Tuesday, July 5, 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

Up on the triforium level of St. Paul’s, 140 steps above all the hustle and bustle, lies a completely different world than that which most people get to see.  We wandered down unused corridors, were able to view the whole cathedral from the back wall, and of course, saw the library.  Our tour was led by Librarian Joseph Wisdom.  Our tour began on the ground floor with listening to the Lord’s Prayer.  We then treked up the stairs to the triforium level.  We began by walking through several sections which house various artifacts and items, some odds and ends that the Cathedral doesn’t display anywhere.  The room where they are housed was at one time almost used as a museum, but the items are too various and disconnected to show a cohesive story.  Among other things the room contains a bust of Crookshanks, illustrator of many Dickens books, a Viking-era marker, many drawings and sketches of the Cathedral, and a huge collection of fragments and architectural bits and pieces of the Cathedral.  That last segment reminded me a bit of the Sir John Sloan Museum, except at St. Paul’s the pieces were not glued to the wall, just sorted into shelves.  Once through that room we entered another side hall, which contained two very different pulpits used at various times in the past. 

We then came upon a newly installed wooden screen, which John informed up was put up by his predecessor in order to create an office for the librarian.  Above the door is the phrase “Faciendi plures libros nullus est finis” which translates as “of making many books there is no end (Ecclesiastes 12:12b).  The final room before the library that we saw was a side room which was originally intended to house part of the library.  Originally the library was expected to occupy two chambers, but the second one was not used.  Instead it houses Christopher Wren’s Great Model.  His 1:25 scale of his preferred plan for St. Paul’s, which was discarded by the commission because it was too similar to St. Peter’s in Rome.  He wanted it to have a second smaller dome, and to more strongly reflect Greek styles, with three sides being identical.  This side room is set up as a museum exhibit, but John told us that they plan on redoing it to try and make it more public friendly.  I really enjoyed the quick glance that we got, since I just read London Rising which focuses on Wren’s construction of the Cathedral.  I would have liked more time to look around.  But we had a library to see, and we finally arrived at our destination.

As John unlocked the doors and we entered I could hear the collective breath from the group.  The smell of all the old books was amazing; nothing else even comes close to how good this room smelled.  The small room is lined with two levels of bookcases, numbered in a unique way.  By the fireplace is “1” then once the numbers progress halfway around the room, to a stairway entrance, the ordered numbers stop and it continues back on the other side of the fireplace.  The second level was the same.  On a clock it would be like having 1-6 then up at “12” starting with 7.  John asked us that if we ever found another library that did the same thing, to be sure to let him know about it. 

John then told us a bit of the history of the Cathedral Library.  All that remain of the old library are some inventory lists from the pre-Commonwealth era.  During the Commonwealth the library was moved elsewhere in London, and much of the collection burned in the Great Fire of 1666.  Only ten books came back from the pre-fire collection, and three manuscripts.  One of the manuscripts is a Psalter, it is fitting that an item so crucial to worship survived and returned “home” after the fire. 

John then asked us how do you get a library together, when you only have a few months?  We replied with donations and purchasing.  He then said we had forgotten the third way: stealing, but he was glad we hadn’t mentioned it, since the Cathedral did not employ that method.  After the fire the Bishop of London Henry Compton, a friend to Christopher Wren and a member of the reconsruction committee, gave 2,000 books from his personal collection to help re-establish the library.  He was bishop from the fire all the way to the reconstruction process.  He saw the resurrection of the building, and his portrait hangs by the fireplace.  A librarian and antiquarian Humphrey Wembly helped the library add to its collection and advised the reconstruction team on how to set up the library.  He encouraged the library to buy the collections of deceased clergymen when they became available to boost the collections.  One of his most highly prized contributions was a 1526 Tyndale Bible, one of three in the whole world. 

The Cathedral was considered complete in 1710.  In 1711 the library was only half-full.  By 1713, they accepted their final large collection, and the core of the library was formed.  The library collects primarily theology and history.  Any recently published items have to directly relate to the Cathedral in order to be added to the collection.  Anything published by Cathedral clergy is added, as are books about Wren and the history of the several cathedrals which have stood on this location.  During World War II the library was moved to a cave in Wales, and only one book from that move was lost.  The collection fared far better during this move than the previous one.  St. Paul’s was hit three times by bombs during the Blitz.  One bomb came through the roof and destroyed the high altar.  The library is currently used by anyone who has sufficient interest and need.  A novelist, a researcher of Dunn’s sermons, and someone researching music have all recently used the collection.

Before we left John showed us how to properly remove a book from a shelf.  He said it’s just like crossing the street.  You all know how to cross the street and do it properly until you get hit by a car.  It is commonsense, but was good to have a reminder.  On our way out of the Cathedral most of us decided to walk down the Geometric Staircase, in the Western Tower.  It has become famous for being used in some Harry Potter scenes (as the stairway to Prof. Trelawny’s Divinations classroom). 

Photographs were not allowed inside the cathedral, so here are a couple from the web.

No comments:

Post a Comment