Chained Libary
Chained Libary
Chained Libary
Chained Libary


The Chained Library


The Hereford Cathedral Chained Library is the largest surviving chained library in the world. In the early 17th century, when the bookcases you see today were made, libraries similar to it could be found in universities and cathedrals, but this is the only one still to be chained. It contains about 1,500 books, dating from around the year 800 to the early 19th century, including 227 medieval manuscript books. The books are still examined and read today by scholars who come from all over the world to study them.

Please note that the books shown here may not be on display at the time of your visit. The Cathedral Library and Archives contain thousands of historic books, music, documents and images, from which a regularly changing selection is displayed within the Hereford Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition.


The Medieval Library


The Chained Library dates from the early 17th century, but Hereford Cathedral has had an important library since at least the 12th century, when it was renowned as centre of learning. Today the Chained Library still includes over 80 books dating from the twelfth century and about half of these bear evidence of having been at Hereford since they were made. Some appear to have been made locally, although the Cathedral, being a secular foundation, did not have a community of monks associated with it, and so is unlikely to have had a scriptorium. Today very few books of this age are still to be found in the places for which they were originally made.

The medieval books include books of the Bible in which the biblical text is surrounded by a commentary or 'gloss' in smaller script, many works by early Christian writers, works of both canon (Church) and civil law, and works of contemporary theology. All but one (the Wycliffite Bible) are in Latin and almost all have coloured decoration, which varies from simple initials in plain red, blue and green, to fine miniature paintings and lavish illumination with gilded highlights.


The Hereford Gospels

This is the oldest complete book in Hereford Cathedral Library. It dates from around the year 800 AD and may be the earliest surviving book made in Wales. It contains the first four books of the New Testament: the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These narratives of the life, death and resurrection of Christ are regarded by Christians as their most precious and sacred writings.

From the evidence of the text, the style of writing, and the modest amount of decoration in a restrained palette, we think it was made in the West of England, quite possibly in Wales. It was at the Cathedral in the 11th century and is said to have been the gift of Bishop Athelstan (d. 1056). It was the only book to survive the sacking of the Cathedral in 1055 and this apparent miracle reinforced its value as a revered relic.

The text, in Latin, written by one scribe, is not the straightforward Vulgate version prevalent at the time, but owes much to Old Latin versions circulating in Ireland and Wales. As a whole it is closer to the Celtic tradition than to the Anglo-Saxon. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and John each begin with full-page highly-decorated initials, two of which incorporate stylised heads and feet of animals and a bird.

The book still has an important function in the Cathedral: bishops and deans of Hereford take their oaths on it at their enthronements and installations.

12th century Gospels with miniature painting by the Alexis master

This 12th century manuscript of the four Gospels contains an outstanding miniature painting of St Mark, depicting the evangelist winged and lion-headed, in the act of writing, with his work resting on a portable desk on his lap. He holds a pen, which would have been made from a quill-feather, in his right hand, and a knife, used both to hold the vellum writing surface flat and to scrape off any errors, in his left. At one side of the desk is his ink pot. There are several decorated initials elsewhere in the manuscript, but this is the only illustration.  

The book was made at the Benedictine abbey of St Albans and the miniature painting is by the so-called 'Alexis Master', who was responsible for the important and beautiful series of illustrations in the St Albans Psalter.

The Hereford Breviary (between 1262 and 1268)

A breviary contains all the hymns, readings, psalms and prayers for the daily office, from Matins through to Compline, throughout the year. It would probably have been used in the cathedral by the person leading the services, which would have taken place in the Choir. This breviary is important because it is the earliest surviving source for the services as they were performed at Hereford in the medieval period (the Hereford 'Use') and the only one to include music. We know that the book was made for Hereford Cathedral because the Calendar within it includes the obits (anniversaries of deaths) of various cathedral dignitaries. We can tell that it dates from between 1262 and 1268 from the obits that were included when it was produced and ones added later.

Gratian's Decreum (late 13th century)

This is the most lavishly decorated medieval manuscript in Hereford Cathedral Library.  It is a late 13th century standard compilation of ecclesiastical law, based on the official pronouncements of the popes, which was originally brought together in the 12th century by the Bolognese lawyer Gratian, with the gloss (commentary) of Bartholomaeus of Brescia. The writing, all in the same hand, is late 13th century, and the illumination early 14th century. Each chapter opens with a fine miniature painting illustrating its subject.

