“We scholars of Naples, and not of Naples only, owe to Dr Guerrieri the saving of the entire National library’s book heritage.”
Benedetto Croce, letter to the general manager of the libraries Giacomo Gaetani d’Aragona, November 27, 1946
Born in Cortona, Tuscany, her family soon moved to Naples. There is where she graduated with a degree in classical literature in 1926, and after a short time working as a teacher, decided to become a librarian. She would remain for her entire working life at the National Library of Naples, where she had served as a volunteer since 1928 and was eventually hired as a librarian in 1933 after winning a public exam.
With the approach of the Second World War, she assisted in the operations aimed at securing the most precious books in the Library. The first transport occurred in June 1940 in conjunction with Italy’s entrance into the war. 337 crates containing nearly 50,000 manuscripts, incunables, and autographs - the most precious materials owned by the Library - were placed in the Benedictine Abbey of Montevergine and afterwards transferred to the Badia di Loreto in Mercogliano.
Once she became the director of the Library in November 1942, her main concern was the safeguarding of books from the dangers of aerial bombardments which were expected to intensify in the city of Naples. Proactively, she transferred all books from the top floor of the Library into a shelter set up on the ground floor, while 75 crates containing the precious Herculaneum papyri were placed safely in an underground crypt.
After the first carpet bombing of Naples on December 4th, 1942, Guerrieri, in agreement with Luigi de Gregori, decided to transfer additional precious material out of the city. In the beginning of 1943, 100,000 volumes left the Library and were placed in different shelters in the Campania region: in Teano, in Calvi Risorta, and in San Giorgio nel Sannio.
The entire Library consultation room (containing 10,000 volumes) was moved to Aversa in premises open to the public in July 1943. The movement of the books proved to be perfectly timed because on August 4th, 1943 the top floor of the National Library was devastated by a bomb.
In the weeks following the Naples insurrection (Four days of Naples) and the arrival of the Allied forces into the city (October 1st, 1943), Guerriera Guerrieri tried to ascertain the conditions of the shelters holding the precious materials after the Allied front passed through as well as to organize the return of the materials to the Library.
Accompanied by Paul Gardner, of the MFA&A Subcommission, she managed to reach Calvi Risorta, where 871 crates of books had been kept, and where American troops were quartered (the Apostolic School of the Passionist Fathers). The crates had remained more or less intact but some had been used as beds, nightstands and had even been set up as an improvised theater stage by the soldiers.
Gardner gave immediate orders to restore the safety of the materials. Guerrieri managed to transport them back to Naples in the early days of 1944. The books recovered in Teano (50,000 volumes) had been removed by German troops and taken to Umbria and Spoleto instead. In January 1944, they were returned to the Italian government and secured in Rome. They were returned to Naples between November and December 1944. The Library reopened to the public in early 1945. Despite the damages to the building, its most precious books were all safe.
Guerriera Guerrieri continued in her post as Library director until 1967. She died in Cortona in 1980.