Bookworm alert! This 18th century hidden library in one of London’s most iconic landmarks is a gem of a place. Filled with the musty smell of old books, pamphlets, and history. I feel like I am in a Carlos Zafron novel, walking through the passageways & winding staircases to the secret library.
Well, okay. Whilst it’s no secret, very few people know about the existence of the library of Dean & Chapter at St Paul’s Cathedral. It is a working library, and was previously used only by the Dean and the rest of the Chapter, but now can be used by researchers & those with interest in the collection.
Walk up the Dean’s spiral staircase, an architectural & mathematical marvel designed by Christopher Wren. This famous geometric staircase has featured in many movies, including Harry Potter.
Wren also designed the library chamber, located in one of the western towers of St Paul’s Cathedral. The library is full of volumes of old binded books lining the walls. There are old wood carvings, with an eclectic collection of art work, busts, & stone sculptures. Old pamphlets and volumes made with sheep skin pages, blue paint & gold leaf inhabit the shelves.
You will find books on history, theology, legal affairs, psalms, music sermons, & reformation history.
Sadly, the original library collection was also destroyed in the fire, only three manuscripts and twenty-four printed books survived. The Cathedral library was restocked with valuable collections, bibles & lithurgical texts. In 1712, the late Bishop of London’s (Henry Compton) collection of 2000 volumes was bequeathed to the library.
In 1783 the library of John Mangey, Vicar of Dunmow and Prebendary of St Paul’s, was added. In the nineteenth century large collections of ecclesiastical tracts and pamphlets were brought in and improvements made to the library’s holdings of sermons preached in the Cathedral and at Paul’s Cross. ~ via Simon Carter, St. Paul’s
“May there never be wanting loving hands and hearts to deal with the treasures stored within these walls: and to transmit to others the Golden Key that opens the Enchanted Door.” ~ Sparrow Simpson
The bust of Dean Mansell- Director of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1870
St Paul’s cathedral library today is home to almost 21,500 volumes, including printed books, tracts and manuscripts. It also houses a large German bible from 1649 with heavy gothic text. The most treasured item in the collection is William Tyndale’s New Testament – The first English Language Bible to appear in print in 1525.
William Tynsdale was called Tudor England’s most dangerous man, as he translated the bible into English. In those days it was strictly forbidden to translate the Bible into the native tongue, under the 1408 Constitutions of Oxford. Cardinal Wolsey and the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, did all they could to enforce the ban to prevent the rise of English ‘Lutheranism’.
Most of Tyndale New Testament copies were destroyed by them, today St Paul’s Tyndale New Testament is one of only three copies surviving from the 3,000 originals.
So as you can see, St Paul’s Cathedral library is undoubtedly one of London’s most beautiful and extraordinary libraries. It’s normally open to researchers by appointment, and can sometimes be accessed on the Triforium tour.
What are your favourite libraries?
Feature image and last image credit: by Graham Lacdao/St Paul’s Cathedral.
Access to the cathedral Library
The library of Dean and Chapter is normally open to researchers by prior appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Fridays in the afternoons only. It is sometimes possible to arrange for library material to be made available at other times.
Nearest tube station: St. Paul’s, Cannon street, Bank
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