Wednesday, 6 July 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

St. Paul’s Cathedral Library
Joseph Wisdom-Librarian
St. Paul’s Cathedral, as we see it today, was completed in 1710 by the architect Christopher Wren.  The former Cathedral was destroyed in the fire of London in 1665.  The library at St. Paul’s was opened in 1720 and is located on the triforium level, located between the ground floor and the dome floor, of the church.  Wren had originally designed two rooms to be used for libraries, hoping that perhaps one library would serve as the official British Library, but only one of the rooms is used as the library.  The other room houses Wren’s great model of the Cathedral. 
I was surprised to see that this level of the church has become somewhat of a storage facility.  There are two old preaching podiums, many stone remnants from the Cathedral that was destroyed in the fire, and various pieces of art. 
Much of the city of London was destroyed by fire, including the original library, which was not in the actual cathedral.  Only 10 books and 3 manuscripts survived the flames.  The current library has remained in the bell tower of St. Paul’s since its opening in 1720.  The only exception to this was WWII, when the library was moved to a cave in Whales to try and save the collection from bombs and fires.  All but one of the books returned from the cave.  The current library houses around 21,500 volumes. 
The library collection consists primarily of theological texts and texts related to the actual cathedral or people associated with the cathedral.  The bishop during the time of the rebuilding gave his personal library of about 2,000 books to the library, and so it became commonplace for the library to inherit personal libraries from deceased clergy in the area.  The library today still acquires new books, but not very often and not in large number. 
I was surprised at how small the library seemed, but was impressed with the texts it held.  They have a copy of the King James Bible that is over 400 years old and a book of Psalms that survived the fire that I found to be beautiful.   I got the impression that it is difficult for the public to gain access to the collection.  But, there are plans to open this level and the library to the public.

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