Chapter 2 Theological Libraries in Oxford

In: Theological Libraries and Library Associations in Europe
Hannie Riley
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Over 100 libraries are formed to support the scholarly and teaching activities through the University of Oxford and its colleges. Many libraries were erected, have fallen, and survived within three historical periods. In medieval Oxford, Roman Catholicism was regnant in libraries when Oxford became the leading centre of Christian scholarship. During the Reformation, the Anglican monopoly shaped the libraries and their collections. From the 19th century, when the rise of secularism swept across Oxford, the University has developed into a modern multi-disciplinary national university by ending the exclusiveness to Anglicanism. A new religious pluralism had created greater freedom to different Christian denominations to relocate or open theological libraries in Oxford. This trend continues to this day.


Plus de 100 bibliothèques sont constituées pour soutenir les activités d’enseignement et de recherche de l’Université d’Oxford et de ses collèges. De nombreuses bibliothèques ont été érigées, sont tombées et ont survécu au cours de trois périodes historiques. Dans l’Oxford médiéval, le catholicisme romain régnait dans les bibliothèques lorsque Oxford est devenu le principal centre d’érudition chrétienne. Pendant la Réforme, le monopole anglican a façonné les bibliothèques et leurs collections. À partir du 19e siècle, lorsque la montée du sécularisme a balayé Oxford, l’université s’est transformée en une université nationale moderne et pluridisciplinaire en mettant fin à l’exclusivité de l’anglicanisme. Un nouveau pluralisme religieux a donné plus de liberté aux différentes confessions chrétiennes pour s’installer ou ouvrir des bibliothèques théologiques à Oxford. Cette tendance se poursuit encore aujourd’hui.


Der Universität Oxford und ihren Colleges stehen mehr als 100 Bibliotheken für Forschung und Lehre zur Verfügung. Die Gründung, der Untergang und auch das Überleben vieler Bibliotheken in Oxford fallen in drei spezifische Zeiträume. Im mittelalterlichen Oxford, als die Stadt zum führenden Zentrum christlicher Theologie avancierte, herrschte der römische Katholizismus vor. Während der Reformation prägte die vorherrschende anglikanische Lehre die Bibliotheken und ihre Bestände. Seit der Säkularisierung und der damit einhergehenden schwindenden Vorherrschaft des Anglikanismus im 19. Jahrhundert hat sich die Universität Oxford zu einer modernen multidisziplinären Nationaluniversität entwickelt. Dieser neue religiöse Pluralismus eröffnete nun verschiedenen christlichen Konfessionen die Möglichkeit, ihre theologischen Bibliotheken nach Oxford zu verlegen oder dort neu einzurichten. Dieser Trend hält bis heute an.

Oxford has long been regarded as “a Christian city,” one “built upon the Christian culture.”1 As Jan Morris wrote:

She [Oxford] has been Christian from the start. The oldest buildings in Oxford are churches … John Wycliffe, once called his Oxford a Vineyard of the Lord.2

Oxford is also the birthplace of one of the oldest and most prominent universities in the world. It has been an important powerhouse of scholarly and academic activity in Britain through the central University institution as well as its colleges.

With its motto Dominus illuminatio mea, “The Lord is my light,” from Psalm 27, the foundation of the University was deeply rooted in Christian faith and tradition. Indeed:

Throughout most of Oxford’s history, religion played a dominant role within the university, and it is only within the past century and a half that he pre-eminence of religion within the university system has been challenged substantially.3

The University has occupied centre stage in the spiritual life of the country and provided scholarship in the service of religion. Many great theologians, church leaders, ministers, preachers, writers and missionaries have studied, trained and been educated here, pioneering significant Christian movements which have changed the course of English history. From its very beginnings, the University’s impact on history was profound in the realms of culture, politics and religion.4

Currently, the University of Oxford consists of 39 colleges and six permanent private halls (PPH). The colleges are self-governing corporations and the PPHs are established on a similar basis but, unlike colleges, are connected to particular Christian denominations.5

Within its limited area of just 45.5 km2, Oxford contains more than one hundred libraries connected to the University, as well as further research libraries associated with other institutions. Greatest by far is the Bodleian, the University’s 400-year-old principal library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe and the second largest in the UK after the British Library. The Bodleian itself is one of many libraries that comprise the Bodleian Libraries group, which also includes 30 further research, faculty, departmental and institutional libraries under its umbrella, such as the Sackler Library, the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library (PTFL), and the Taylor Institution Library. The Bodleian Libraries have the biggest academic library system in the UK, and together they hold more than 12 million printed books and manuscripts, classical papyri, maps, music, art and printed ephemera.6

Distinct from the Bodleian Libraries, 27 other libraries of various sizes and specialities are also spread around the city. They are independent from the Bodleian, but make use of the Bodleian’s library management system. Examples include the libraries of the University’s Museum of Natural History, the Ruskin School of Art and the Oxford Union Society.7

Every college and PPH in Oxford also has its own library, some modest and some grand; these total 45 libraries in all. Just as the colleges are separate from the University, the college libraries are not part of the Bodleian. Whilst they serve the same clients, and most use the Bodleian’s library management system, the college libraries’ service is limited to their own members only.

