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"Religion," mural in the North Corridor, Library of Congress Jefferson Building, by Charles Sprague Pearce, 1897.

Religion Collections in Libraries and Archives:
A Guide to Resources in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia

Table of Contents - Preface/Acknowledgements - Abbreviations
Lists of Entries: District of Columbia - Maryland - Virginia

Library of Congress
Law Library

Address: 101 Independence Avenue SE
James Madison Building, Room 201
Washington, DC 20540-4610
Telephone Number: (202) 707-5079
Fax Number: (202) 707-1820
Contact Persons: Dario Ferreira (Canon Law)
Jim Martin (Rare Books)
Meredith Shedd-Driskel (Rare Books)
Legal Reference Staff (other areas)
Internet Catalog Address:

Access Policies

Hours of Service:
Monday -- Saturday 8:30 a.m.--5:00 p.m.*
* Reference and Book Service may not be available at all hours that the Law Library is open.
Open to the public: Yes
Photocopying:: Yes
Interlibrary loan: Yes

The Law Library offers legal and legislative research and reference services to Congress, the United States Supreme Court, lower federal courts, Federal Government agencies, foreign embassies and governments, libraries, legal scholars, practicing attorneys, law students, and the general public.

A Library of Congress Reader Registration Card is required to use the Law Library Reading Room. To obtain a registration card, applicants must be 18 years of age or older and present photo identification bearing a verifiable permanent address. The cards are issued without charge in Room G40 of the Jefferson Building. Enter on the Second Street side of the Jefferson Building to locate this room.

Photocopying can be done by researchers with coin or debit card. Rare Book photocopying is done by the librarians only. The Library of Congress' Photoduplication Services can provide a wide range of reproductions of the Library's collections, such as single page photocopies, microforms, or color slides. The ability of the Library to furnish reproductions is subject to copyright and other restrictions. Photoduplication Services is open 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday. Further information on products and services can be obtained by contacting Photoduplication Services, Public Services Section, Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540-4570. Telephone: (202) 707-5640. Fax: (202) 707-1771. TTY: (202) 855-1234.

The Library of Congress is an interlibrary loan source of material not readily available through local, state, or regional libraries. Requests are accepted from recognized libraries that are listed in standard directories or are affiliated with networks and that make their own materials available on interlibrary loan. Certain rare, brittle, and other materials are not available for loan. There is no interlibrary loan on looseleafs, serials, rare books, or the Serial Set.

The Law Reading Room has seating for 90 patrons. Books relating to law and legislation are available through the Law Library Reading Room. Readers may help themselves to the Reading Room's 65,000 volume reference collection when using the facilities, or may request books from the Law Library's closed stacks. Book retrieval requires approximately one hour from time of submission, is limited to five books per person per hour, and must be requested in-person. Requests to have materials retrieved from the stacks, or reserved in advance can not be accepted.

The Law Library's rare book collection is available to serious researchers through the Law Library Reading Room. Use of these collections is by advance appointment only. For security reasons, readers must complete additional registration requirements.

Reference Policy:
A staff of American trained lawyers and law librarians provide legal and legislative reference service to readers and give bibliographic assistance in the use of the Law Library collection and the use of the card and online catalogs. Foreign, international, and comparative legal reference assistance may be obtained from the legal reference staff. Reference questions are accepted in-person, by telephone, mail, and e-mail from serious researchers who have exhausted their research in local public, county, state, regional, and government depository libraries. The Law Library should be considered a "library of last resort."
Borrowing Privileges:
Not a lending library.
OCLC, RLIN. All cataloged materials found in the Library of Congress computerized catalog will be found on OCLC and RLIN.
Background Note:
The U.S. Congress established the Law Library as a separate department of the Library of Congress in 1832. Its collection of legal materials is the largest and most comprehensive in the world, covering all of the approximately 260 nations and dependencies as well as many former nations and colonies. Members of the Law Library staff, recruited from more than 30 countries, are fluent in approximately 40 languages, and are familiar with a variety of national legal systems and international law as well as such specialized fields as Islamic, Hebraic, and canon law.
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Description of Collections

Books and monographs:
The Law Library contains theocratic material such as Canon and Ecclesiastical law as well as materials that relate more tangentially to religion such as particular trials and legal issues. Because the focus of the collection is not religion the amount of material is difficult to determine. Even so, materials in this area are large enough to support serious research in the area of religion.

