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New Lambeth Palace Library key to preserving Anglican history

The Mac Durnan Gospels, late ninth century, showing the opening of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Photo courtesy of Lambeth Palace Library

LONDON (RNS) — Work has begun on a new library to house the biggest collection of religious works in the world, outside the Vatican.

The library tower, due to open in two years, is the first edifice in 100 years to be built on the grounds of Lambeth Palace, home of the archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England and the global Anglican Communion. It will house major collections connected to the history of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, the archives of the archbishops of Canterbury, records of Anglican clergy, genealogical sources, documents about the coronations of English monarchs and considerable numbers of manuscripts relating to Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots. The new building will also house the archives of the Church of England, known as the National Church Archives.

The nine-story structure, expected to cost 23 million pounds ($30 million), will also accommodate 120,000 books and 40,000 pamphlets that make up the existing Lambeth Palace Library collection, currently scattered across the palace. As some of the collection has started to deteriorate, the new building will be advanced in archiving and climate control and will be environmentally sustainable. Architects Wright & Wright have created an airtight, temperature-controlled “box within a box” to keep artifacts in the correct temperature and humidity conditions.

Although anyone can access the collection for free, the library is mainly used by more than 2,000 scholars, historians and ecclesiastical students every year from across the world. The new building will have extra space for the library to expand, as well as reading room facilities, conservation studios and staff workplaces and display space.

The Church Commissioners — the body that manages the Church of England’s property assets — have announced they will pay for the new building project, signaling how important the building will be in preserving the history of Anglicanism.

The collection includes the execution warrant for Mary Queen of Scots by Elizabeth I in 1587 and illuminated gospels from the ninth century. Many manuscripts and documents that were held until the dissolution of the monasteries during the English Reformation are in the library.

The library has been on the same site as Lambeth Palace since it was founded in 1610, but the proximity of the site to the River Thames makes it at risk of flooding, which is why the architects designed a tower rather than a basement library.

“As well as historians who use the library, archbishops of Canterbury over the years have used documents from it, so we wanted to stay nearby for them,” said Declan Kelly, director of libraries.

Kelly said the library has also been useful in enhancing the visits of dignitaries to Lambeth. During a 2010 visit, for example, then-Pope Benedict XVI was shown documents belonging to Cardinal Pole, the last Catholic archbishop of Canterbury. African archbishops have frequently been shown materials that document the story of missionary work throughout modern-day Africa. American visitors, he said, were fascinated by an early Native American Bible written in the Iroquois language.

Among Kelly’s favorite historical documents in the library is a copy of “Invicta Veritas,” written by Thomas Abel, chaplain to Catherine of Aragon, about the indissolubility of marriage, with annotations in its margins by Henry VIII denouncing the argument. There are also letters between Albert Duke of York, later George VI, and the archbishop of Canterbury about the duke’s marriage to the future Queen Elizabeth, as well as many documents about the Anglican Communion’s relations with the Vatican.

According to professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, who teaches church history at the University of Oxford, Lambeth Palace Library is a vital resource for historical research, but until now “it had a rather random infrastructure forced on the staff by circumstance.” The new library will be “much more appropriate to the needs of the librarians and archivists,” he said. MacCulloch has regularly used the library for his own research, including for his volume “Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700.”

“For me, the star of the collections remains Archbishop (Thomas) Cranmer’s Register, a formidable volume that has never been put into print, but is the central document for studying the Tudor Reformation,” said MacCulloch.

While the bulk of Lambeth’s precious artifacts are paper documents, one star item is not: the shell of a tortoise that belonged first to Archbishop William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 until 1645, when he was beheaded during the English Civil War. The tortoise lived until 1753, when it was killed after being struck by a gardener’s spade.

“Lambeth Palace Library has always been a public library,” said Kelly. “We remain very committed to this with our new building.”

(Catherine Pepinster writes for Religion News Service.)

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  • Lambeth is most famous for the Lambeth Conference, the one in which protestants gave support to contraception.

    And things unraveled on the respect life (and even now civility) front from that point.

    Much to stir our sorrow and to give penance for.

  • Lambeth is most famous as the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, Archbishop of the Province of Canterbury in the Church of England and Primate of All England, as well as primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion.

  • I can’t see that contraception causes an unravelling of morality, especially in an increasingly overcrowded world.

  • Contraception drives (slowly) a wedge or distance between:

    sex and marriage
    marriage and children
    sex and children
    sex and love (true love, i.e., sacrifice)
    love and responsibility
    unitive and procreative purposes of marital intimacy

    These divisions corrode the moral fiber of society.

    It thus breeds and supports selfishness, self focus: my happiness, my climax, my freedom of action, my wants, my desires….

    Marriage was designed to be an ever perfecting unity, totality of union across all of the couple’s faculties: will, intellect, heart, body, emotions, spirit.

    An always and ever perfecting unity, until one spouse wears out [from loving] and dies in the worn out [from loving] hands of their spouse and his or her Father God.

    Kenosis: self emptying, in the image of Jesus on the Cross.

  • In the world prior to the development of modern medicine, birth and death rates were largely in balance, and populations grew slowly, if at all. However, as knowledge increased, the human condition improved, the birth rate began to exceed the death rate and a population explosion resulted.

    Humankind now faces a stark choice: have fewer children or overrun the carrying capacity of the earth and bequeath a population crash to our children and grandchildren.

    Fortunately, most people see the sense of limiting their desire for children to the number that they can afford to care for. True love does involve sacrifice: this is one of those sacrifices.

  • I don’t believe in drama and that we’re facing a “stark” problem.

    Problems are best solved through more love.

    The problem isn’t the number of babies or people.

    It’s a lack of love and virtues in adults, having sex.

    It’s a lack of responsibility, lack of temperance, lack of prudence, stinginess, a desire to have our cake and eat it too.

  • I agree that the world needs more love, but despite the Beatles, love is not all we need.

    * It’s love and care that prompted the world to care for the fate of the Thai boys in the cave, but they still need to be rescued.

    * Every baby needs love and care to survive, but they still need milk!

    * You said, “It’s a lack of responsibility, lack of temperance, lack of prudence, stinginess, a desire to have our cake and eat it too.” Yes, I agree, but it is a lack of prudence to ignore the warning of scientists about global warming and other problems.

    We need love, but we also need common sense.

  • You and the Beatles have a shallow understanding of what real love is.

    Love is the Cross, deeds, dying for others, if not physically then dying to our own whims and wants and preferences.

    Love is hard work.

    Real love ALWAYS means a meeting with the Cross, the more willing the meeting, the happier we are upon giving ourselves to the good of another.

    That’s at least the Catholic definition of love. It’s why our Cross has a Corpus.

  • Thomas, I have treated you and your ideas with respect. I am disappointed that you have not returned the courtesy.

    You talk about the Catholic definition of love. Try putting it into practice.