Fifteen Oxford libraries continue to operate as theological libraries. In addition to six PPH libraries and the PTFL, these are the Angus Library and Archives within Regent’s Park College; the Crowther Mission Studies Library within the Church Mission Society (CMS); the Leopold Muller Memorial Library for Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Pusey House Library; and libraries of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), and the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH) within Oxford Brookes University.

In this chapter we will look at how these various libraries came into being in Oxford and how they developed, adapted and transformed. This is divided into three sections according to distinctive religious changes that happened in the course of British history. Firstly, the medieval libraries are examined, from the era when Roman Catholicism was regnant and Oxford one of the leading centres of Christian scholarship. The subsequent section deals with how the monopoly of the Church of England shaped the libraries and their collections during the Reformation and for the 300 years following. The final part explores the University’s development as a modern secular national university and how a series of changes including secularisation, scientific advancement, the printing revolution, rationalism and industrialisation influenced theological libraries from the late 19th century onwards.

1 Rise of Libraries in the Middle Ages

In Medieval Oxford, libraries were naturally erected in three different places: monasteries and priories; colleges; and the University.

1.1 Libraries in Religious Houses

In the 13th century, groups of friars established themselves in Oxford.8 The Franciscans (Grey Friars) and Dominicans (Black Friars) in particular were distinct and set up ‘study-centres’ for preaching.9 They were regarded as ‘exponents of scholastic theology’ and became the dominant force in intellectual developments within the University contributing to its education.10 Their reputation soon travelled far as they played a vital part in religious thinking and intellectual revolution in England at that time, as well as their influence transforming the study of theology and philosophy throughout Europe.11

To support the ever-increasing scholarly activities by friars, monastic libraries inevitably formed in their dwellings as the friars were known for being “great collectors of books.”12

Four big monastic houses dominated the little city [Oxford] – Osney, St Frideswide’s, Rewley and Godstow – and traces of them all remain.13 … in every convent is a great and noble library.14

The friars with wealth soon bought up all the best books, whatever could be found in arts, theology, canon law, medicine and civil law.15 It was said that the friars had “more books, and finer books, than any prelate or doctor.”16 The list of medieval libraries in these religious houses attested by the surviving books or catalogues of their collections include the Augustinian priory of St Frideswide, Austin Friars, the Carmelite convent, the Dominican convent, and the Franciscan convent.17

Unfortunately, the life of these libraries was short-lived compared to those in the colleges and the University. It is believed that after the abolition of the monasteries in the 1530s these libraries were closed and their books were scattered or absorbed into private libraries.18 A few college libraries and the Bodleian were lucky enough to acquire some of these books.19

1.2 College Libraries

Many colleges associated with the University “were conceived as religious houses” during this period.20 As Berk says:

These early places of residence, more similar to a simple hostel than to what we would consider now to be a college, were created primarily for the use of those persons in the religious life.21

A long list of colleges and PPHs – Blackfriars (1221), University (1249), Balliol (1263), Merton (1264), St Edmund Hall (1278), Hertford (1284), Exeter (1314), Oriel (1326), Queens (1341), New (1379), Lincoln (1427), All Souls (1438) and Magdalen (1458), which remain to the present day, were set up and established by celibate priests with a strong sense of Christian foundation.22 The object of their foundation was to support the studies of poor clerics to prepare for the ministry of the church in order “to live their lives to the glory of God” and “to offer prayers for its founder and benefactors.”23 Indeed, for Berk:

Oftentimes, the motivations of those who served a benefactors [sic] of these early ‘colleges’ were nearly indistinguishable from the similar motivations of those responsible for the endowment of the noble churches and inspiring cathedrals of this land.24

From the 13th century most of the early colleges had manuscripts in a designated book-room or library.25 This is not surprising considering their attitudes towards books:

A library was central to the purpose of an academic institution … for scholars, they [books] were of the essence … University study was distinctively based on the close reading of texts and their comparison with other texts.26

Merton set up the first college library room in 1284, and now claims “the world’s oldest continuously functioning library.”27 Also “part of a catalogue of the library, compiled about 1325, is still preserved,” which shows that “most of the works are theological.”28 Queen’s created a library in 1372–3, Exeter did so from 1374, and Balliol and University College had libraries by the end of the 14th century. Most of the colleges had a small library space in some form or other and many libraries housed (and continue to house) manuscripts.29 By 1372 the Merton college library held about 500 books, about 150 were at Balliol, and 100 at Oriel.30 New College had a minimum of 300 books in 1404.31

The acquisition of books was usually by means of gifts and donations rather than purchases, “virtually exclusively from their formal members.”32 Merton College library set a prime example of how to equip the library with stock, which other college libraries soon followed.33 From 1276 in Merton, books were given by fellows under the instruction of Robert Kilwardby (Archbishop of Canterbury): “any books that Fellows brought with them to the College, or acquired during residence, should remain at Merton.”34

From the 13th to the 16th centuries, members of a college were expected to leave their books to their college library and, after a statute of All Souls in 1438, all given books were to be marked with the name of a college and the donor.35 Most books donated in this period were connected to the Oxford curriculum.36 The earliest surviving manuscript is the 12th century book of Boethius’ De institutione musica, which was bequeathed to Balliol in 1276.

