Friday, July 9, 2010

Library Visit: Morley Library at Winchester Cathedral

Up a flight of creaky wooden steps from the main floor of Winchester Cathedral is the entrance to the Morley Library. This gem of a room and collection is all thanks to one former Bishop of Winchester, George Morley, who died in 1684.

Morley lived through the English Civil War in the 17th century. In fact, as a friend to exiled King Charles II, Morley too kept himself occupied outside of England during this time. It was during this stint abroad that Morley began to so voraciously collect important books at the time. He collected items largely of an ecclesiastical nature, although his collection reflects his additional scholarly interests in geography, astronomy, history, and herbology.

Fast forward to the end of the interregnum, and Charles II is restored to the throne. He makes Morley Bishop of Winchester, foretelling the future existence of the Morley Library. As Bishop, Morley did not live in Winchester itself; he was actually quite a ways away in a palace to call his own. Knowing the value of his library, however, in 1668 he told his fellow clergymen that upon his death he would bequeath his collections to the Cathedral. They outfitted a room to be a library, and on Morley's death in 1684, his books started to be transported to the room in which they are now kept and displayed.

Upon his death, Morley also left the Cathedral funds to purchase two globes. One of these is celestial, showing the constellations, and the other terrestrial, depicting the world as it was known at the time (which means California is an island and Australia has no definite eastern coastline). These globes remain on display for Cathedral visitors as well.

According to my docent, scholars who need to use the collections are usually able to do so. It seems, however, that there are very few instances in which the Morley Library holds something unique and not available at an established reading library.

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