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Located above the north wall of the Cloister, Lincoln Cathedral has two very different, but equally as impressive, libraries: the Medieval Library and the Sir Christopher Wren Library.
It is open to all cathedral visitors and has regularly changing exhibitions, displaying just some of its many thousands of precious books and manuscripts. Group visits can be arranged and will receive a warm welcome from the library staff.
Visiting the Medieval Library in Lincoln Cathedral is like stepping back in time.
This tiny room, with its stunning oak roof carved with scenes of angels and mythical figures, still has 3 of the original lecterns that Medieval scholars would have used as they spent their days studying manuscripts and theological writings.
A library like this was known as a ‘Chained Library’ as manuscripts were chained to the lecterns to prevent them from disappearing!
Today, you will find a variety of precious illuminated manuscripts on display.
Lincoln Cathedral’s Medieval Library has one of the finest collection of illustrated manuscripts and theological writings in England.
This collection includes the writings of St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, as well as the Lincoln Chapter Bible, which is thought to be the earliest English Romanesque Bible.
Also housed here is the writ from King William l (William the Conqueror) ordering his first Norman Bishop, Remegius, to transfer the seat of the most powerful diocese in the land, from Dorchester (just outside Oxford) to Lincoln. Hence Bishop Remegius of Dorchester became Bishop Remegius of Lincoln, and he founded the very first cathedral in Lincoln.
The Medieval Library dates from 1422.
It was built to accommodate the cathedral’s ever increasing collection of valuable manuscripts, including a 10th Century copy of the Venerable Bede’s Homilies, thought to have been brought to Lincoln by Bishop Remegius.
A wonderful collection of illustrated manuscripts and copies of some of the earliest printed books are housed in the library, many dating back to the foundation of the cathedral itself.
This light, elegant and airy library is in complete contrast to its medieval neighbour next door and has been described by the historian Sir Roy Strong as ‘the most beautiful room in England’.
It is only one of two surviving purpose-built libraries designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The other one is at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The library reflects the interests of Dean Honywood, who oversaw the restoration of Lincoln Cathedral after the damage it sustained during the English Civil War.
It houses a vast array of wonderful books including a manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, first editions of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Don Quixote, and atlases of hand-coloured maps by Ortelius and Mercator.
As Dean Honywood was an avid collector of contemporary pamphlets and newspapers, including those describing the early colonisation of the New World, the library has an excellent selection of writings from these early settlers in Virginia and New England (many of whom were from Lincolnshire).
During the English Civil War, Lincoln was loyal to King Charles I and found itself beseiged by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads. The cathedral sustained considerable damage and fell into a state of neglect. This was made worse during the Protectorate when church services were abandoned.
It was not until the Restoration of King Charles ll in 1660, that Lincoln Cathedral began to flourish again.
The king appointed a new Dean, Michael Honywood, to oversee the restoration of the cathedral to its former glory.
Dean Honywood was a learned man who had an extensive catalogue of precious books. He seized this opportunity to build a new library for his book collection in a part of the cathedral that had sustained severe damage during the Civil War.
Sir Christopher Wren, the man who designed St Paul’s Cathedral and who rebuilt much of London after it had been destroyed by The Great Fire in 1666, was appointed to design this new library.
It cost £1,000 to build and was paid for by Dean Honywood himself.
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