Deep in the inner sanctum of Chichester Cathedral, on its north side and above the Treasury, is the Cathedral Library. Our knowledge of the Library is partial but a reasonable number of books can be traced back as far as the late 12th century. The Library also has some intriguing stained glass windows and unusually well-preserved stone corbels.
Among some of the jewels in the Library collection are the Kenilworth Missal dating from the 13th century and William Whittaker’s 1585 edition of the controversy between Bishop John Jewel of Salisbury and the Jesuit Thomas Harding, debating certain Roman Catholic doctrines. The development of the Library post-Restoration is closely associated with the Civil War poet Bishop Henry King (1592-1669), friend and legal executor of John Donne.
The Library houses a variety of books including Bibles and prayer books in addition to books on theology, church history, music, archaeology, architecture, local history and geography and a number of other subjects. It is also home to a wealth of interesting photographs and images, some of which have now been digitised as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) Project.
One of the most interesting aspects of this project covers the dramatic fall of the Cathedral spire in 1861. To view a gallery of images digitised as part of ‘The Collapse of the Cathedral Spire: An inspiring tale of a crumbling landmark and Victorian builders’ HLF project please click here.
Each year the library purchases a small number of new books on a diverse range of ecclesiastically-themed books to aid the further learning of the Cathedral Community, and these are available for loan. A list of the current titles is available here.
The Vinegar Bible
Visitors to the Cathedral Library this year will be given a unique opportunity to see a rare copy of the famed ‘Vinegar Bible’.
Printed by John Baskett in 1717, these versions of the King James Bible would have been very expensive and owned by royalty, and prominently displayed as a status symbol. But they were not intended to be read, which is why the Bibles were filled with typographical and typesetting errors, the most blatant being the chapter heading in Luke 20, verse 9, which reads ‘The Parable of the Vinegar’ instead of ‘The Parable of the Vineyard’ – hence the Bible’s nickname.
This edition of the ‘Vinegar Bible’ was brought to the Cathedral Library from Rye Parish Church in 1936 to ‘dry out’ and the Cathedral is very grateful to them for the loan of this fascinating and rare Bible.
A second Vinegar Bible, together with a Prayer Book, was donated to the Library by the Duke of Newcastle in 1753.
Visiting the Cathedral Library
Please note that on a day to day basis the library is a private place of work and is therefore closed to visitors, however it can be viewed by appointment.
Initially, the Library will be open from 10.00am – 12.00pm on Tuesday 5th October, Tuesday, 2nd November and Tuesday 7th December 2021. You can find the entrance to the Library within the Cathedral Treasury and Shop, located in the North Transept. Please note that access to the Library requires ascending a narrow spiral staircase.
There are also 'Behind the Scenes' open days held twice a year as part of the Festival of Chichester and Heritage Open Days, when members of the public are welcome to visit this historic area.
If you would like to find out more, or arrange a visit, please contact the Sub-Librarians at: email@example.com or on 01243 813587. Please note that email is the best way to get in touch, as the library is only staffed for a few hours each week.