Heritage Minister announces funding to digitise Library | Salisbury Cathedral

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Celebrating the new Heritage Lottery funding

John Glen, MP for Salisbury and Heritage minister, and Cathedral staff celebrates new Heritage Lottery funding that will allow us to catalogue our library and maintain rare book bindings for future generations. Pictured from left to right: Sarah Rickett (Director of Outreach and Learning), Jane Morgan (Director of Development and Communications, John Glen MP and Emily Naish (Cathedral Archivist).

A surprising find - dance steps written on the flyleaf of a 15th century book

Emily Naish shows John Glen MP a copy of Johannes Balbus de Januas' Catholicon where, entered on the flyleaf, are the steps of 20 basse dances. The basse dance was a popular court dance in the 15th and early 16th centuries. It was a processional dance in which couples moved together, taking small steps while keeping their feet close to the ground. The basse dance originated in Italy. No-one knows who the author of these notes was and why they elected to write it onto the flyleaf of this particular book.

The King's oak in the Cathedral Library

Heritage minister John Glen in the Cathedral's 15th Century Library. The wood for the older, original bookshelves (behind John Glen and archivist Emily Naish) was a gift from Henry VI, who donated 30 oak trees from the Royal forests. The Dean and Chapter also gave a cope to the Abbess of Shaftesbury in return for her nuns having granted a quarry at Tisbury to provide stone for the new library.

Cathedral Library View

The Cathedral Library sits above the East Cloister and looks out onto the Cathedral. The library was originally twice the size that it is today and stretched the whole length of the East Cloister with the far end being used as a lecture theatre and the near end for housing books. The southern part of the library was removed in 1758 after Dean and Chapter deemed it too heavy to be properly supported by the Cloisters.

Medieval security measure - the Cathedral's book chains

John Glen MP inspects the chains would have originally been used to chain the books individually to the shelves. Books were scarce and highly valued in medieval times, hence the security precautions. The chains were sufficiently long enough to allow the books to be taken from the shelves and read but not removed from the library itself. As books became easier to obtain and cheaper, and printing more widespread, there was less need for protection from theft and the use of chains ceased.

The mighty elms are felled but rise again

In the 1970s the Library was renovated and the current bookcases were made in situ by the Cathedral’s carpenters. The new shelving was constructed from elm trees planted to celebrate victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The trees, which had stood for more than 150 years in the Close suffered from Dutch Elm disease and had to be felled in the latter part of the 1970s.

Voices from the Reformation - a likeness of Martin Luther on a rare bookcover

The three year HLF project will see volunteers help to create a searchable digital catalogue of books held in the collection – most for the very first time. Amongst the books being catalogued and cleaned will be this beautifully bound 16th century book by Martin Luther which bears an image of the author on the front cover