One of the largest collections in the Law Library is the Canon Law collection, 98% of which deals with the laws of the Roman Catholic Church; the other two percent deals with the laws of the English and Scottish Church. The most extensive amount of material in this collection spans the 17th and 18th centuries.

Gratian, an Italian monk of the 12th century, attempted to eliminate the contradictions and disorganization of early canon law by coordinating it into what became known as the Decretum Gratiani. This compilation dominated the norms for the laws of the Catholic Church until 1917. The Law Library has many copies of this work, a good number of them rare and famous, rich in prints with fine or unusual bindings.

From 1314-1437 a series of works, lastly to be called the Corpus Juris Canonici, was created to complete the previous compilations. This work was expanded by two collections published in 1500 by Jean Chappuis. These later collections are known as the Extravagantes. The Library owns many editions of the Corpus Juris Canonici and two editions of the Extravagantes.

Later, another revision and compilation became necessary. This was completed in 1917 by Benedict XV and was called the Codex Juris Canonici. At this time Pope Benedict also created a Pontifical Commission to work on any amendments, clarification or additions to the canon. The responses of this commission were published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, or the official gazette. These responses have legislative authority along with the Codex.

Pope John Paul approved a new code in 1983. The Law Library has a copy of this work signed by the Pope.

There are approximately 270 Canon law books printed before 1501. The largest portion is the Decretum Gratiani (ca.1140). The other portions are Decretales or elaborations and commentary on the original Decretum Gratiani. Some of these items are in the Law Library Rare Book Reading Room, while most can be found in the Rare Book Reading Room in the Jefferson Building.

The Law Library collection of materials on the Russian Orthodox Church, most printed in the 19th century, deal with the governance of the church, some ecclesiastical trials and a small amount on the Armenian Church. Earlier works include many rare copies of Kormchaia Kniga or Pilot Book, a canonical compendium. The Law Library collections also include Peter I's public law on the ecclesiastical administration of the Russian Church, composed by Feofan, Bishop of Pskov (later Archbishop of Novgorod), first published in St. Petersburg in 1721.

The Law Library contains a significant amount of material in the area of Islamic law. These materials in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish are classical sources and include the major Sunni schools of jurisprudence. The collection also contains history and analysis of Islamic law by leading 19th-century European experts as well as more current authors.

Also of interest are trials for heresy and witchcraft from England and to a smaller extent, the colonial United States. Many of the heresy trials are part of the canon law collection. Some of these are illustrated. Of particular note in the non-canonical collection is A Complete Collection of the State Tryals of Persons For High-Treason, Murder, Rapes, Bigamy, Parricide, Sodamy {sic}, Burglary, Bills of Attainer, Impeachments, etc. That Have Been in England From The Reign of Richard II to This Perfect Time, a two-volume set published in 1736-1737.

As might be expected, one may find current and historical materials dealing with church and state issues such as prayer in school and right to religion in the texts of court opinions and, if the case proceeded to the Supreme Court, the records and briefs of such cases. The Serial Set, Hearings, and Congressional Record and its antecedents contain information on the above topics as well as the Mormon wars, freedom of religion, and the establishment of religion in the District of Columbia to name a few areas.

Canon law and rare book materials are often, but not always found in the card or computer catalogs. Court opinions, court records, specific trials, and other materials which are part of a set or collection will not be found in these catalogs, nor will the portion of the collection which has not yet been surveyed. Please consult the computer and card catalogs, but also seek the assistance of one of the legal reference specialists.

Periodicals and newspapers:
This collection contains some materials in the areas on Canon Law, Russian Orthodox religion, church and state, freedom of religion, and journals looking at the relationship between law and religion. Most journals in this collection do not deal specifically with religion, but do contain articles on these topics and others.

Subject Headings

Canon law; Heresy--Trials; Islamic law; Religion--England--History; Religion--United States--History; Religion and state; Religious liberty; Russian Orthodox Church; Witchcraft--Trials


Ferreira-Ibarra, Dario C., Comp. The Canon Law Collection of the Library of Congress: A General Bibliography with Selective Annotations. Washington, DC: Library of Congress: G.P.O., 1981.

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  June 22, 2017
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