The circulation of the library books very much resembled that of a modern library, with some reference materials and a lending collection for circulation:

In the Middle Ages there were two book collections in Oxford colleges, one chained in a special room, a ‘libraria’ or library, … and the other circulation amongst the fellows – in ‘electione sociorum’ is the special term for them.37

The Merton books were originally kept in a chest but, when a chained library was constructed in 1284 to accommodate a gift of 99 volumes by William Rede (Bishop of Chichester), heavy and valuable manuscript folios were kept in the library as reference. The books were physically chained to a cross bar which ran underneath the lectern desk and lay flat on their sides.38 This was a common practice in the medieval libraries. The first college library in Oxford that removed the chains was All Souls about 1756 with other college libraries following.39 For lending circulation, books were stored in a chest and borrowed by fellows only, as this privilege was not for students. For young undergraduates, who sometime were no more than twelve years old, books were not deemed necessary. Oral instruction was given to them when they sat at the feet of their masters, and many had no more contact with books other than carrying them for their teachers to the lecture-rooms.40 Fellows usually had a key to the room and recorded what they borrowed. Merton College library still has these ancient indentures, “small strips of parchment inscribed with the borrower’s name and the title of the book.”41

Merton was the first college to set up a library room but the first purpose-built library (1465) was in New College. The original plan (1386) includes the library room as well as “regulations dealing with the care and use of the library books.”42 William of Wykeham, founder of New College, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, donated magnificent 13th-century manuscripts – 136 in theology, 30 in philosophy, 43 in canon law, and 37 in civil law – to “ensure that the library was well-stocked.”43 Magdalen quickly constructed a library in 1480 and Brasenose in the 1510s.

1.3 A University Library

Considering “religion played a dominant role within the University”44 and the University was essentially “an ecclesiastical body,”45 it was not surprising that as “a clerical institution”46 the church and churchman played a vital role in the creation of the University’s first library. It began from the 1320s in a room which was the upper chamber of the annexe, the Old Congregation House, adjoining to the north side of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Thomas Cobham, Bishop of Worcester, supplied funds and his extensive collection of manuscripts for the University to build its own two-storey congregation house and the small upper floor room was allocated to house his collection.47 These manuscripts were secured by chains and admission to the library was restricted when one of two chaplains/librarians was present.48 In 1350, the library collection reflected the teaching syllabus: art, theology, canon law, civil law and medicine.49

Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, younger brother of King Henry V, and a great patron of Italian humanists, gifted the University (in two instalments in 1439 and 1444) 281 beautifully illuminated catholic manuscripts, including several important classical texts and the writings of contemporary humanists. In the first installation of 129 volumes, 40 volumes were theological and at least 56 were scientific, including medicine.50 The second instalment included Latin works of the Renaissance from Italy.51 The Duke’s manuscripts slowly but surely “acted as stimulus to humanistic studies at Oxford” as the collection “covered a wide range of patristic and scholastic learning.”52

The small modest library room could no longer meet its purpose. To accommodate these splendid holdings, the University decided to erect a new purpose-built library over the Divinity School, the first University owned lecture room where theological teaching and debate took place. The building work began around 1424, but lack of funds meant it took more than fifty years to finish, finally being completed in 1488.53 This new second University library superseded Cobham’s library and was named ‘Duke Humfrey’s Library’ after the Duke. It survived in its original form only until 1550, as unfortunately:

There is no record of the university spending any money after 1488 on the upkeep of its library or on the acquisition of new books … the university library became increasingly irrelevant to the needs of its members without adding new classical and theological works. Meanwhile its manuscripts could be borrowed by masters, and many of them were never returned.54

The other notable development during the later Middle Ages is Wycliffe’s controversy. Wycliffe and his followers successfully managed to translate the whole Bible from Latin to English by the end of the 14th century, but their movement failed, condemned as a heresy. Although their Bible was unauthorised and suppressed by the state, over 250 manuscripts have survived,55 many of which are now in the Bodleian and Oxford college libraries. Christ Church has digitised one complete Wycliffite Bible and made it available online via their digital library.56 The influence of this Bible led to “the circulation of English works which would more directly promote Christian education and discipleship, such as catechisms, the creeds, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.”57 It prepared the way for the Protestant Reformation, which itself had a direct effect on the composition of the libraries’ holdings in Oxford.

Education in Medieval Oxford was concerned with the study of theology to promote “the ultimate salvation of man” by “encompassing logic, philosophy and mathematics.”58 Additionally, by this time:

theological study had developed to such an extent that even those who had graduated in arts were required to undergo a five years’ course in the study of theology, and a seven years’ course was exacted for non-graduates.59

The teaching was rooted in the syllabus of Aristotelian scholasticism, with latterly from the 15th century more humanistic theology.60 During this period, because “all education at that time was basically theological,” the holdings of libraries were subsequently theological.61

Fundamentally the University of Oxford had a “religious foundation,” and the colleges were “religious societies.”62

2 Expansion of Libraries in Monopoly of the Anglican Church

The Protestant Reformation, which began in the 1530s, brought great changes in the religious landscape and life of England. The transition from Catholic traditionalist to Protestant reformers was somewhat tumultuous, especially with Mary Tudor’s brief reign of five years.

The acceptance of Protestantism was not forthcoming in Oxford63 so it was enforced by the royal interventions that subsequently brought about the ends of the Catholic monasteries and halls, but also gave birth to new colleges with Protestant foundations.

