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Gatekeepers to Heaven

From the Library

Our Cathedral Librarian, Emma Laws, gave a talk to the Friends of the RAMM yesterday to coincide with the opening this weekend of the Museum’s new exhibition, Gatekeepers to Heaven: religion, knowledge and power in medieval Exeter.

This free exhibition is a rare opportunity to see six magnificent manuscripts from Exeter Cathedral’s medieval library that were given to the newly established Bodleian Library in 1602 as part of a gift of nearly 100 manuscripts. Sir Thomas Bodley, born in Exeter in 1545, spent his retirement in Oxford refurbishing the University’s library with ‘other men’s benevolence’. His brother, Laurence, was a canon at Exeter Cathedral and probably facilitated the transfer of the Cathedral’s manuscripts to Oxford. The gift of the Dean and Chapter was the Bodleian Library’s largest foundation donation, helping to establish one of the world’s greatest research libraries. Among the manuscripts returning to Exeter for the first time in over 400 years are Bishop Leofric’s Missal and Gospels and Bishop Grandisson’s copy of St Augustine’s De Civitate Dei.

The manuscripts that Exeter Cathedral gave to the Bodleian, and to other libraries, avoided the terrible fate of so many manuscripts in English Cathedral libraries during the iconoclasm of the 17th century. Indeed, only three other cathedral libraries can boast around 100 surviving medieval manuscripts. However, not all of Exeter’s medieval manuscripts left the Cathedral. In fact, the Cathedral still holds one of its foundation books: the Exeter Book of Anglo-Saxon poetry – the oldest, largest and best-preserved book of English Literature in the world. The Library also holds a number of splendid manuscripts commissioned by Bishop Grandisson for use in services at the Cathedral in the 14th century.  

Look out for the next Exeter Book event in August – details coming soon. Combine your visit with some fun Anglo-Saxon themed activities for all ages! Advance booking is not required, and admission is included with the standard Cathedral entry fee.