The room housing the library at Salisbury Cathedral was built in 1445 specifically for storing and making available for consultation the Cathedral’s growing collection of manuscript (hand written) books. However, the origins of the library stretch back much further to the former cathedral at Old Sarum. In the late 11th century Bishop Osmund (1078-1099) was determined that his cathedral should be a centre of learning and gathered together a group of scribes to create the new library. Today the Library still has about 60 books created by the scribes at Old Sarum which constitute the largest collection of manuscripts of the Norman period still with its original owner. They are predominately written on vellum (calf skin), are biblical texts and commentaries and, were created as everyday texts for the Cathedral’s own use and study.
Today the Library holds approximately 8,000 volumes dating from the ninth century to the present day. The collection has developed organically over the course of the Cathedral’s history, growing primarily through donations and bequests. While the majority of books are theological and literary texts there are examples of a wide range of other subjects including science, mathematics and medicine. The collection forms three main groups.
These include the manuscript books created by the Old Sarum scribes as well as approximately 140 other volumes. One particularly precious volume is a 10th century Gallican psalter commonly known as the Salisbury Psalter. The Psalter contains both the Latin text with an interlinear Anglo Saxon ‘gloss’ or translation, many of the initial letters are decorated with birds, dragons and signs of the zodiac.
Printed Books pre 1900
The present collection of printed books dates from the bequest of Bishop Edmund Gueste in 1577. Bishop Edmund Gueste’s bequest consists of around 1200 books of Biblical, patristic, scholastic a well as a large number of works on contemporary Protestant reformation literature. This collection also includes 16 of the Library’s collection of 40 incunabula (ie books from the earliest history of printed dated pre 1500). Another valuable bequest was that of Bishop Seth Ward who died on 6th January 1689. Bishop Seth Ward was Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford and a founder member of the Royal Society and thus his library reflects his interests, containing many works on medical, scientific and mathematical subjects as well as some 65 works on astronomy. The Library also has 34 books from the library of Izaak Walton (1593-1683), author of the Compleat Angler, which were donated to the Library together with 122 volumes of seventeenth century political and religious pamphlets belonging to his son, Isaac Walton, Canon of Salisbury (1678-1719).
Modern Books post 1900
The Library also contains a large number of modern books relating to the history of the Cathedral and related subjects including a number of volumes relating to the local history of Salisbury and Wiltshire.
We welcome all enquiries regarding the Library's collections - the archivist is able to answer general questions regarding the scope and nature of the collections and individuals are welcome to visit in person to conduct their own research on specific books. Currently it is necessary to make an appointment with the Archivist and, depending on the nature of your enquiry to have a letter of introduction from a sponsoring academic body or other means of identification. There is a printed catalogue available: 'A Catalogue of the Library of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury' S M Lakin & E M Thompson, 1880.
Cathedral Archivist: Emily Naish
Tel: 01722 555107
Address: The Chapter Office, Number 6 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EF