Aristotle once said that all of us ‘by nature desire knowledge’. In the days before universities, cathedrals were centres of learning and as such, had their own collections of books for use by the Cathedral clergy and visiting scholars from home and abroad. Lincoln Cathedral was no exception. From small beginnings, the steady growth of the collection led to the building of a library early in the 15th century to house the collection of manuscripts and then 250 years later to the building of the Wren Library, designed by the renowned Christopher Wren who designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
This room now houses approximately half of the Cathedral’s collection of 10,000 rare early printed books, including around 120 “incunabula”, the very earliest printed books. The library also has a collection of 261 medieval manuscripts. A modern reference collection supports the research of Cathedral guides, local historians, students and scholars and two reading rooms are open throughout the year. The library continues to be central to the Cathedral’s educational mission as it reaches out to engage with audiences of all ages both near and far.
The oldest of the manuscripts, the late 10th century Bede’s Homilies, is older than the Cathedral itself and was brought here by Bishop Remigius, who came to Lincoln under instruction from William I to build the Cathedral here in Lincoln. Over the years, the manuscript collection continued to grow. While most are Bibles, commentaries on the Psalms, theological works and books of church law, the collection also contains later works of literature, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Thornton Manuscript which includes several stories from Arthurian legend. Many of the manuscripts are beautifully illuminated and glisten as the light catches the gold leaf.
Early Printed Books
The early printed books in the collection cover a fascinating range of subjects including history, geography, travel, science, theology, nature, mathematics, literature, medicine, music, antiquities, heraldry, botany, philosophy and there is even a book of beauty tips for ladies and a book dedicated to chocolate.
The future presents many challenges for the Cathedral. With major works in the pipeline, the support of individuals has never been more important than it is today. Be it volunteering your time, Cathedral membership, stone and glass adoption or sponsorship, or even including the Fabric Fund in your Will, we would love to hear from you. Please complete and return the form to find out more about how you could help support the Fabric Fund here at Lincoln Cathedral.
As custodians of the library and its collections, our role is not only to preserve them for future generations but also to make them more accessible to researchers and visitors. Extended opening hours and the provision of an online catalogue are helping to bring the library to the attention of a wider audience. Each year sees an increasing number of researchers from around the world, coming to study the books and manuscripts. It is a careful balancing act maintaining the condition of the books and at the same time making them available for use. A team of Arts Society members helps to record, clean and repair the books and a continuing programme of conservation assures the survival of these, sometimes, fragile documents. It can cost around £350 to conserve a small-to medium-sized book.
In order to create the best possible conditions for the books and manuscripts we also have to look after the library buildings. The Wren Library at Lincoln is one of only three surviving Wren Libraries and was described by art historian Sir Roy Strong as “the most beautiful room in England”. Built in the 17th century, it requires constant care and attention. A special computerised monitoring system has to be maintained and serviced. Recently, all the windows in the library were restored, and it is only by maintaining the integrity of the building that we can ensure that the books and manuscripts housed within can survive.
Supporting the Library Fund
The Wren Library is supported by a dedicated team of volunteers who donate their time to help the Librarian share the stories and treasure. If you would like to give your time to support the library, we would love to hear from you.
Lincoln Cathedral has a comprehensive membership scheme that provides a range of exciting benefits to our members. Starting from £24 per year, becoming a member and targeting your membership donations towards the Library Fund is a popular way to show your support.
Adopting a book or manuscript page is a fabulous way to support the Wren library and know that your donation is going towards the conservation of these magnificent treasures.
Leaving a gift in your Will
For many people, leaving a gift in their Will is the ideal way for them to show their support for causes that have meaning for them. By leaving a gift in your Will, you too could help future generations benefit from the amazing resource the library provides.
Should you wish to speak to us about supporting the Library Fund, please contact 01522 561614 or email fundraising@LincolnCathedral.com and we shall do all we can to assist.
Thank you for supporting Lincoln Cathedral Library Fund
Registered Address: The Chapter Office, 4 Priorygate, Lincoln, LN2 1PL HMRC Charity Reference No: X7802