To ensure the University’s loyalty to the new religion, royal commissions known as visitations descended on the University. Thomas Cromwell sent two visitors to Oxford in 1535. Another inspection by royal commissioners occurred in the summer 1549, after the accession of King Edward VI, and where was a further visitation in 1559, during the early years of Elizabeth’s reign.64 More visitations like this continued until the second half of the 18th century. The visitors’ interference was basically to monitor the teaching at the University, and to check that it was politically and theologically correct according to the orthodoxy of the time.

This continuous process resulted in the dissolution of convents and monasteries and the suspension of the colleges of the monks and friars; elimination of all symbols of the Roman order; forbidding the teaching of canon law; an emphasis on the new protestant study of the Scriptures based on the Greek and Hebrew text; and subscription to Anglicanism by “swearing to the legality of the new religious order.”65

In 1581 the University promulgated a new matriculation statute requiring those coming into residence “of 16 or upward” to subscribe to the royal supremacy and the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 officialising the monopoly of the Church of England. Anglicanism became required in the University’s teaching and learning, and theology was compulsory for all students, regardless of their chosen degree subjects. All undergraduates were subjected to Anglican subscription on matriculation and graduation, and required to regularly attend their college chapel worship. As Christian faith in its Anglican expression became essential to the University’s education, “their conduct was measured against Christian principles.” They were offered a “narrow curriculum”66 in order to be trained as ordinands to serve in the Church of England so “their [undergraduate] studies encouraged frequent intellectual encounter with Christian theological assumptions, for example, in grammar and the study of the Biblical languages.” Theology was “the dominant discipline” and a requirement for all students.67 Basically, as Green says, Oxford was a “confessional university” for “only Anglicans, or those willing to subscribe to Anglicanism” until 1854.68

The colleges were also clerical societies. From the 16th century onwards, more colleges were founded under Protestantism, and these new colleges became the dominant force in Oxford, leading a period of 300 years with firm support from the English monarchy and the Church of England. Thus, during this period, libraries expanded, and more and more were built, in line with the increasing number of colleges. Their collections flourished under the influence of classical humanism, the new Anglican Church and the revolution of printing.

2.1 New Colleges

To promote classical humanism but to still train men in “sophistry, logic and philosophy” for “holy theology,” three Oxford colleges were founded in the early 16th century: Brasenose (1509); Corpus Christi (1517); and Cardinal Wolsey’s new foundation, Cardinal College.69 Cardinal Wolsey was a Magdalen scholar and the chief religious advisor to King Henry VIII. In 1525, he obtained Papal Licence from the King to suppress the priory and a score of minor religious houses in Oxford. He built a grand new college, upon the site of St Frideswide’s Priory to be named after himself as ‘Cardinal College’ but later refounded as ‘Christ Church’ in 1546 by the King himself.70

The Cromwellian visitation of 1535 eventually resulted in the abolition of convents and monasteries, and the closure of the monastic colleges of monks and friars.71 In fact, for Little:

It is probable, that, between this time and the summer and autumn of 1538, when the general dissolution of the friaries took place, many of the Oxford Franciscans had left their house72 … In a short time, little was left of the buildings [of the friars] – so complete was the work of destruction … The [place] name only survived [in Oxford].73

There were still 13 colleges remaining in Oxford. Six further colleges were then founded by seizing existing buildings. Two of those new colleges were established in the Catholic faith during a short interlude of Queen Mary’s reign: Trinity (1555) took over the Benedictines’ Durham College; and St John’s (1555) superseded the premises of St Bernard’s college. From the accession to the throne of the protestant Elizabeth in 1558 when the final establishment of Protestantism succeeded, Jesus (1571) for Welsh students was formed for Welsh students on the site of two former halls. Wadham (1610) was founded on the site of the old Austin friary; Pembroke (1624) was converted from Broadgates Hall. Worcester (1714) was erected on the site of the ancient Benedictine Gloucester College, and by 1850 the colleges had increased to 19.74

2.2 College Libraries

The Reformation had a profound and disturbing effect on the college libraries in Oxford. This was prominent especially in two areas in particular.

The first was that, with the impact following the suspension of theological libraries in monasteries and the University’s second library Duke Humfrey, the role of college libraries became hugely significant. They accommodated the growing needs of teaching staff as the Bodleian Library was not established until the 17th century.75

The other was on the development of book collections with creation of a Protestant state. College libraries could not escape from the Royal invasions, but enforcing this new conformity at colleges was rather slow compared to the University. The books and manuscripts in the University and college libraries were to be destroyed if they were deemed scholastic or contained Papist images and symbols:

The 17th century antiquary Anthony Wood recorded that some of them were burned, some sold for Robin Hoods pennyworths, either to Booksellers, or to Glovers to press their gloves, or to Taylors to make measures, or to Bookbinders to cover books bound by them, and some also kept by the reformers for their own use.76

However, some survive to this day,77 alongside some books preserved from monasteries.78 Jesus College has a 12th-century monastic manuscript from the donated collection of Sir John Prise. Ironically, Prise had played an active role in the dissolution of the monasteries. After these disturbances, however, colleges were to acquire new books in humanist learning, “particularly the Greek one [books],” in keeping with the new religious orthodoxy.79

