Sunday, 19 July 2009

Wanderings through Westminster Abbey

The London group of the council of Christians and Jews had their annual summer garden party recently in the grounds of Westminister Abbey – due to inclement weather we were treated to an enlightening visit to the library instead, which is not open to the general public. I learned a lot and fascinating historical information.

Some interesting detail about the Abbey: the monks of Westminster owned thousands of acres of land in central London stretching from the river at Westminster right up to Oxford Street. This started during the reign of King Edgar in 960 AD. Subsequently, some of this land was sold and the balance they had in reserves in 1868 was given over to the Church Commissioners.

I viewed some of the early documents – there were ancient bibles and Jewish books and other exhibits from the archives.
On display was a Hebrew bible from 1540 and it was exactly the same as the Jewish bible in use today. 13th century manuscripts of psalms in Latin and Hebrew were also available to see. Interestingly there were medieval documents in the muniments (archives) of the Abbey concerning business dealings between the King, Jewish merchants and the Exchequer dated 1220 to1280. The first printed bible in Welsh was on view, which was translated by William Morgan in 1588.

The books were mainly religious though they also have a scholars’ library there from 17th and 18th century. As well as religious books there were books of historical interest, classics, history of the Church, music and a small selection of science and maths. We were also shown some manuscripts that the Abbey choir sang from in the 17th century which are printed in Italian. When necessary, the books are removed to Lambeth Palace for repairs.

The building itself dates back to 1065. Its roof was restored after 1450 when one monk was responsible for bringing down the roof in a fire. Some of the shelves in the Abbey date back to 1623. The library is open to researchers but they must book well ahead, sometimes even as far as a year in advance.

Sometimes the rain can be a blessing in disguise as without it we would not have had such a magical evening to view this amazing treasure trove.

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