DURHAM PRIORY library recreated: Recreating a Medieval Monastic Library for the 21st Century

Durham possesses the finest collection of medieval manuscripts of any English cathedral. Durham University, in partnership with Durham Cathedral, is embarking on an ambitious project to digitise the original Priory Library of Durham Cathedral. This initiative is aimed at making the best-preserved, best-catalogued Benedictine library in the UK and Ireland available globally for research, learning and teaching.

The historical impact of the Priory Library collection has hitherto been hampered by the dispersed and fragile nature of the materials, which has limited comprehensive examination and broader awareness. The University and Cathedral hope to rectify this situation by creating a state-of-the-art online resource that will collate digital images of around 480 manuscripts and early printed books, thereby preserving and opening up a collection that will provide valuable new insights into the historical and textual traditions of the period.

The project’s principle aims are to:

- 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, and enabling them 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, and raise the profile of Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Durham University and its Library Development Board are leading on the funding raising for this project. If you are interested in supporting this  initiative, or would like to find out more, please contact Geoff Watson (++44 191 334 6474, geoff.watson@durham.ac.uk)


The medieval and Renaissance library of Durham’s Benedictine priory is by far the best preserved of any in Britain or Ireland. Not only do considerably more items survive than from any other pre-Reformation collection, but they are supported by an extensive series of library catalogues that extends from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. With manuscript books that range in date from the sixth  century to the sixteenth, and that were written in France, Germany and Italy as well as in England and Ireland, the Durham Cathedral Priory Library includes masterpieces of calligraphy and illumination, spanning a millennium of European culture.

Every page sheds light on historical and textual traditions, calligraphic practices and patterns of use over the centuries. Simultaneously, the collocation of the uniquely high number of surviving items, their broad chronological and geographical spread, and the outstanding documentation for the growth and use of the Library across the lifetime of the Priory makes the collection as a whole very much more than the sum of its parts. 

Watch this video to learn more about Durham Priory Library Recreated, an exciting collaboration between Durham Cathedral and Durham University.