2.2.1 Library Buildings

From the late 16th century to the middle of the 17th century the Oxford colleges had a period of competitive expansion. This was achieved either through endowments from former alumni or by benefiting from rising rents.80 Christ Church, Merton, Lincoln, Exeter, St John’s, Trinity, Jesus, Queen’s and Magdalen constructed elegant purpose-built quadrangles as well as refurbishing and upgrading their existing buildings. University College and Oriel chose to rebuild their establishment completely. These building projects often involved the construction of a new library or refitting, to allow books to be more easily accessed.81 By 1640 virtually every college had erected buildings, and this trend continued to the 18th and early 19th centuries, owing to “the result of changes in fashion and clientele.”82

2.2.2 Collections: Out with the Old, In with the New Book Buying and Printing Revolution

Without a good stock of up-to-date books to support the new teaching syllabus, college libraries had to look for ways to increase their collection, rather than waiting for generous donations. The printing press provided a good solution, producing books at much cheaper rates than a manuscript. It also offered benefits to readers with clear text and indices, which made reading more legible and the content more accessible.83 To start with, libraries were somewhat reluctant to spend money on buying printed books, but by the middle of the 16th century they had transformed their collections from manuscripts to printed books. The traditional scholastic works were printed first, but soon the humanistic literature was distributed speedily so the college library collections increased in volume.

The wealthier and more active colleges were adding to their libraries the new, printed editions of classical and theological works that were the basis of most studies.84

In 1503, the chief purchase of Magdalen, by far the wealthiest college at the time, was seven volumes of the new Basel edition of the works of Hugh of St Cher.85 Magdalen continued to invest in books in 1571–2, and purchased books from the personal library of John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury.86 Oriel bought theological books by selling silver plates, and Merton also did similar to raise funds. All Souls bought a small number of books in 1540s, Corpus Christi between 1586 and 1593, and New College in the middle of the century.87 Acquisition by Donation

However, acquisition by gifts remained common and was still the main source of supply. From the middle of the 16th century, due to the generosity of benefactors, the college libraries grew exponentially. Each library had benefactors who gave one or two considerable bequests in addition to the usual odd volumes left in the wills of alumni. These donations were mostly made in “the fields of the Greek and Latin Fathers; the writings of Protestant reformers and pre-Reformation theology, and civil and canon law.”88

For example, three colleges were particularly blessed with a larger number of Protestant books: Corpus Christi in 1571 by a bequest from president Thomas Greenway; Magdalen in 1571 by buying up books from Bishop Jewel’s library as above; and Queen’s in 1583, through the endeavours of the new provost, Henry Robinson. These three collections were “predominantly theological in content.”89

By the beginning of the 17th century the well-stocked college libraries now housed thousands, rather than hundreds, of books. The largest college library was in St John’s, which received a gift of 1200 books, many of them medical, from Sir William Paddy, a former commoner, in 1602.90 By the end of the 17th century, college libraries appear to have contained the most important recent works in the arts and sciences.

Another important trend began in the colleges from the 17th century onwards. In 1604–5, All Souls officially recorded the names of their donors in the benefactor’s books when gifts to the college were made, and this innovation was soon adopted by the Bodleian. The Bodleian’s great benefactors’ book dates back to its foundation.91

In 1710 the German traveller Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, a book collector and bibliophile from Frankfurt, visited Oxford. He had a special interest in manuscripts and in his journal he revealed that only five libraries were worthy of his praise for their extensive collections and housing them well: Brasenose, Corpus Christi, Wadham, Christ Church and Magdalen. Magdalen’s, with its great number of books on medicine and theology, was particularly approved of.92

From the 1730s to the first half of the 19th century, management of book collections in the college libraries did not really keep pace with the rapid development in learning and teaching, and in book printing production. Most college libraries stopped acquiring collections, including texts from the contemporary Enlightenment. With large donations still in abundance and not enough room to store them, the libraries became complacent.93 At this date the college libraries’ collections were still chiefly theological in nature.94 Catalogue

Medieval libraries in Oxford often had desk-lists, detailing the books chained to the desk. All Souls has preserved a whole series of its early desk-lists, including notes of changes to the lists. Magdalen had created a new catalogue in the 1550s,95 but it was only when Thomas James was appointed in 1602 as the first Bodleian librarian and produced that the first printed catalogue of manuscripts was produced (in 1605):96 the Bodleian had adopted the stall system in which, without a catalogue, it was not so easy to locate books as in the desk shelving. James published a new edition in 1620; this ran to 675 pages containing the entire contents of the library and was “the first library catalogue to list the books alphabetically by author,” with subject guides on technology, medicine and law.97

From 1674, locating books in Oxford was revolutionised by a union catalogue, the first in Europe. Thomas Hyde, ‘Bodley’s Librarian’ from 1655, had created a catalogue, “standardizing the entries and supplying a wealth of cross references” which “was used by many other libraries, including those of several Oxford colleges and Lambeth Palace in London.”98 The college libraries purchased this catalogue, in which they noted which books they also owned then sold to readers, at a small cost, from 1692. Thus, towards the end of the 17th century, finding books in Oxford became much simpler.99

2.2.3 New Book Arrangement: Stall System

With growing acquisitions in the 16th century, one of the most important changes in the refurbishment of Oxford libraries was an introduction of the stall system in place of desk shelving. Up to this point, the medieval libraries in Oxford housed chained books flat on the low lectern desks. Merton College had the first stalled library in England when they fitted stall shelves in 1589.100 This new method, where bookcases were built at right-angles and the books stood upright on the shelves, though common to this day, was revolutionary and economical at the time, and it allowed more books to be stored. However, the most valuable books were still chained until the 18th century.

