Documents dating from the 8th century draw researchers to this old library in the UK. The cathedral stands on a site where worshippers have joined together for twelve-hundred years. Today, the library of the Hereford Cathedral is known for its medieval books and the precious Mappa Mundi, a medieval map that gives visitors an insight as to how medieval scholars saw the world.
The library is perhaps best known for its unique security system. Chaining books was a widespread practice during the Middle Ages, when printed books were priceless and hand-written volumes took years to produce. The Hereford Cathedral library is the largest surviving chained library. The chains, rods, and locks are intact, just as when first utilized.
Chains are attached to the front of the books, and the forepages, instead of the spine, face the front of the shelf. That way, the books can be removed for reading at the desk, without the risk of tangling the chain. The library also has blocks and printing presses from 1611. Music recitals and other cultural events are held there. The library currently serves as a research center for the cathedral, and is a major tourist attraction for the town of Hereford.
This is the second of several blogs about old libraries that are worth seeing.
The Abbey Library of St. Gall in eastern Switzerland holds over 140,000 manuscripts, including some original parchments dating from the 9th century.
The library has been in existence since 719, and was named after St. Gall, an Irish hermit whose hermitage was on this same spot. After his death, a small church was erected on the site. The church later developed into the Abbey of St. Gall, which came to be an important monastery renowned for its scriptorium and the scholars who worked there. The institution became secularized in the 18th century, after a series of political wars.
The library is one of the richest repositories of medieval literature in the world, and is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the manuscripts were copied by Anglo-Saxon and Irish monks. As the holdings of the library became known, Charlemagne requested chanters be sent from Rome to the abbey, and these singers helped spread the use of Gregorian Chant throughout the territory.
Over two thousand handwritten books remain in the library collection, and the digitalization of the priceless collection is still underway. Some of these documents can be seen on the Codices Electronici Sangallences webpage, and at Intuit in UK (register to search and save data), the manuscripts are translated into several languages, including English.
The abbey library interior is in the Rococo style, with carved wood, stucco, and paint exemplary of the period (see picture above). Exhibitions and concerts are held there, and the library is open to the public.
Tucked away, in hidden corners of the world, are some old libraries, with soaring ceilings and paintings to match the Sistine Chapel. These treasures are all over the globe, including in the U.S., and I’ll be blogging about several in the weeks to come. The library in Strahov Monastery in Prague holds documents going back centuries. Their most prized possession is a 9th century document, heavily ornamented, but that is not the only treasure there. The shelves are filled with priceless old manuscripts, most dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The library has suffered setbacks since its origin. In 1258 a fire damaged the building, and later, in the 15th century, Hussite warriors ransacked the monastery. When Sweden invaded Prague, they took many of the precious books back with them to Sweden. After the Thirty Years War, the books were stored in a new hall, the present Theological Hall, built in 1679 (see photo at top). For years after that, to prevent fire or theft, readers were not permitted to bring a light inside the hall, or to stay after 7:30 p.m. Over the centuries, the library became so renowned throughout Europe that visitors came from afar, not only to study the documents but also to see the library itself. Among those visitors was Napoleon’s wife, Mary Louise, who came in 1812. The library is opened to visitors daily except for a few holidays. The public may use the card catalogue, and books may be read in the study hall, but because of the age and great value of the books, it is forbidden to take them from the library. My next blog will be about another magnificent library, in another city. If you love libraries like I do, sign up to follow my blog. You may discover a treasure not far from where you live.
In the west-central part of France, the town of Oradour, where no one lives, has been preserved in its abandoned state since 1944. While doing research for my historical novel, The Tapestry Shop, I came upon this once-thriving village, now a solemn reminder of WWII and innocent lives lost. There is disagreement as to the exact reason for what took place, but the events that unfolded there are unquestioned. On a sunny morning in June, members of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich entered this peaceful village. They ordered all the men to go to the fairgrounds, saying their mission was an identity check. The women and children were herded into the village church. After a bomb failed to detonate, the men were executed, to the last man, after which the women and children were massacred in the church. The few villagers who had not gone to the church or fairgrounds, for reasons of disability, were hunted down and killed. The houses were searched for anything of value, and the town was set on fire. While the town burned, the Germans left the area and marched north to join the German forces in Normandy, where they hoped to fight off the invading armies. Of all the memorials in France, this village may have made the most lasting impression on me. As you walk the empty streets, images of what was a community of people can be seen in the ruins—a rusted bicycle, an automobile that was never driven after that fateful day, the drooping telephone wires that lined the road where vacant homes now stand in ruin, the roofs gone, the walls crumbling. To this author, it remains a stark reminder of the horrors of war. At the entrance is a simple plaque. The words, written in both French and English, say simply, To Remember.
My reading list is an eclectic one, first, because I belong to two book clubs. Secondly, because I need an occasional fix for my historical novel habit, and lastly, because I need to do research for my own writing. Here are my latest reads in no particular order.
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell
The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson
The Tsarina's Daughter by Carolly Erickson
Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin
Isabella D'Este: A Study of the Renaissance by Julia Cartwright
All Other Nights by Dara Hora
Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Sarah: A Novel by Marek Halter
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Outlaws of Medieval Legend by Maurice Keen
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Without Reservations: The Travels of an
Independent Woman byAlice Steinbach
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to
Santiago by Ashley and Deegan
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
The Miracle of Prato by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz