Posted by Elizabeth Biggs on 23rd October 2017

Working between Catalogues

This is a quick and belated blog for this week as I’ve been travelling to find yet more Durham books that are now elsewhere. I’m planning to write about them in the future, but for today I want think about two handwritten sets of lists that are still safely in Durham. Last week, Matthew wrote about Everything a Monk Needs and the William of St Calais booklist, that wonderful compendium of texts that would have supplied most of the new monastery’s needs in the 1080s. Sadly we don’t have anything quite like it for the sixteenth century, when the library had grown much bigger.


Instead, when thinking about the sixteenth century library, we’re working in the gaps between two very different book lists. The last known medieval catalogue of Durham’s library is digitised here and there is a nineteenth-edition here. It was made in 1392 and then updated haphazardly and sporadically for the next twenty years or so, with things like the list of books sent south to Durham College in Oxford for the monks studying there. The second list is from the late seventeenth century, and it is Elias Smith’s book list organised by classes, B II 37, which is not online. I find it a bit hard to work with because it has duplicate entries for books, especially if an author wrote about more than one book of the Bible. It was also made after Bishop Cosin had given his generous collection to Durham Cathedral, and those books aren’t always clearly distinguished in this list.


Print of John Cosin, seventeenth-century bishop of Durham, responsible for Cosin’s Library and lots of other buildings around Durham

Anything that has stayed here since the middle ages is in the Smith list. As far as I can tell, pretty much everything that Smith lists that can be identified as belonging to the medieval library is nicely and safely in the strongrooms. There are a couple of exceptions, such as a rather lovely Suidas that was given away by the Chapter in the eighteenth century and is now in the Harley collection at the British Library. But by and large, Smith’s catalogue tells us that the dispersal from the medieval library was largely complete by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This is useful information because it narrows down the connections by which books were acquired by other people and scattered across England. Clearly, by the time Smith thought a new list of books was needed, the cathedral community were once again taking a strong interest in their books and spurred on by John Cosin, were once again collecting.


Wait a minute though. That’s a bit too simplified. We know that in 1556 Bishop Tunstall gave orders that the library was to be carefully kept. We also know that in 1560 Dean Horne was disputing with some of his canons over books that they had taken from the library, which he felt strongly were cathedral property. We have isolated records of new books being given to the library in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries- in wills, or written into surviving books, including gifts of service books in Mary’s reign. It’s highly likely that there were other catalogues between the mid-fifteenth century and the seventeenth, that just simply haven’t survived.When a new list was made, the old list was probably discarded as no longer up-to-date. The 1392 catalogue slipped out of sight and so survived, and a good thing that was! Yes, the major dispersal happened in the mid to late sixteenth century, but it was also a time of acquisitions as the cathedral community argued about the necessary books for priests in the Reformation. Smith’s list marks one moment in the ongoing story of Durham’s library as a living collection.

Posted by Matthew Hoskin on 13th October 2017

The Book Donation List of William of St Calais: Everything a Monk Needs?

On the front of the first folio of the Bible of William St Calais (Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.4), Symeon of Durham (identified by his writing; d. c. 1130) gives a list of books donated by William of St Calais (Bishop of Durham, 1080-1096):

Provided by Durham Priory Library Project – a collaboration between Durham University and Durham Cathedral

