Rémy Cordonnier, the librarian who discovered a Shakespeare First Folio at the public library where he worked is the rare book librarian in the Bibliothèque d’aggolmération de Saint-Omer (Agglomerated Library of Saint-Omer) in Saint-Omer, France. The town is in the Department Pas-de-Calais in northern France. It is southeast of the port-city of Calais.
The history of the Saint-Omer First Folio is tied, like the history of Saint-Omer itself, to the town’s past as a center of learning before the French Revolution. Saint-Omer is a small town by modern standards but it was an important place from medieval times until the French Revolution.
The town sprang up around a historic Benedictine abbey founded by a group of saints. There, Pippin the Short – the first of the Carolingian kings of the Franks – would later force Childeric III –the last of the Merovingian kings – to retire from public life as a monk.
The Abbey of St. Bertin had a famous library. The town’s collegiate church rose to cathedral status after Emperor Charles V destroyed the city of Thérouanne (and thus the Diocese of Thérouanne). The Society of Jesus founded two colleges in the town, one for the local population of Walloons and another for English Catholic boys who legally could not be educated in England.
The Bibliothèque d’aggolmération de Saint-Omer calls itself in English “the urban library in Saint-Omer.” Presumably, by “urban library” they mean “municipal library,” as in a part of the municipal government. The agglomeration referred to in the actual name of the institution is the Communauté d’Agglomération de Saint-Omer (C.A.S.O.), or, in English, the Agglomerated Community of Saint-Omer. In English, it is also called the Urban Community of Saint-Omer.
There are twenty-five communes in C.A.S.O. A commune is roughly equivalent to a civil township or an incorporated municipality.
The Agglomerated Library of Saint-Omer, founded in 1805, occupies former Walloon College buildings. This is why it is overshadowed by the Jesuit church designed by Jean Du Blocq (1583-1656) and built between 1615 and 1640.
The address is 40 rue Gambetta, 62500 Saint-Omer. It is now open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays; and from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Fridays.
The holdings include 90,000 books, incunabula, manuscripts, maps, DVDs, and CDs. There are 11,000 volumes on the history of Artois and Flanders. The Archives have charters, diplomas, and laws from the 12th century onward; records of proceedings of the city council from 1448 to 1789; parish registers and civil records from 1565 to 1902; and the archive of the chapter of cannons of the collegiate church that became the Cathedral of Our Lady at Saint-Omer from the 11th Century to the 18th Century.
Thanks to the atheistic French Revolution, the Benedictine monks were expelled in 1791 and the abbey and church were sold at auction in 1799. The municipal government demolished most of the Abbey of St. Bertin and used the stone to build the town hall, an act decried by Victor Hugo. The ruins of the Gothic abbey church can be viewed in a public park.
In 1792, French Revolutionary authorities confiscated the books and archival records of the Abbey of St. Bertin and the Jesuit colleges and consolidated them in the Abbey of St. Bertin. Four years later, the librarian, Jean-Baptiste Isnardy, saw eighty-five manuscripts and 500 prints taken to the Central Library in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
This act angered the town’s residents – collectively called Audomarois in honor of the eponym of the town, Saint Audomar (died 670 A.D.), more popularly known as Saint Omer. They decided they needed to create a public library.
To this end, they moved the Abbey of St. Bertin’s library to the vast hall on the ground floor of the Walloon College. This was not merely a matter of moving the books.
The woodwork was dismantled and moved, as well. In 1799, Jean-Charles Joseph Aubin, a Benedictine monk and librarian, began to sort and classify the books in the amalgamated collection.
The Library of Saint-Omer opened in 1805. Ninety years later, architect Ernest Calais oversaw the reconstruction of the Heritage Wing, including the Aubin Room and Archives. In 1997, the Agglomerated Library of Saint-Omer was renovated and enlarged.
There are 887 manuscripts from 9th Century to the 18th Century. Of these, 549 manuscripts are from the Benedictine Abbey of St. Bertin, 115 are from the Cistercian Abbey of Clairmarais, and thirty-five manuscripts from the Chapter of the Cathedral of Our Lady at Saint-Omer. Claimarais is about two miles from Saint-Omer. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), founded the Abbey of Clairmarais in 1140, as a daughter house of Clairvaux Abbey, and the monastic community there also disbanded as a result of the French Revolution.
Around 150 incunabula published between 1450 and 1500 represent the output of 106 printer-publishers. One of these books is a forty-two-line Gutenberg Bible. According to the B.B.C., this book is rarer than the First Folio because less than fifty are in existence.
The collection of “old printed” books consists of 16,622 books published from the 16th Century to 1914. The Library of Saint-Omer had the good fortune to receive, in 1926, the collection of Baron Du Teil, a bibliophile who had died in the Great War.
The collection also includes a collection of books published in Esperanto, the international auxiliary language invented by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917). Librarian Ernest Deligny was a friend of Dr. Zamenhof.
 Saint-Omer formed the Urban District Audomaroise on November 20, 1962 with Longuenesse. On August 10, 1965, they formed the Urban District Audomaroise Region with Saint-Martin-au-Laërt. Arques, Blendecques, Campagne-lez-Wardrecques Clairmarais, Hallines, Helfaut, and Wizernes Tatinghem joined the Urban District Audomaroise Region on November 11, 1966. Salperwick joined on December 21, 1970. The name of the conurbation changed to the District Audomaroise Region on November 10, 1972. Eperlecques, Houlle, Moringhem, Moulle, and Serques Tilques joined on that date, which brought the number of towns in the conurbation to eighteen. On June 2, 1988, the name of the conurbation changed again (in English) to the District Audomaroise Region District of Saint-Omer. On January 1, 2001, the nineteenth town joined the conurbation and the name changed (in English) to the Urban Community of Saint-Omer. Exactly thirteen years later, on January 1, 2014, six communes joined the Urban Community of Saint-Omer: Bayenghem-les-Eperlecques, Mentque-Nortbécourt, Nordausques, Nort-Leulinghem, Tournehem-sur-la-Hem, and Zouafques.