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York Minster Library

Address. Dean's Park, York YO1 7JQ
Telephone. (01904) 62 53 08
Fax. (01904) 61 11 19

Governing body or responsible institution. Dean and Chapter of York
Function. Research library.
Subjects. Theology, English history (especially ecclesiastical), ecclesiastical art and architecture, music, Yorkshire local history, Yorkshire parish libraries, early printed books.

Access. Open to all researchers; letter of introduction required. - Opening hours: Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Closed on Fridays. Annual closures at Christmas and Easter.
Special facilities. Photocopier; microform reader- printer; microfilming and other photography by arrangement; ultra-violet lamp, illuminated magnifiers.
Travel directions. Railway from King's Cross, London to York (2 hrs), 5 minutes walk from railway station to the Minster. - M1, A1, A64. No parking. (Car parks outside the city walls.)


1.1 Alcuin of York recorded the richness of the library established c. 750 AD at York Minster, after he had left York to work for Charlemagne at Aachen and at Tours at the end of the 8th century. This library was destroyed in 866 by the Danes, and it was not until 1414 that evidence for a library recurs with a bequest of 40 vols from the Treasurer, John Newton. These were housed in a library built specially to receive them, between 1418 and 1421, on the south transept of the Minster. With the arrival of archbishop Tobie Matthew's (1546-1628) collection of some 3,000 vols, given to the library in 1628 by his wife, Frances, the presence of a large, broad-based, scholarly library was once again established at the Minster.

1.2 Over the centuries, many important collections containing rare and early printed books and music enhanced the subject coverage of the library. Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax (1584-1648), commander of the parliamentarian forces in the Civil War, gave several hundred volumes, including a collection of medical books. James Fall (?1647-1711), who travelled in France and Italy from 1680 to 1683 as tutor to the sons of Lord Queensberry, bequeathed ``The Dean and Chapter of York all my French and Italian books to be ...deposited in theire publick library and remaine there for ever.' Editions of Latin and Greek authors came to the library in the 1730s as part of the large and important collection of Marmaduke Fothergill's (d. 1731) theological and historical books.

1.3 The 1800s attracted further gifts of historical and liturgical works, many from the library of canon T. F. Simmons (d. 1884), and purchases were made of collections of French and Italian medieval chronicles, Latin and Greek classics, church history and the Church Fathers. Subscriptions were also made to publications of antiquarian interest. Such was the expansion of the library that in 1810 it had to be rehoused in the elegant chapel built c. 1230 for archbishop Roger's palace, where it is still to be located. In 1890 it received the Edward Hailstone (d. 1890) Yorkshire collection of some 10,000 items, which itself contains an unrivalled collection of Yorkshire Civil War tracts. The continuing growth of the library in the 20th century by purchases, donations, bequests and Yorkshire parish library deposits, today makes it the largest and most active cathedral library in the United Kingdom, with a considerable number of its modern books and periodicals available for loan. The library is owned and maintained by the Dean and Chapter of York, and the University of York contributes to its staffing.


Chronological outline and analysis by language

2.1 The printed collections contain approximately 130,000 vols. Of these, about 20,000 were printed before 1801. Continental imprints occur in 114 of the library's 117 incunabula, in about 4,500 vols printed from 1501 to 1700, and in nearly 1,000 vols from 1701 to 1800.

2.2 No accurate breakdown by language is available at present, but for items which are recorded in the sheaf catalogues for printing, Austria is represented by 4 imprints, Germany by 435, and Switzerland by 207. These titles are mainly Latin and represent over 2.5 per cent of the library's pre-1801 imprints. This percentage could increase significantly once the University of York's retrospective conversion of the Minster Library's sheaf catalogues its completed, and all continental imprints have been tered into the computerised database. This is scheduled for 2000, when systematic access should be available for records of pre-1801 books published in German-speaking countries and for books published in German of all periods. The holdings of imprints from German-speaking countries, including those of special interest, are as follows.

Subject outline

2.3 Incunabula. Almost half of the continental imprints are German or Swiss, with Cologne (15), Strasbourg (15), Basel (9) and Nuremberg (8) as the main places of printing. No German-language incunabula are held. The earliest German imprint is Henricus de Hassia, Expositio super Ave Maria (Cologne, about 1471). Examples of items rare in United Kingdom libraries are: Privilegia et indulgentiae Fratrum Mendicantum (Leipzig 1498), Guido de Monte Rochen, Manipulus curatorum (Strasbourg 1487), and Johannes Koelner de Vanckel, Usus feodorum (Cologne 1486). Individual titles are outlined in the standard bibliographical reference works for incunabula.