The book is thought to have been made at Exeter, and the decoration to have been commissioned by John Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter from 1327 to 1369. It was given to Hereford Cathedral by Canon Owen Lloyd in around 1478. A very large illuminated manuscript such as this could have taken two years to produce and might have cost the equivalent of £100,000 in today's money.

Sermons of St. Gregory the Great and St. Bede (12th century)

This manuscript book contains sermons by two very important early Christian writers, both of whom were recognised as saints by the Church. Gregory was Pope from 590 to 604 and was responsible for sending Augustine to convert the English. Bede, who died in 735, was a monk at the Northumbrian monasteries at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth, and author of An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, one of the most important sources for Anglo-Saxon history. Each sermon begins with a large decorated initial, some historiated (telling a story), some incorporating dragons, foliage, human heads and other fanciful designs.

The book is still in its original binding and is known to have been at the Cathedral since its manufacture in the middle of the 12th century. The Chained Library has three other books written by the same scribe. Sadly there is no record of who the scribe and illuminator were or where exactly it was made.


The Making of the Chained Library


In 1583 a Commission appointed by Queen Elizabeth I reported that the library was neglected and in a state of disrepair. New Statutes required that one of the residentiary canons was appointed Master of the Library and that the books should be chained for their security. In 1590 the library was moved into the Lady Chapel, which had become disused after the Reformation. In 1611 the Master of the Library, Thomas Thornton, ordered the construction in the Lady Chapel of the Chained Library that you see today. It was modelled on the pattern of libraries recently installed at Oxford University, with the books standing upright on shelves with integrated reading desks. The woodwork was made locally, but the metal fittings had to be ordered from Oxford. At the same time a donors' book was started, which is now an important record of early gifts made to the Library.

The Chained Library continued to be added to until 1841, when it was dismantled to enable restoration work to be carried out on the Lady Chapel.


Bartholomaeus Anglicus, On the Properties of Things (ca. 1496)

An English translation by John Trevisa of an encyclopaedic Latin work, De proprietatibus rerum, written by a 13th century English Franciscan friar. Bartholomaeus taught in Paris, before moving to Magdeburg, in Saxonia, where he compiled this book. It brings together information on everything mentioned in the Bible, including God, angels, the soul, physiology, medicine, the universe, time, the elements, geography, mineralogy and zoology. This edition was printed at Westminster by Wynkyn de Worde, successor to William Caxton, and is illustrated with numerous woodcuts.

The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Printed in Nuremberg, Germany, by Anton Koburger, within forty years of the invention of letterpress printing, the Nuremberg Chronicle is one of the largest and most lavishly illustrated of early printed books. It tells the history of the world, from its creation right up until 1493, the year in which it was printed. The text was compiled by a German doctor, Hartman Schedel, and some copies were printed (like this one) in Latin, and some in German. It includes more than 1,800 woodcut illustrations, made by two of the leading artists of the time, Michael Wolgemut and his step-son Wilhelm Plydenwurff. This copy was given to the cathedral in 1617 by Thomas Thornton. 

Caxton's Golden Legend (1483 or 4)

William Caxton was England's first printer. He learnt his trade in Europe and published his first book at Westminster in 1476. This is one of his most beautiful and lavishly illustrated books, a translation into English, probably by Caxton himself, of a book compiled in the 13th century by an Italian, Jacobus de Voragine. It tells some of the key stories from the Bible and the lives of the saints and was a popular book in the later Middle Ages. In this copy the leaves containing the story of St Thomas Becket have been torn out, according to the proclamation of King Henry VIII at the time of the Reformation.

Book of fables (ca. 1481)

This very early printed book contains a collection of short moral stories or cautionary tales featuring birds and beasts, real and mythological, based on the fables of the ancient Greek Aesop. It is illustrated with simple and charming woodcuts. It belonged to the library of the College of Vicars Choral (the men who performed the services in the Cathedral on a daily basis) and over the centuries many choirboys have scribbled in it.

The Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible (1611)

This is probably the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world. At the heart of its purpose was the desire that every educated person should be able to understand the meaning of the words of the Bible, without having to have them translated or explained by a priest. Translated with great diligence, with reference to the earliest sources then available, by a team of leading scholars, the result was one of the most beautiful works in the English language, from which many phrases still commonly in use have were taken. 

The Chained Library copy is of the very first printing, known as the 'He' Bible, because in Ruth 3:15 it reads 'he went into the city' when it should read 'she'. The preface to the Authorised Version was written by Miles Smith, one of the principal translators, who was respected both as a classical scholar and a student of oriental languages and who was a canon of Hereford Cathedral for 44 years. In 1612 he was made Bishop of Gloucester, no doubt as a reward for his work of translation. He bequeathed some of his books in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic to the Cathedral and they are in the Chained Library today.


Modern Times


in 1841 the chained library was dismantled. The chains were removed from the books and the desks and seating taken away and put to use elsewhere in the cathedral. Then in 1854 the Revd Francis Tebbs Havergal was appointed deputy librarian and under his care the books and shelves were taken out of storage and placed in the muniment room over the North Choir Aisle, but in the wrong order. In 1897 a new two-storey extension to the cloister was opened to accommodate the expanding library. Named after the Dean, James Wentworth Leigh, the no-longer chained library was installed on its upper level. Around 1930 the Chained Library was restored to the way in which it had been arranged in the Lady Chapel by Canon Burnett Hillman Streeter, who patiently identified all the parts of desks, seating and metalwork which had been scattered around the cathedral. Luckily nothing had been thrown away. The chains were reattached to the books, which were placed in the order of the earliest surviving catalogues, dating from the 18th century. Now the Chained Library was restored, but split between two locations: the muniment room and the Dean Leigh library. During the greater part of the 20th century the Cathedral Library and Archives were cared for by honorary librarians F.C and Penelope Morgan, father and daughter, who carried out gargantuan tasks of cataloguing and listing for which we remain grateful to this day.

The New Library Building, funded largely by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and John Paul Getty Jr was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 May 1996. It enables visitors to see the whole Chained Library in one place again, laid out as it was in the Lady Chapel, together with the Hereford Mappa Mundi and a changing selection of other treasures. The historic collections are maintained in climate-controlled conditions and a reading room on the second floor includes collections of modern books for loan and reference. Today the Cathedral Library and Archives conserve and make available the books and records needed to support the work of the Cathedral community in a continuum which can be traced back for over 900 years.



The historic collections include a great deal of music, both manuscript and printed, in well-worn volumes dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, which were used by the vicars choral in the day-to-day performance of the services. As well as service music, there are collections of popular vocal music, which bear witness to the more worldly and convivial tastes of the vicars choral, who had a musical club at which glees and other light music were performed with accompaniments of ale, cider and tobacco. The most famous 18th century vicar choral was William Felton, who composed three series of concertos for organ or harpsichord, which were published in London in the 1740s and became very popular. The theme of the slow movement of his Concerto in A major, op. 1 no. 3, became known as 'Felton's Gavotte' and, sung to the words 'Farewell Manchester', was the chart topper of its day.

The Herefordshire Pomona (1878-84)

The Herefordshire Pomona was the first authoritative account of the different varieties of apples and pears grown in Herefordshire since the Pomona Herefordiensis of Thomas Andrew Knight, published in 1811. In 1876 members of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club became concerned that so few varieties of Herefordshire fruits were available in markets. Henry Graves Bull, a local doctor, together with Robert Hogg, an expert in apple-lore, produced a descriptive catalogue of all the different types, which was illustrated with full-sized chromolithographs of over four hundred specimens, after paintings by Dr Bull’s daughter, Edith, and Alice B. Ellis. The work was issued by subscription in seven parts between 1878 and 1884. Cider and perry have been produced in Herefordshire since at least Norman times. The soil and climate are ideal for growing apples and pears.


Did You Know?

The oldest volume is the Hereford Gospels, dating from around the year 800, although the history of the library really begins in 1100. The Cathedral acquired a large number of books in the twelfth-century.

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