Bishop William donated 49 volumes listed here: a two-volume Bible; three volumes of St Augustine’s Commentary on the Psalms; St Augustine’s On the City of God; a volume of St Augustine’s letters; St Augustine’s commentary on the Gospel of John; St Jerome on the Twelve Minor Prophets; a volume of St Jerome’s letters; St Jerome on Hebrew words; St Gregory the Great’s Moralia in two volumes; St Gregory’s Liber Pastoralis; the Register of St Gregory’s letters; the 40 Gospel Homilies of St Gregory; Bede’s commentary on Mark and Luke; Hrabanus Maurus on the Gospel of Matthew; two books of sermons and homelies; ‘decrees of the pontiffs’ (this is the canon law collection Collectio Lanfranci; the Histories of Pompeius Trogus (almost certainly the epitome by Justin); Prosper On the Contemplative and Active Life; Origen on the Old Testament; Julius Pomerius (which should read Julianus Pomerius) On the Contemplative Life; Tertullian; Sidonius Apollinaris’ poems (‘Panigericus); two volumes of the Breviary; two volumes of antiphoner; one graduale; two books of readings for Matins; ‘Lives of the Fathers’; Life of the Egyptian Monks; Diadema Monachorum; the Enchiridion of St Augustine; St Gregory the Great on Ezekiel; Bede on the Song of Songs; DialogusParadisus; a Hystoria Anglorum, presumably that of Bede; St Ambrose of Milan On JosephOn Penitence, and On the Death of His Brother; ‘Books’ of the Confessions of St Augustine; three missals; and a martyrology and the rule (one volume).


A great many of these manuscripts still exist here at Durham, which is exciting. The Collectio Lanfranci has made its way to Cambridge as Peterhouse MS 74. My colleague Elizabeth is hunting down any others that may be traceable.


Almost half of these are patristic — unless you want to make Bede a church father, then over half. The remaining books are the Bible, liturgical books, books about the monastic and contemplative life, and Pompeius Trogus (or, rather, Justin’s epitome of Trogus); this last is useful for the reader of the Bible to gain historical context.


William of St Calais refounded the religious house associated with Durham Cathedral as a Benedictine priory in 1083. These books reflect the Benedictine world of prayer, Scripture reading, and ascetic/contemplative labour.


Thus, the patristic texts are mostly biblical commentaries or writings about the ascetic and contemplative lives — this latter category will include many of the letters of St Jerome. The other early mediaeval works, such as the Diadema Monachorum (presumably of Smaragdus, d. 840) or Hrabanus Maurus on Matthew, are of the same nature. There are also Late Antique or early medieval saints’ lives here, the Vitas Patrum, the Dialogus, the Paradysus, and the Vita Egiptiorum monachorum — the edifying stories of the early Egyptian and Italian monks.These together inform how monks read the Bible, pray the liturgy, pray silently in their cells, work in their gardens.


In fact, important for understanding the solitary community that is a monastery, we need to take note of Gregory the Great, Prosper, and Julianus Pomerius. All of these writers, like most late ancient Christian writers, hold the contemplative (or ‘mystical’) life in the highest regard, but they also believe in the active life of service and charity, navigating a way to hold them both in tension. This is precisely what someone living under Benedict’s Rule needs to grasp.


This balance is the soul of monasticism when taken alongside the liturgical life of the monastery — and for this William has also provided abundantly.


Everything a monk needs? Probably.

Posted by Elizabeth Biggs on 5th October 2017

Chasing Durham Books around the Country

It’s lovely to be back in Durham just as the new academic year starts and it’s a good moment to pause and think about what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve spent the summer wandering around the country looking for books that used to belong to priests connected to the cathedral or to the cathedral library and that then ended up elsewhere.


Archbishop Matthew Parker, appropriately seen here with a book. He put together a major library for the English Reformation at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Some of these ended up where I would expect them to be- the major collections of medieval manuscripts and books, such as the British Library’s Harley and Cotton collections, or Corpus Christi College, Cambridge’s Parker Collection. These were collections put together by people looking for old books, and for the history of the English Church. Durham had really good English history- the writings of Bede and the other Northern saints and a strong historical tradition, so of course these collectors snapped up books that came from Durham originally, including most famously the Lindisfarne Gospels.


Other locations of former Durham books are a bit more surprising- why are there a whole chunk of books in the Bristol Central Library or another whole chunk in York Minster Library? Well, here’s where I think it gets interesting. In 1583, a rising star of the Elizabethan Church, Tobie Matthew, became dean of Durham Cathedral. He was already a book collector, adding quite a lot to the library at Christ Church, Oxford, and was already building up his own collection of over 3000 books. Matthew stayed in Durham as dean and then as bishop until 1606, when he moved south to York as the archbishop. On his move from Durham to York, he took with him quite a few books that had originally belonged to Durham Cathedral Library, including a lovely printed copy of the Roman writer Quintilian, books of canon law, and a Psalter.


Matthew also seems to have explored the bishop’s home of Auckland Castle thoroughly. At York there are four books that were signed both by Bishop Tunstall and by Bishop Matthew. I wonder if some of Tunstall’s books had been left behind in the castle when he went south for the last time in the summer of 1558. He spent the last months of his life under house arrest in London, and his books seem to have been dispersed pretty rapidly. Some went into the Durham Cathedral collections, others have ended up all over the world (including a copy of More’s Utopia that I really want to see in the US), and Matthew ended up with at least these ones.


College Green in Bristol, right by the library, city hall and the cathedral

Those are just some of the books that are associated with Matthew in York Minster’s collections today. When he died in 1628, his widow Frances gave his books to the Minster Library. However, Matthew wasn’t originally from the north of England; he was born and raised in Bristol. He was concerned that Bristol should have the books it needed to teach its children, and so he sent a large selection of his books there. The library he helped to found in Bristol eventually became the Bristol City Library, right by the cathedral. I spent a couple of very happy days looking through the books that he gave to Bristol that he had acquired in Durham.


There are a huge number of Durham Priory books that have been dispersed over the years and I’m still trying to figure out why they were taken and how they ended up in their modern locations. By looking at the books that left, I’ll be able to better understand the books that are still safely on the shelves of the library here.

Posted by Matthew Hoskin on 28th September 2017

Introducing myself, the Barker Priory Library Research Fellow

Greetings, friendly readers and minds inquisitive about Durham Priory’s manuscripts and early printed books! My name is Matthew Hoskin, and I am a new postdoctoral research fellow here in Durham, the Barker Priory Library Research Fellow. I’ll be posting on this blog every once in a while alongside Elizabeth and the Digitisation Team.


I come to Durham after several years in Edinburgh where I did an M.Th. in Ecclesiastical History and a joint Ph.D. in Classics and Ecclesiastical History and spent time as a Teaching Fellow. The focus of my previous research was the manuscript tradition of Pope Leo the Great’s letters (pope, 440-61) and other early papal letters (particularly of Siricius, Innocent I, Zosimus, and Celestine I). Papal letters being one of the main sources and foundations of canon law, and our manuscripts for these Late Antique bishops of Rome being mediaeval, when I saw the quantity of canon law manuscripts associated with this project, I knew this was somewhere I wanted to be.


So I’ll be spending the next 11 months researching Durham Priory’s canon law manuscripts. These run from a copy of the Collectio Lanfranci brought here by the priory’s (re)founder, William of St-Calais (Bishop of Durham, 1080-96) to a printing of papal decretals from 1527. My own interests running earlier, I am starting my research with William of St-Calais’ canon law manuscript and its relationship with the copy that belonged to Archbishop of Canterbury Lanfranc of Bec (archbp 1070-89) — as well as the (not always rosy) relationship between these two men.


That means that Elizabeth and I bookend the life of the priory — I’ll cover the beginning, and she covers the end! It will be an exciting year. Keep an eye on this space!

Posted by Digitisation Team on 15th September 2017

An insight into digitisation: digitising a damaged book

De proprietatibus rerum (Durham Cathedral Library Inc.3)


The digitisation of medieval books and manuscripts is generally a pretty straight forward process; provided you have the right equipment and you take the time to do it carefully.  The Priory Library Recreated Project uses conservation copy stands, also known as ‘book cradles’ (there is a photo of one in action on the homepage).  We have a well-established workflow, and most books and manuscripts take around two weeks to digitise.