2.4 Reformation and Counter Reformation. There is reasonably good early book coverage in this area. The works of Erasmus are represented from 1522 to 1557 with 9 Froben imprints from Basel. Calvin, Knox and Zwingli are all represented by early continental imprints. The Dean and Chapter catalogue of 1896 lists 7 titles of the 16th century under Martin Luther, 5 of which are in Latin, and 2 in English. Of these, German imprints include the Melanchthon edition of the Opera omnia (7 vols, Wittenberg 1550-1554) from the collection of Ferdinando Lord Fairfax, the Praelectio in Psalmum CXXVII (Wittenberg 1534), and 2 Basel imprints of 1561, Quaestionum Sacrarum ... centuriae IIII, and Allegoriarum, typorum, et exemplorum V. & N. Test. Libri II. Many German imprints entered the library from archbishop Tobie Matthew's collection, and the library holds a number of Frankfurt Book Fair catalogues (27 issues from 1596-1623) in which some of Tobie's purchases can be identified from manuscript annotations. An example of a Frankfurt imprint among Tobie's books is Andreas Osiander, the younger, Papa non papa ...inter evangelica religionis, & Romanae fidei homines controuersis, Lutherana confessio of 1600. Among his special books is one of only a few so far recorded Hagenau imprints in the library: Smaragdus, abbot of Verdun, Summaria in Evangelia et Epistola (Hagenau? 1536). This had the earlier distinction of being found among King Henry VIII's books in the Jewel House in the Tower of London. Modern material on the Reformation and Counter Reformation is also well represented.

2.5 Bibles. Many scholarly and interesting Bibles have been received as donations, but Bibles have not been acquired systematically. Examples of early German imprints include a polyglot Biblia Sacra Hebraica, Chaldaica cum Masora (4 vols, Basel 1618), 2 Greek New Testaments from Basel, of 1531 and 1538, a Latin Novum Testamentum, edited by Erasmus (Basel: Froben 1527), and a recent donation of an imperfect copy of the Biblia Veteri Testamenti et Historiae ...picturis effigiata (Frankfurt: apud Hermannum Gulffericum 1554) in Latin and German, with cuts by Brosamer. There are several copies of the Luther Bible, Biblia, Das ist die ganze Heilige Schrifft, with a 1641 Nuremberg printing, a 1649 printing from Amsterdam (deposited form the parish church of East Harlsey) and a later Nuremberg printing of 1702.

2.6 Liturgy. Only a few German liturgical works are represented in the present catalogues. Examples of the earliest works include the Speculum Officii Missae Expositorium (Heidelberg 1495), a Canon Sacratissime misse (Germany?, c. 1515) containing woodcuts, and Johann Agricola of Eisleben, Von der Messe und ihrem Canone (Germany 1548?). Later missals are also represented from Nuremberg (1785), and Strasbourg (1854), and further works may be identified as cataloguing proceeds.

2.7 Patristica. Early editions of the Church Fathers and major medieval theologians are well represented. German and Swiss incunabula include works by Augustine (Epistolae, Basel 1493; Sermo super Orationem Dominicam, Cologne c. 1474; Sermones, Basel 1494-1495), Bernard (Epistolae, Strasbourg 1474; De planctu B. Mariae Virginis, Cologne 1472), Duns Scotus (Quaestiones, Nuremberg 1481; Quodlibeta, Nuremberg 1481) and Jerome (Epistolae, Basel 1497). 16th-century imprints include Basel editions of Cyril (1542), Jerome (Froben 1524) and Chrysostom (Froben 1526 and 1527), and Omnium operum divi Aurelii Augustinii (Cologne 1539).

2.8 German History. There is some coverage here, as exemplified by the Historia Germanica (Basel 1574), the Germanicarum Rerum Scriptores (vol 1, Frankfurt 1583) and sets of the Monumenta Germaniae historica printed in Hanover and extended by modern Berlin publications. The library's modern subscription to the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi covers the history of the medieval stained and painted glass in German-speaking countries.

2.9 Other non-theological works. The library contains many subjects which reflect the wide interests and learning of donors and clergy throughout the centuries. Books with early German imprints are well represented, as demonstrated by the following selection of subjects and examples: H. Schedel, Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg 1493), Virgil, Bucolica et Georgica (Cologne 1628), C. Ptolemy, Geographica (Basel 1545), Bartolomaeus Anglicus, Opus (Nuremberg 1519), Joannes Balbus, Catholicon (Cologne c. 1485), William Turner, His Herball (Cologne 1568), Georgius Agricola, De re metallica (Basel: Froben 1558), and F. Platerus, De corporis humani (Basel: Froben 1583).


3.1 Modern catalogues

The modern sheaf catalogues and indexes to printed books will be fully superseded by a Dynix Library System computerized catalogue by 2000, following a retrospective conversion and cataloguing exercise by the University of York. Access to the Minster Library's catalogues on the Internet is via:



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. By Margaret S. G. Macleod and others. Ed. and compiled by Karen I. James and David J. Shaw. 2 vols. London 1984-98 (vol. 2: books printed outside the British Isles) 3.1

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

3.2 Historic catalogues

A catalogue of the printed books in the Library of the Dean and Chapter of York. Compiled by James Raine. York 1896

Catalogus librorum in Bibliotheca Ecclesia Cathedralis & Metropoliticae B: Petri Ebor, 1687 [by Thomas Comber; MS]

Catalogus librorum. 1638 [MS]

Other catalogues are available for specialist areas, e.g. donors, parish libraries, music, etc.


Barr, C. B. L.: The Minster Library. In: G. E. Aylmer and R. Cant (eds.): A history of York Minster. Oxford 1977, chap. XI, pp. 487-539

Read, E. Anne: A checklist of books, catalogues and periodical articles relating to the Cathedral libraries of England, Oxford Bibliographical Society, Occasional Publications no. 6, 1970, pp. 51-53; Supplement: Cathedral libraries. A supplementary check list. In: Library History 9 no. 5 (Spring 1978) pp. 156-157

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, p. 584

July 1998

Deirdre Mortimer