Thereafter other colleges followed the example of Merton. When St John’s College built a new library in 1595–98, they too installed upright stall bookcases. All Souls, and Queen’s also adopted this. Grandest by far was Sir Thomas Bodley’s refounded University library. In 1598–9 the Bodleian library fitted the most splendid stalls in Duke Humfrey’s, which are still in use.101

2.2.4 Appointment of a Librarian

As early as the mid-Tudor era, some colleges were appointing a fellow, for a small stipend, to be in charge of the library and inform readers on its holdings.102 At Magdalen the annual accounts for 1550 show a payment of £1 to Henry Bull, who was librarian.103 This is nearly 50 years before the Bodleian’s first librarian, Thomas James, in 1602.

2.3 Bodleian Library

Today no one can deny that the Bodleian library is considerably greater than any of the Oxford college libraries. The central library of the University is named after a 16th century benefactor, St Thomas Bodley. However, far from its current fame and glory, its beginning was rather traumatic.

The University’s second library, Duke Humfrey’s Library, was completely destroyed in 1550 by a visitation from Richard Ox, Dean of the newly founded Christ Church during the abolition of monasteries. Manuscripts with Papal symbols were burnt or sold. “Only three of the Duke’s books have been restored to the Bodleian.”104 In 1556 the lecterns were sold to Christ Church and the library room was taken over by the Faculty of Medicine.105 It became totally rundown just 62 years after its opening.106

When Thomas Bodley arrived in Oxford in the middle of the 16th century to study at Magdalen College, there was no central library in the University as it had no money to resurrect Duke Humfrey’s.107 After retiring from his royal duty as a diplomat during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Bodley had a vision to revive the grandeur of Duke Humfrey’s and gladly financed this ambitious project. The first building to be erected was an extension of the Divinity School and the University Library. The new library was opened in 1602 with about 2,000 volumes on the shelves,108 but this was not that much bigger than the largest college collections. However, Bodley was fundraising and quickly became so successful that the original building had to be enlarged in 1610–12 with the first extension, known as the Arts End, as an additional book repository.109

Expansion did not end there as the antiquarian lawyer John Selden left the library a valuable collection of 8,000 books and manuscripts in Persian, Turkish and Chinese which resulted in another extension during 1634–37 – the Selden End. With a larger space, more donations and acquisitions were accepted; hence by 1675, its had grown eightfold. Gifts came from the 3rd Earl of Pembroke in 1629; Sir Kenelm Digby in 1634; and the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, in 1635–40, to name but a few, and the most notable collections from these donations were Greek and Oriental manuscripts.110 In the early years of the Bodleian, as it was regarded as “a safe haven,” and many donated precious manuscripts which had belonged to medieval monasteries such as Newark Priory, and Reading Abbey.111

However, the growth of the Duke Humfrey’s collection fell into a gentle slumber in the early 18th century, mirroring that of the University and its library. No book purchase was made during 1700–3 and in the 1730s, the library spent very little money on books.112

By the turn of the 18th century the position considerably improved. In 1737–48, the Radcliffe Camera was built with the benefaction from the will of royal physician, John Radcliffe. He wanted a scientific and general library. The magnificent, circular, domed building was designed by James Gibbs but housed “the heterogeneous collection of books [which] served no obvious purpose.”113 The library was unpopular with this unspectacular collection and was left deserted by readers until the end of the century. By the beginning of the 20th century the number of readers increased, averaging a hundred per day.114

There were two most noticeable developments in the Bodley’s acquisition policy. The first is copyright depository privilege, the idea of the librarian Thomas James, whereby Bodley managed to reach an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London in 1610 to deposit in the Bodleian Library a copy of any new books registered.115 The first book received under the agreement was Christian Religion (1614) by Thomas Cartwright.116 It also brought the first folio of Shakespeare to the library.117 Although this arrangement was not well honoured, this was a significant first small step to transform the Bodleian Library from a medieval library into a comprehensive reference library. Under an Act of Parliament of 1709, the agreement with the London Stationers’ Company was made more effective, but it was only after 1812, by changing the law, that the Bodleian started receiving most books printed in Britain. It remains a copyright library to this day.

The other is that before the British Museum was established in 1759, the Bodleian was regarded as a national storehouse receiving large donations of books, ancient manuscripts and personal papers. With these important bequests, it soon gained the honourable reputation as a national treasure for scholarly collections and became one of the most important libraries in Europe.118 The Bodleian looked less and less like just an academic library.

