The Library in the Lady Chapel
Wednesday 5th July 2017
Many people don’t know that for just over 160 years (1657-1820) the Lady Chapel housed the Cathedral Library. A new screen (with locking door) was installed and a wooden floor was raised five steps higher than the paved one, with shelves fitted around the walls. Local physician Dr Robert Vilvaine had rescued the library books from almost certain destruction during the Civil War by taking them to St John’s Hospital, and in 1657 he oversaw (and largely funded) the return of the books to the newly fitted out Lady Chapel library. His ledger stone can be seen at the eastern end of the north quire aisle, near the Lady Chapel.
The Lady Chapel Library contained around 5000 books and included editions of the Fathers and Schoolmen, Humanists, as well as treatises on history, political thought, philosophy and science, and pure literature.
For Friends’ Day (29 June 2017), Peter Thomas, Cathedral Librarian, selected nine books to try to represent the diversity of the contents of the 18th century Cathedral Library.
The texts on show were:
- Isidore of Seville ‘De natura rerum’ (10th century).
- Desiderius Erasmus ‘Moriae encomium’ (Basel, 1515?). The title of this satirical work (‘In praise of folly’) includes a pun on the name of Erasmus’s friend Sir Thomas More.
- Ptolemy ‘Omnia quae extant opera, praetor Geographiam’ (Basel, 1551).
- Dante Alighierei ‘[Divina commedia] Dante: con nuove et utili ispositioni’ (Lyon, 1571).
- Geoffrey Chaucer ‘The works of our antient and lerned English poet Geffrey Chaucer’ (London, 1598). From the Knight’s Tale ‘But been my frendes in all that ye maie.’
- Robert Burton ‘The anatomy of melancholy’ (Oxford, 1632).
- William Oughtred ‘The circles of proportion, and the horizontall instrument’ (London, 1633).
- John Milton ‘The tenure of kings and magistrates’ (London, 1649). The inscription on this copy indicates that it was presented by the author.
- Bishop Hall’s hard measure, written by himself upon his impeachment of high crimes and misdemeanors, for defending the Church of England; being a case something parallel to Dr S---l [Sacheverell] (London, 1710). Joseph Hall was Bishop of Exeter 1627-41. The impeachment of Joseph Hall in the mid-17th century is seen as a precursoe of the sentencing of Henry Sacheverell, a High Church Tory, in 1710.