here. They have a wonderful social media presence, give them a follow on TikTok or Instagram!
- Bugaut, L., Chabanne, N., & Hamon, H. (2007). Bibliothèque multimédia intercommunale Épinal-Golbey: L’âme du projet, un carré essentiel construit autour de la salle des boiseries. Bulletin des bibliothèques de France (BBF), 2007(1), pp. 82–83.
- Les boiseries de l’abbaye de Moyenmoutier. (n.d.). BMI Épinal. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
- Maison romaine (Epinal). (n.d.). In Archi-Wiki. Retrieved December 26, 2022
- Masson, A. (1964). Deux bibliothèques du XVIIIe siècle de plan exceptionnel: Moyenmoutier et Cambrai. Bulletin des bibliothèques de France (BBF), 1964(7), pp. 277–281.
- Bibliothèque multimédia intercommunale d’Épinal. (2022). In Wikipédia. Retrieved December 26, 2022.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!