One more interesting fact about the Bodleian Library is that they successfully enforced a no-borrowing rule. Bodley was convinced that one of the reasons for the demise of the earlier library was that books were loaned out. Bodley wanted his library to continuously provide resources not only for the University, but also for the scholarly world by making it a reference library.119 Bodley stipulated this rule by chaining books securely to shelves, alphabetically by authors in the four faculties of arts, law, medicine and theology.120 The chains were removed in the 18th century. Currently Duke Humfrey’s Library keeps “a demonstration chain in place to show visitors how the chaining system worked.”121

3 A Modern University by Secularisation from the 19th Century

In the middle of the 19th century, when the rise of secularism swept across Western Europe, Oxford looked increasingly outdated in the modern world of industrial development, technological innovation and growing intellectual enquiry. Unsurprisingly, given the compulsory status and limited content of theology in Oxford, Oxford’s “confessional narrowness”122 made the standard of education unimpressively descend “into an intellectual slumber” with its “narrow curriculum”123 and “narrow sectarianism.”124 In addition, an increasing number of rival universities as well as new higher education colleges for dissenters were built and competed with Oxford. Something more was needed to address the shortcoming of Oxford’s academic standard in order to fulfil its national function – to promote intellectual activities and encourage critical thinking.125

Therefore, the University Reform Act of 1854 ended religious subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles for undergraduates, so students of any or no confession could attend. A new academic discipline, ‘natural science’, was entered into the curriculum as a degree from the 1850s. The University Tests Act of 1871 liberated all university degrees and the appointment of teaching posts, so that men of any faith or none (except for divinity degrees, theological professorship, and clerical fellowships) could be employed.126 Moreover, it allowed the colleges to have freedom to alter their statutes. As a result, the Anglican domination of the University and colleges started dwindling.127 “Within half a century, they [Oxford and Cambridge] had ceased to be [Anglican] clerical institutions whose primary function was to provide the next generation of Anglican clergy.”128 In the 1900s this cumulative effect turned the University of Oxford into a truly secular institution.129

During the process of the University’s reform, the most profound changes happened in three areas: teaching syllabuses; research; and “its social components.”130 The range of studies widened and from 1925 there was “a rapid expansion of science teaching and scientific research” so the University “was able to draw on state resources for lectureship, laboratories and specialist libraries.”131 Hence theology really lost its privileged position as a core component of higher education and became just one subject alongside many others. As a result, Anglican leaders came to believe that the University was failing to be the theological “nursery of the Church of England”132 and “they perforce founded colleges for ordinands.”133

3.1 The Bodleian and College Libraries

At this pace of transition, it is inevitable that the Bodleian Library had to broaden its accession spectrum. In 1849, the library’s collection was approximately 220,000 books and some 21,000 manuscripts. By the end of the 19th century, the book collection was growing by more than 30,000 volumes a year, and an underground bookstore was excavated beneath Radcliffe Square in 1902–12 to house these.134 Furthermore, since 1912, its holdings had been diversifying as a result of the fully exercised legal depository scheme. As a consequence of copyright deposit compliance and diversified teaching disciplines, by losing its bias to theology, the collection became considerably broader and grew as an academic reference library. By the early 20th century, the Bodleian truly became a national university library, attracting international scholars to Oxford.

The colleges could not escape form this change either: “By the mid-1880s, college fellowships had been thrown open, the rules governing ordination and celibacy greatly eroded.”135 As Brockliss tells us:

In the middle of the 19th century, the average college had a teaching staff of three; two tutors in classical literature, logic and moral philosophy, and the Greek New Testament: and one in maths. With the extension of the curriculum and the rapid increase in the number of undergraduates after 1860 this number was no longer sufficient. From the 1870s, there was general agreement that some form of tutorial provision had to be made for any new discipline added to the undergraduate curriculum.136

Therefore, “college life … slowly lost their clerical character.”137 The college libraries, too, though not quite abandoning their theological roots soon embraced this shift and expanded their holdings accordingly to go beyond and above theological topics.

As a result of all these changes, at first the future of theological libraries was deemed to be very bleak, given the advancement of secularised culture and the development of the scientific mind, a decline of interest in religion, and the rationalism of the time. However, Christians rose up against erosion of the Christian faith in Oxford. Their way of continuously maintaining the Christian tradition was to found new theological colleges within the University.138 Various religious groups wanted to provide new resources for ordinands and church men in Oxford, and thus new theological libraries started to spring up.

3.1.1 Oxford Movement

The most significant formulated response was the Oxford Movement, which subsequently had a profound influence on theological libraries in Oxford as well as transforming the future of the Church of England.

It was by Anglicans, who had enjoyed a privileged position over the centuries who now felt most threatened, when the social exclusion of the denominations was ended.139 Initially the movement took up the defence of the Church of England against the interference of the State, which had an agenda of “the advance of political radicalism and of intellectual liberalism which questioned the claims of revelation and authority in religion.”140 However, it became a campaign for a theological and spiritual revival founded on the dogmas of Roman Catholicism and developed church tradition in faith, morals and worship as well as the Scripture. It, therefore, became recognised by “its observance of elaborate ritual and the wearing of ornate vestments.”141 This Anglo-Catholic movement had a direct effect on creating four Anglican theological libraries in Oxford.

