The extraordinary Girolamini Library of Naples is home to almost 160,000 ancient manuscripts and books and opened its doors to the public in 1586. Built alongside the Church and Convent of the Girolamini, the library served as the convent’s Oratory and is believed to be one of the richest libraries in Southern Italy.
The collection, which includes many rare editions dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is centered on Christian theology, philosophy, sacred music, and the history of Europe and the Catholic Church. After the massive Irpinia earthquake, which struck Campania in 1980 the church, gallery and library were closed. The collection, off limit to anyone except scholars, suffered a lengthy period of neglect, and it is believed that many volumes disappeared. It is presently owned by the Italian State.
On 12 September 2011 two manuscripts from the Girolamini Library and a 14th century Missal from the Archdiocese of Bari, were returned to Italy after a protracted legal dispute and eventual settlement with Sotheby’s auction house in London and the manuscript’s last owners, who believed they had purchased the documents in good faith. This custodian event took place at the Italian Embassy in London in the presence of Italy’s Deputy Attorney General of the State Maurizio, Fiorilli, the federal prosecutor who also successfully pushed for the return of looted artifacts from the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other American Museums.
Stefano Alessandrini is a prominent leader of Italy's Archaeological Group, and adviser to the Ministry of Culture and the Advocate General of Italy on the recovery of looted antiquities.