Posted in Books, Chained Libraries

The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral

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As a history major in undergrad, and a book lover for more years than I care to count, finding the notice on Chained Libraries on Atlas Obscura tickled my fancy.  I’ve officially added a ton of places to go visit on my bucket list now –Sorry, Hubby!   The below information comes directly from the Hereford Cathedral website, as who better to describe what is there than the curators of the Library themselves? If, one day I actually get to see this in person, I’ll be sure to re-blog and tell you my own personal thoughts. Until then… Happy exploring.


The Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral is a unique and fascinating treasure in Britain’s rich heritage of library history.

There were books at Hereford Cathedral long before there was a ‘library’ in the modern sense.

The cathedral’s earliest and most important book is the eighth-century Hereford Gospels; it is one of 229 medieval manuscripts which now occupy two bays of the Chained Library.

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Hereford Gospels (detail) courtesy of Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives

This is the oldest complete book in Hereford Cathedral Library. It dates from around the year 800 AD and may be the earliest surviving book made in Wales. It contains the first four books of the New Testament: the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These narratives of the life, death and resurrection of Christ are regarded by Christians as their most precious and sacred writings.
Chaining books was the most widespread and effective security system in European libraries from the middle ages to the eighteenth century, and Hereford Cathedral’s seventeenth-century Chained Library is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact.

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Hereford Gospels (detail) courtesy of Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives

A chain is attached at one end to the front cover of each book; the other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each shelf. The system allows a book to be taken from the shelf and read at the desk, but not to be removed from the bookcase.

The books are shelved with their foredges, rather than their spines, facing the reader (the wrong way round to us); this allows the book to be lifted down and opened without needing to be turned around – thus avoiding tangling the chain.

There is an interactive website you can take a 360-degree tour of the library.

Did You Know?

There has been a working theological library at the cathedral since the twelfth century, and the whole library continues to serve the cathedral’s work and witness both as a research centre and as a tourist attraction.

The Chained Library has about 1500 books which date from the late fifteenth- to the early nineteenth-centuries. Fifty-six of them are incunabula, i.e. books printed before 1500. They are chiefly concerned with theology, biblical studies, law and church history.

Have you been to Hereford Cathedral and seen the Chained Library in person? Tell me in the comments, or on my twitter page .

Stay tuned for more on unique and amazing libraries around the world!

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