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Exeter Cathedral Library

Address. Old Bishop's Palace, Diocesan House, Palace Gate, Exeter EX1 1HX [Map]
Telephone. (01392) 27 28 94
Internet. http://www.ex.ac.uk/PWThomas/lib/cathedral.htm

Governing body or responsible institution. The library is owned by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral. The Librarian, Exeter University, is responsible for the administration and staffing of the Cathedral Library.
Functions. Cathedral library, research library.
Subjects. Theology and related subjects; medicine, science, linguistics and general humanities (largely early printed material).

Access. Open to all researchers; prior arrangement with the Assistant Librarian in charge desirable. Reading room available. - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 2 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopying, photography, use of computer catalogue (including records for Exeter University Library and others) by arrangement.
Travel directions. The library is close to Exeter Cathedral. Minibus services at short and regular intervals from Exeter St. David's railway station to city centre.


1.1 The library was established by a bequest of Bishop Leofric in the 11th century, and, despite setbacks, has gradually increased to the present size. It possesses a number of manuscripts, some illuminated, the oldest of which is the famous ``Exeter book of Old English Poetry' (c. 970). At the beginning of the 17th century, the Dean and Chapter presented 81 of their manuscripts to Thomas Bodley, the founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which meant a severe loss. Furthermore, the library severely suffered from damage during the Civil War, although a certain number of books were transferred to St. John's Hospital on the initiative of an Exeter physician, Dr Robert Vilvaine. However, in 1752 only some 20 of the books mentioned in the 1506 inventory were still in the library.

1.2 During the 17th century the collection steadily grew by donations and benefactions. The collection in the Lady Chapel, where the library was now housed, in 1752 contained some 5,000 vols a representative, well-balanced library. It comprised editions of the Fathers and schoolmen, humanists such as Erasmus and Casaubon, Reformation literature, treatises on history, philosophy and science, as well as a collection of literary works, e.g. of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante and Petrarch. Among the 17th and 18th-century donors were several churchmen such as Canon Robert Hall (1605-1667), Canon Edward Cotton (d. 1675, who bequeathed c. 1,200 vols) or Prebendary Humphrey Smith (1655?-1709), from whom the library acquired c. 530 books in 1709. Among the benefactors, however, there were also a number of citizens who had given books or a sum of money during this period. In 1761, according to Dean Charles Lyttelton (later Bishop of Carlisle), the library possessed c. 6,000 vols.

1.3 In 1820 the library was moved from the Lady Chapel into the Chapter House where it stayed until two important benefactions made a further move necessary. In 1881 Chancellor Edward Charles Harington (1804-1881) left his library to the Cathedral which was rich in theology, philosophy and history, mostly splendidly bound; and in 1885 Canon Frederick Charles Cook (1804-1889) offered his own collection of c. 2,000 items which contained a number of books previously not present in the library such as orientalia and works on linguistics.

1.4 During the 20th century the library grew steadily. In 1965, the medical and scientific section was greatly augmented by a valuable accession of c. 1,500 vols deposited on permanent loan by the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital authorities. This fine collection (part of the Exeter Medical Library, founded in 1814) was added to the Cathedral's own collection, the majority of which are medical works from the Exeter physician and bibliophile Dr Thomas Glass (1709-1786). The library thus owns a fine collection of early medicine and science from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Exeter Cathedral Library is now housed in the Bishop's Palace close to the Cathedral, the capitular archives and some books are concentrated in the cloister library. The responsibility for these collections has now been transferred to the University of Exeter.


2.1 The library consists of c. 25,000 books and pamphlets and c. 60 MSS, among which are the famous Exeter book (tenth century) and the Exon Domesday (1086). The collection comprises books ranging from the 15th to the 20th centuries on theology, history and also on natural science and medicine. A great part of the pre-1701 imprints are in Latin and so are almost all German imprints of this period. The total number of German imprints cannot be stated with any accuracy, but may be in the region of 3,000 vols.

2.2 The library owns 18 incunabula, among which are 7 German imprints, e.g. Schedel's Weltchronik (Nuremberg 1493, incomplete) and Rainerius de Pisis, Pantheologia (Nuremberg 1477, incomplete). Of Cicero's De officiis (Mainz 1465 or 1466) a single parchment page has been preserved.

2.3 The holdings on theology, especially Reformation literature, are rather strong. There are several German Bibles (Amsterdam 1673; Bielefeld 1860, included within Theologisch-homiletisches Bibelwerk, ed. by J. P. Lange, Bielefeld 1860 ff., and selections Barmen 1860), works on biblical studies (J. C. Schöttgen, Horae Hebraicae, Dresden 1733-1742), patristic literature (Augustinus, Opera, Basel 1506 and 1541-1543) or systematic theology (Bartholomaeus Keckermann, Systemae theologiae, Hanover 1610). Luther is represented by the edition of his works (Jena 1556-1558, 2 copies), his Commentarie upon the fiftene Psalmes, called Psalmi graduum, translated into English (London 1577), and his Lucubrationes (Basel 1520). There is also a good deal of Reformation controversy, such as a work by Jodocus Coccius, several items by Johann Cochlaeus or Caspar Calvoer's Ritualia ecclesiastici (Jena 1705).

