Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Library Visit: Lambeth Palace Library

Lambeth Palace has for centuries been the London home of Archbishops of Canterbury, the head of the Church in, and since the Reformation of, England. In 1610, with the death and bequest of Archbishop Richard Bancroft, the Lambeth Palace Library was created to be a permanent resource to Archbishops of Canterbury in matters ecclesiastical and otherwise. With the patronage of then-King James I, the library really got a solid start.

Fast-forward to 1648 and the Commonwealth Period in England, when that royal kill-joy Oliver Cromwell found pretty much every institution ever associated with the monarchy offensive and dangerous. Cromwell wanted to use Lambeth Palace as a prison, and he did; luckily, with the forethought of palace residents and some speedy legistlation on part of Parliament, the then Archbishop was allowed to send all of the Lambeth Palace Library to Cambridge University for safe-keeping. And a very good thing they did, too, as there are some magnificent treasures in the collection.

Aside from the almost requisite Gutenberg Bible, the Lambeth Palace Library also boasts Henry III's Book of Hours; the death warrant for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, signed by Elizabeth I; Elizabeth I's own prayer book; Catherine of Aragon, and then her daughter Mary Tudor's, own highly decorated bible; and plenty of rare and unique manuscripts and printed books on subjects of theology, history, geography, and others.

In the twentieth century, the Lambeth Palace Library wrote its official purpose: to be the main special library on the history and affairs of the Church of England, including being a record repository for the papers of all Archbishops of Canterbury. Thus any person wanting to do serious research about the Church of England, a particular Archbishop of Canterbury, or anything remotely connected to those subjects will find it necessary to visit the Lambeth Palace Library and their reading room, where the perusal of these important documents is freely allowed.

Since 1964, the Library has benefitted from the work of the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library, who do significant fundraising and acquisitions work that continues to ensure the library holds some of the best resources available. The library has also recently begun to undertake some digitisation projects with the hopes of making some of the most difficult to find, most fragile, and most useful documents more readily available to those who might benefit from them. All in the name of serving the library's mission: to preserve, develop, and promote access to all of their holdings.
*above image courtesy of Renaissance Library

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