At the north-east corner of the cloister you will find the Cathedral’s two historic libraries.
The 15th Century Medieval Library
The 15th century Medieval Library was originally built as a chained library and housed the Cathedral’s collection of early handwritten manuscripts. Although mostly theological in nature to suit the needs of scholars and the Cathedral clergy at the time, there are also treasures such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Thornton Manuscript. 2022 marks the 600th anniversary of the Medieval Library.
The 17th Century Wren Library
The 17th century Wren Library contains approximately half of the Cathedral’s early printed books, many of which belonged to Dean Michael Honywood who paid for the building and design of the library. The collection includes 120 “incunabula” or, books printed before 1501. Honywood’s eclectic interests are reflected in the subjects of his books: history, geography, travel, science, nature, literature and even beauty tips for ladies are among the subjects covered. A selection of manuscripts and early printed books is on display throughout the open season.
Preserving our treasures
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 alike. Extended exhibition opening hours and the provision of an online catalogue are helping to bring the library to the attention of a wider audience. The library has two small reading rooms, one in Exchequergate Arch opposite the main entrance to the Cathedral and the other in the relatively modern 1914 library extension built adjoining the Wren Library.
A team of enthusiastic volunteers act as stewards, welcoming and informing visitors, while behind the scenes others help with cataloguing and indexing. A team of Arts Society members help to record, check, clean and repair the books and a continuing programme of book conservation assures their survival for the future. Environmental conditions in all library rooms are carefully monitored and an automatic computerised system in the Wren library helps to ensure that relative humidity levels, which if too high or too low can be damaging to the books, are kept within the correct parameters.
“Lincoln Cathedral Library: the story so far”
Although the Cathedral has not always had a library, it has always had books. This guide follows the story of how, from small beginnings, the collection grew, leading to the building of a chained library in the early 15th century and then 250 years later to the building of the Wren Library, paid for by our greatest benefactor Dean Michael Honywood. It also highlights some of the library’s many treasures. The guide has 72 pages and is fully illustrated. It costs £6-99 and is available to buy from the Cathedral Shop.
The Wren and Medieval libraries would normally open to the public from the start of April. Essential maintenance work is currently being undertaken in the Wren Library and this will delay our opening this year. We are also unable to offer privately booked tours and group visits at the moment. If you specifically wish to visit the library it is advisable to check the website before visiting the Cathedral or to telephone 01522 561640 to check availability. We are endeavouring to have the library open as soon as possible.
The Reading Rooms are open as normal to researchers although not all library material is currently accessible.
What do our visitors say about us?
Matthew from Cambridge: “One of the most beautiful collections and rooms I have seen”
David from Leeds: “A fabulous library and a wonderful half-hour well spent. Thank you”
Kevin from Cardiff: “How unexpected a joy to find this additional treasure within the Cathedral precincts – and a great welcome”
Ania from Portugal: “Amazing library!”
Eva from Prague: “Wonderful library and great guides. Thank you”
The Cathedral’s two reading rooms are normally open to researchers on Mondays and Tuesdays throughout the year. Due to limited space, booking in advance is essential. Restoration work on the Wren Library means that there is currently no access to the books kept there. To check availability and to book, please contact the Librarian on 01522 561640 or email Julie.Taylor@lincolncathedral.com