2.4 There are many examples of humanistic literature, e.g. 5 16th-century editions of Melanchthon (Opera omnia, Wittenberg 1562-1577; Locorum communium collectanea, Basel [1562] or Consilia sive iudicia theologica, Neustadt 1600). Joachim Camerarius's De vita Melanchthonis narratio (Halle 1777) should also be mentioned here. Of Erasmus there are 5 early editions plus numerous (biblical) works edited by him, e.g. Opera (Basel 1540), Epistolarum opus (Basel 1538), Morae encomium (Basel 1515) or the Paraphrase of the New Testament (Basel 1541).

2.5 The library owns a fine collection of well over 2,000 early medical and scientific books (of which exists a separate computer catalogue printout), which contains at least 70 items of German origin of printing, almost all in Latin. There is at least one item in German, a work on alchemy entitled Fons fontium arcani naturae aperti. Das ist: Geoffenbarte Schatzkammer ...darinnen der wahre Stein der Weisen ...beschrieben ...durch C.I.W.E.M.A.Z.T.B.S.P.W.D. This was published in 1628, with no place of publication on the title page, and the library's copy is bound with a work of Roger Bacon (Frankfurt a. M. 1603). Among the authors of the collection are Roger Bacon, Johann Joachim Becher, Jean Beguin, Lorenzo Bellini, Herman Boerhaave, Johannes Bohn, Pierre Borel, Iman Jakob van den Bosch, Jean Baptiste Bruyerin, Julius Casserius, Andreas Cassius, Petrus á Castro, Rodericus á Castro, Galen (more than 10 editions, many from Basel), Conrad Gesner, Albrecht von Haller (c. 25 editions, a number of which are works edited by him), Hippocrates, Friedrich Hoffmann, Jakob Horst, Paracelsus and Michael Psellus. Most of the editions are from the 16th and 17th centuries; places of printing are Basel, Bern, Frankfurt a. M., Geneva, Göttingen, Halle, Hamburg, Lausanne, Leipzig, Mainz, Nuremberg, Wittenberg, and Zürich. The holdings of medical and scientific books also include many 19th-century (and even some 20th-century) books.

2.6 The medical collection comprises early editions such as Giovannia Manardi, Epistolarum medicinalium libri (Basel 1539), bound with his Annotationes (Basel 1529) or Constantinus Africanus, De Morborum Cognitione et Curatione (Basel 1536), Galen's De sanitate tuenda (Basel 1538), De temperamentis libri 3 (Basel 1538) and De tuenda valetudine (Basel 1549). 17th-century editions include a number of Frankfurt imprints, among which are several non-German authors such as Pierre Borel (Historiarium & observationum medicophysicarum, centuriae, Frankfurt 1720) or Roger Bacon (Frankfurt 1720). Frankfurt, as well as Nuremberg, and in some cases Hamburg, were in high esteem as places of scientific printing during this period. 18th-century imprints are represented by a number of medical dissertations (e.g. from Göttingen) and works by German authors, e.g. Friedrich Hoffmann's Observationum physico-chymicarum (Halle 1736). The collection also comprises well-known works of natural history, e.g. Conrad Gesner's Historiae animalium (Zürich 1551-1558) or Johann Joachim Becher, Physica subterranea (Leipzig 1738).


3.1 Modern catalogues

Online catalogue

[Linked with Exeter University Library Catalogue. Items can be searched chronologically or by countries by arrangement with the Systems Librarian at the University of Exeter Library, yet not reliably for the total collection which is being recatalogued gradually.]

Card catalogue, microfiche catalogue


Catalogue of medical and scientific books before 1901

[Computer printout extant, can be searched chronologically and by countries of publication. A printed short-title catalogue is in preparation.]

The incunables are recorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

The pre-1701 books in the library are included in: The Cathedral Libraries Catalogue. Books printed before 1701 in the libraries of the Anglican Cathedrals of England and Wales. Ed. and completed by Karen I. James and David J. Shaw. 2 vols. London 1984-98 (vol. 2: books printed outside the British Isles)

3.2 Historic catalogues

There are several inventories of the library's holdings since the Middle Ages. The most important are:

List of books, 1683

[systematic list with shelf-marks]

Catalogue of books, 1752

[written by order of Dean Lyttelton, accompanied by an annotated copy of the Bodleian Library catalogue of 1674 making cross references to Exeter Cathedral Library]

Catalogue of the Harington Library


Crighton, Marjorie P.: A catalogue of the medical books and manuscripts ...in Exeter Cathedral Library. Exeter 1934


Lloyd, L. J.; Erskine, A. M. [née Woodcock, A. M.]: The library of Exeter Cathedral. Exeter 1956; repr. 1967, and 1985

[includes a brief history of the library, to which the present description is indebted]

Schenk, W.: An English cathedral library in the 17th century. In: Church Quarterly Review, April-June (1949) pp. 72-81

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, P. 58

December 1997

Karen Kloth

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.