Durham University and Durham Cathedral have teamed to digitally recreate a medieval monastic library. The Durham Priory Library Recreated project, which was officially launched today, will make available over 350 volumes of texts that once belonged to the priory in northern England.
The manuscripts and early printed texts, which date back to the sixth century, originally belonged to the Benedictine monks of Durham Priory until the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII from 1536-41. Fortunately, much of this collection remained at the Cathedral, and over the next five years they will be digitized and made freely available online.
“This project opens up the Priory Library for researchers around the world to explore,” said Judy Burg, Head of Special Collections at Durham University. “By the end of the project around 350 volumes will have been digitised and we hope to extend the work to include about 200 further volumes that were originally part of the Priory Library but were scattered across the UK since the dissolution in 1539.”
Users will be able to search the collections, discuss the content, leave feedback, and make online annotations of the manuscripts and printed books to support collaborative research.
Lisa Di Tommaso, Head of Collections at Durham Cathedral said, “Our collection is exceptional but fragile and we regularly receive requests from all over the world to view the manuscripts. Although we want as many visitors and academics to access the manuscripts as possible, we do of course also need to preserve them for future generations. Digitising the collection is the perfect solution.”
The project, which is set to cost £1.26 million, will include support for post-doctoral and visiting fellows, PhD studentships, a summer school, research workshops, conferences and public lectures. Resources for high school teachers and students will also be developed. Fundraising has already brought £260,000 of donations and pledges, including support from the Foyle Foundation and the John Paul Getty Junior Charitable Trust.
Professor Richard Gameson, from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, commented, “As the texts of Durham Cathedral Priory become available online and can be compared with relevant works worldwide, their importance, both individual and collective, will be seen in sharper focus.
“The online site will provide a platform for ongoing research into the origin, date, manufacture, contents, decoration, and provenance history of these magnificent texts. The possibility of reporting scientific analysis of the inks and pigments puts this resource at the cutting-edge of such resources.”