Durham Cathedral Library Collection Description
Collection Level Description: Durham Cathedral Library manuscript books
Collection name: Durham Cathedral Library manuscript books
Collection code: GB-0036-MSB
Date range: 6th - 18th century
Extent: 360 volumes occupying 25 metres
Language: Most in Latin with some in Greek, Old, Middle and modern English and Anglo-Norman French.
Created by: Durham Cathedral Library
The collection comprises the bulk of the surviving contents of the Durham medieval priory library (308 volumes) with later additions. This is the most complete in situ medieval library in the UK covering the whole spectrum of medieval learning in terms of both date and range. In addition it is a remarkably intact working collection of one of the greatest Benedictine houses ranging from venerable books of great antiquity through the works of the Fathers of the Church used for daily reading, to study and theological texts reflecting later intellectual trends and interaction with the medieval university of Oxford. Books were exchanged between Durham Cathedral and its Oxford studium Durham College. Because of the importance of the community the collection also has an international dimension including a 6th century fragment of Maccabees of Italian origin, a cluster of late 11th century Norman manuscripts, later medieval law books of Italian origin and a 13th century Parisian Bible. A particularly notable aspect of the collections is the relatively high number of early medieval and Romanesque books and the fact that there is a considerable body of medieval documentation relating to the collection which can be matched to the surviving manuscripts, revealing their earlier organisation and use. What is missing from the collection is a wide range of the service books that would have been used by the medieval monks. Miscellaneous post-medieval additions to the manuscripts include a late 17th century Italian grammar used by a local language teacher and various copies of statutes dating from the 16th to the 18th century for Durham and other cathedrals and colleges. Some printed tracts have been added to the collection and these are catalogued in the printed books catalogue.
For an account of the medieval arrangement see A.J. Piper "The libraries of the monks of Durham". The manuscripts are now numbered A.I.1 to C.IV.44 in what appears to be the hand of Thomas Rud, Cathedral Librarian from 1717 to 1726.
The oldest volumes belonged to Lindisfarne Abbey and were brought by the community who carried St Cuthbert's body to Durham. A Benedictine priory was founded in Durham in 1083 when Bishop William of St Calais replaced the secular chapter with monks who had recently resettled Jarrow and Wearmouth. The Lindisfarne volumes together with others probably from Wearmouth and Jarrow formed the core of the priory's library. The priory gradually amassed a substantial library over the next four hundred and fifty years, including books written in its own scriptorium and books acquired for its Oxford studium, Durham College. Notable donors included Bishop William of St Calais (c.1030-96) and Bishop Hugh of Le Puiset (c.1125-95). Most books were housed in the Spendement off the west cloister, cupboards in the north cloister, and (from the early 15th century) a new library room above the east cloister. After the dissolution of the priory in 1539, the cathedral was re-founded under a dean and chapter who inherited what survived of the priory's collection of manuscripts and printed books. Severe losses occurred in the later 16th century, including the Lindisfarne Gospels (now in the British Library). Nevertheless of the 481 surviving volumes from the library of Durham Cathedral Priory 308 are still in the Cathedral Library. Following almost a century of neglect, the library was reformed in the 1620's through the initiative of John Cosin and other canons. During the Civil War and Interregnum it suffered less depredation and dispersal than many other cathedral libraries. After the Restoration, the former monastic refectory was restored and fitted out as a library by Dean Sudbury, and the old library room above the east cloister ceased to be used for library purposes.
Volumes were acquired during the whole medieval period. 308 of the volumes survive from the medieval Priory library. Some of the medieval priory books have returned (see Hunter Manuscripts collection). The most recently returned volume is a Bible owned by the Middleton family until bought in 2005 by the Chapter of Durham. Other books were given during the 16th - 18th centuries e.g. the gift of 10 manuscript volumes C.IV.34-43 given by Dean Thomas Dampier in 1776 noted in C.IV.34.
Previous ownership history:
Stored in various parts of the Cathedral but now housed in the Spendement in the Cloisters which was also the principal medieval repository for documents.
Open for consultation. For opening hours see the Cathedral Library's web page at http://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/
Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Librarian (e-mail Library@durhamcathedral.co.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.
Manuscript books from the medieval priory library are occasionally acquired.
There are several surviving library lists from the medieval period. These were partly edited in Catalogi veteres librorum Ecclesiae Cathedralis Dunelm. A comprehensive edition is currently being prepared for publication by A.J. Piper in the British Academy's Corpus of Medieval Library Catalogues series. Thomas Rud, Cathedral Librarian, completed a catalogue of all the manuscripts in 1727 which was published by the Dean and Chapter in 1825. Sir Roger Mynors made a detailed description of Durham manuscripts written before the end of the 12th century, which included manuscripts no longer in Durham. Neil Ker in Medieval Libraries of Great Britain supplemented other catalogues with descriptions of manuscripts omitted from earlier works. A word processed catalogue is in progress and can be accessed in the Cathedral Library and Palace Green Library search rooms.
Microfilms of all the medieval manuscripts are held in the Cathedral Library. Photographs and slides of a large number of individual pages, miniatures and other illuminations are also held in the Library.
Related collections held at Durham:
The Hunter manuscripts and other antiquarian collections in the Cathedral Library contain related material.
Related collections elsewhere:
Manuscripts formerly belonging to Durham Cathedral Priory exist in a number of libraries and private collections. These are listed in N.R. Ker's Medieval libraries of Great Britain 2nd edition (London, 1964) and Supplement to the second edition ed. Andrew Watson (London, 1967), where A.J. Piper did the revised Durham sections. Locally, 12 former Durham manuscripts are held in Durham University Library, within Bishop Cosin's Library, and about 40 printed books from the personal books of the medieval monks, survive in Ushaw College. Some left the Cathedral Library but returned later with other collections e.g. Hunter 100 and 101. A collection of microfilms of the priory manuscript books held in other libraries is housed in Durham University Library as Durham Priory Microfilms.
Catalogi veteres librorum Ecclesiae Cathedralis Dunelm (London, 1838) (Surtees Society, 7)
H.D. Hughes, A history of Durham Cathedral Library (Durham, 1925)
N.R. Ker, Medieval libraries of Great Britain 2nd edition (London, 1964) and Supplement to the second edition ed Andrew Watson (London, 1967)
N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries 5 vols (London, 1969-2002)
A.J. Piper, "The libraries of the monks of Durham", in Malcolm Parkes (ed.), Medieval scribes, manuscripts and libraries. Essays presented to N.R. Ker (London, 1978), pp. 213-41
R.A.B. Mynors, Durham cathedral manuscripts to the end of the 12th century (Oxford, 1939)
T. Rud, Codicum manuscriptorum ecclesiae cathedralis Dunelmensis catalogus classicus descriptus ed J. Raine (Durham, 1825)
Date last modified: 8 July 2010