Three Cathedral Libraries

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Cathedral libraries and archives are the oldest surviving repositories of the word in Britain.

They emerged in medieval times – or even earlier – when books were handwritten, literacy was largely a religious monopoly and churches and monasteries kept records of their landholdings and relationships with local populations.

There are three long-established cathedral libraries in the West Midlands - Hereford, Lichfield and Worcester. They contain some of the most important books and manuscripts in the country and provide a record for those of us who want to make sense of medieval religious, social and economic life.

Hereford Cathedral’s library and archives date back over one thousand years, though the oldest book is the Anglo-Saxon Hereford Gospelsof about 780, a unique survival of the destruction of the cathedral in 1055. One distinctive feature of the library is that it is chained, where the covers of books are secured to a bookcase which enables them to be read but prevents them from being taken away. Until the eighteenth century, libraries contained books which were either handwritten or expensively printed and often could not be borrowed. Viewers of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stonewill have seen a fictional example of a chained library in the Restricted Section of Hogwarts Library.

It contained books which explored ‘Dark Magic’ and could only be read by advanced students who were studying ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts’. Harry consulted this section in his first year by wearing his invisibility cloak so he could not be seen. He ran away when a book he removed from the shelf screamed when he opened it! Visitors to the chained library at Hereford won’t need an invisibility cloak to see the books on their shelves and they will find theological and legal works rather than books of magic. They are guaranteed not to scream.

KEYWORDS: Cathedrals, Library, Hereford, Worcester, Lichfield, Medieval

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