Photo of the book sadly with its cover detached
De proprietatibus rerum, sadly with its covers no longer attached

Now and again however, we have to tackle something that presents a bit more of a challenge and requires a little creativity.  Recently, we were asked to digitise one of Durham Cathedral Library’s incunables (early printed books) which, having been in use since it was printed in 1491, is unfortunately now damaged, with both of its 15th/16th century front and back boards having become completely detached.  De proprietatibus rerum (‘On the Properties of Things’) by Bartholomeus Anglicus is an encyclopedia first written in the early 13th century.  It contains 19 books covering a variety of topics such as religion, medicine, geography, astronomy and the natural sciences.  Our copy has been heavily annotated by Thomas Swalwell, a monk of Durham who lived from approximately 1483 until 1539.  Besides his notes on almost every page, he has also added a glossary index and an index of herbs to our volume.  This makes the book a particularly interesting copy of an already significant text.


When digitising books of this age, a solid binding is important because it protects and supports the delicate paper or parchment during the process.  Although De proprietatibus rerum is rather badly damaged, we felt it was important to digitise it, as it is still used quite frequently and having a digital copy will of course reduce the need to handle it.


Our book cradles allow a book to lay open to about 110 degrees, and the camera is positioned to capture one page at a time, so we digitise all of the rectos, then turn the book around and digitise all of the versos.


The first challenge was simply putting the book on the cradle.  We considered whether to try to place the volume with its boards in position (which may have caused the three separate parts to slip around), or to leave the boards off (which would have left the outer leaves of the text block with no protection).  In the end, we decided on a bit of both.  Leaving the board underneath the text block gave it some stability and protection, but the other board could not be placed in any useful way, so had to be set aside.  However, as predicted, this left the unprotected pages sort of floating around, with nothing to rest against.  We decided to make a false board in the shape of a wedge, to bridge the gap between the pages and the cradle, and to enable pages which had been digitised to be strapped down securely.  We used some old exhibition mounts (we like to recycle here!) to make a hinged wedge, which could be adjusted as the book opened further and changed position.

Photo of book on the cradle, supported by wedge
The front board, supported by the ‘wedge’ and foam
Photo of book strapped into position on the cradle
Strapped in, safe and secure











In all honesty, this did not go perfectly first time round.  The way that we had initially planned to use the hinged wedge didn’t work at all, and we had to try it round every which way until it fell into the perfect position, which ultimately happened though luck as much as judgement.  Still – it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you get there in the end!


We also added an extra layer of thin foam underneath the book to cushion it a bit more, and used foam blocks to support the spine and pages when necessary.  As we got further through the book (after about forty pages), we were able to turn the wedge around so that its thin end was towards the spine, matching the angle of the spine as the book opened more.  We continued to adjust the wedge until eventually, it was no longer needed at all.  We then did the whole thing more or less in reverse when we digitised the versos.


We would normally use the book cradle to photograph the covers, spine and edges of books and manuscripts as well, but in this case the book was too badly damaged to be properly supported during this process.  Fortunately we also have a Guardian International copy stand here (for digitising flat documents) and so, after experimenting with the best way to support the volume, we used that instead.  This set-up also enabled us to use raked lighting

Photo of detail from the leather binding
Detail from the 15th/16th century leather binding

(lit from one side only) on the binding, which is beautifully decorated with tooled leather.  By lighting the book from one side and adjusting the high dynamic range (highlight and shadow) of the image, we were able to make a lot more of the delicate tooled decoration visible.  Of course, these images are not colour accurate, but they show a level of detail that is hard to see on a normal photograph, or even with the naked eye.


There was no great complexity to what we did, but the simplest solutions are often the best (and cheapest).  Our two bits of board, some foam and a bit of tape enabled us to successfully digitise a fragile book, which can now be enjoyed anywhere in the world, while it remains safe and sound in the Cathedral Library.