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The Cathedral, in partnership with Durham University, is working to digitise the unique Priory Library.

About the Library

The medieval library of Durham’s Benedictine priory is by far the best preserved of any in Britain or Ireland. Considerably more items survive here than from any other pre-Reformation monastic collection

The collection is made up of manuscripts and books dating from the 6th to the 16th centuries. As well as texts written in England and Ireland, there are works produced in France, Germany and Italy. The Priory Library includes masterpieces of calligraphy and illumination, spanning a millennium of European culture.

There is also an extensive series of library catalogues extending from the 11th - 15th centuries.

Why recreate a medieval monastic library?

The historical impact of the Priory Library collection has been hampered by the dispersed and fragile nature of the materials. This has limited comprehensive examination and broader awareness.

By preserving and opening up this collection to the world, we hope that valuable new insights into the historical and textual traditions of the period will be made.

Digitising a delicate resource

The Cathedral, in partnership with Durham University, is digitising the Priory Library by:

  • creating a state-of-the-art online resource
  • collating digital images of around 480 manuscripts and early printed books

A globally important collection

Every page sheds light on historical and textual traditions, calligraphic practices and patterns of use over the centuries. Highlights include:

  • a uniquely high number of surviving items
  • a broad chronological and geographical spread
  • outstanding documentation regarding how the collection has grown
  • being a Library across the lifetime of the Priory

The collection as a whole is very much more than the sum of its parts.

Project’s principle aims

  • re-unite the whole collection online, providing scholars with a unique opportunity to explore the concept of the medieval library and the life of a Benedictine priory
  • enable scholars to unlock significant research potential that could lead to notable publications, conferences and exhibitions
  • benefit the manuscripts and books themselves through expert conservation and reduced handling, so preserving them for future generations
  • provide digital material to support education and outreach work at partner institutions
  • contribute to the cultural heritage and economy of the North East
  • raise the profile of Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site

Take a look online

Digitised texts are continually being added online.

Take a look at the Durham Priory Library website

How you can help

Durham University and its Library Development Board are leading on the fundraising for this project. If you are interested in supporting this initiative, please contact Geoff Watson on 0191 334 6474 or by email.

email Geoff Watson