3.1.2 Anglican Libraries Keble College Library

The first establishment set up by the influence of Oxford Movement was Keble College. Keble opened in 1870 in memory of the leading Tractarian, John Keble, in 1866. His friends and Tractarian supporters built the college in Oxford to display the strength of the Oxford Movement tradition and to cater for undergraduates of modest means in a deeply High Church atmosphere via public subscription.142 Its original agenda would have made Keble a strong Anglican theological college, but the admission was not restricted to confessional ordinands, owing to the approach of its first Warden, Edward Talbot, who was quite revolutionary in many ways. He opened the college to all by waiving the requirement of communion in the Anglican Church for undergraduates in 1930, fellows in 1952, and the warden in 1969.143 Also he was even “a strong supporter of women’s education and a leading light behind the foundation of Lady Margaret Hall” and furthermore “encouraged the teaching of science and had no problems with the theory of evolution.”144

The theology of the founders was exemplified in the architecture of the college in some respects. The library in a neo-Gothic building with striking polychromatic red brickwork is shaped and styled like a church and at the far end there is a pair of stained-glass windows that shows the lignum sapientiae with Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge, and the lignum vitae tree of life, that is, the Crucifixion.145

From its inception, the library was richly blessed with John Keble’s own library and donations of early printed books and manuscripts from Victorian benefactors. It now houses significant materials on the history and literature of the Oxford Movement, including personal papers of leading figures and materials related to the history of St Paul’s Cathedral and Cuddesdon Theological College. It also boasts a fine collection of 70 medieval manuscripts with an extensive collection of beautifully illuminated early editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy. A major publication, The medieval manuscripts of Keble College Oxford (1979) by M.B. Parkes, details the catalogue.146

Although Keble treasures these historic holdings and was initially founded with Anglican ordinands, the library was never strictly or wholly theological – from the start it taught history and classics as well as theology, and soon added mathematics and law with other subjects following – but it has always had a substantial theology section. Pusey House Library

It was not only Keble who has an establishment in his honour: Pusey House opened in 1884 in memory of the leading Tractarian, Edward Pusey who was professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church College.147 Pusey House is a centre of High Anglicanism with a beautiful chapel and a theological library of historical importance. It was established collectively by the leading founder, Henry Parry Liddon, and Tractarian followers with the Dr Pusey Memorial Fund to offer places of worship and study for Catholic minded students in the University.148

To commemorate Pusey’s 40 years of work to restore Catholic life and witness in the Church of England, a library was thought to be the most fitting memorial. His personal library became the stock of Pusey House Library, opened as a “house of sacred learning.”149 Pusey built up collections by carefully buying up books which were not found anywhere else in the Oxford libraries, so, with its unique collections, the library became a valuable resource in Oxford’s academic life.150 Before the University opened the Theology Faculty Library (TFL) in 1997 at their new centre, Pusey House library served University members by housing the TFL’s stock of 14,000 items.151 Now the collection reaches 75,000 printed books and focuses on Anglican history, liturgy, doctrinal theology, patristics and Catholic theology and, most important of all, extensive historical material on the Oxford Movement.152

Their archive collections also consist of theological and ecclesiastical controversial pamphlets from the 19th century, in addition to many thousands of letters and documents of prominent Anglican and Anglo-Catholic individuals such as Pusey, H.P. Liddon, and Cardinal Newman, and religious orders relating to the Catholic Revival.153

In 2014 the National Archives assessed the collection and valued it as “of international importance.”154 Pusey House Library is still going strong as a theology library. St Stephen’s House Library

St Stephen’s House was also a product of the Oxford Movement like Keble and Pusey House. In 1876 it was founded in “an exclusively Tractarian tradition” by Edward King, Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology (1868–73), and subsequently Bishop of Lincoln, with other Tractarian followers, to create a centre of Anglo-Catholic teaching and worship.155 He exercised considerable influence on the early life of the college through financial gifts and work. It was intended to train ordinands “to combine a spiritual and pastoral training with the best available theological instruction” in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.156

Currently the library houses approximately 15,000 items of books, journals and pamphlets. The older collection reflects the college history and its role in the Oxford Movement whereas the modern one focuses on teaching and learning in theology and education.157

St Stephen’s House became a PPH of the University of Oxford in 2003. Although it now offers courses and qualifications in other subjects such as teacher training, education, and other related subjects, its core purpose is ministerial formation. Therefore, the library is still considered very much as a theological library.

3.1.3 Rippon College Cuddesdon Library

1854 was the year when Parliament passed the Act which altered the constitution and Government of the University of Oxford and the colleges therein. 1854 was the year when Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford founded Cuddesdon College.158

Cuddesdon College was established some seven miles outside Oxford, as the Oxford Diocesan Seminary to train graduates in the bishop’s vision. His vision was “for a college independent of any specific Church faction, and with a focus on the discipline of daily prayer and spiritual formation.”159 However Evangelicals had concerns about the Bishop of Oxford’s foundation of the college.160 It was this High Church dominance of theological education, which appeared to reign at Cuddesdon, that stimulated the Evangelicals to found two Evangelical theology colleges: Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, in 1877 and Ridley Hall, Cambridge, in 1881.161

Cuddesdon merged in 1975 with Ripon Hall to form Ripon College Cuddesdon. Ripon College was first founded in Ripon, Yorkshire, as Bishop’s Hostel in 1897 “with a few ordinands under the supervision of W.F. Wright.”162 In 1900 it was named Bishop’s College, Ripon but after a merge with Lightfoot Hall, Edgbaston in 1902 it was called Ripon Clergy College, or simply Ripon College. In 1919 the college moved to Oxford and was renamed as Ripon Hall.163

To build the Cuddesdon Library collection, Bishop Wilberforce encouraged donations of essential theology books from his friends, setting an example by giving from his own library as well as from his brother’s bequest so by the summer of 1862, the College had “a charming theological library.”164

The library now holds about 35,000 volumes with a particular strength in church history. Cuddesdon Library continues to fulfil the role of supporting the College’s mission in theological education for over 160 years.165 Wycliffe Hall Library

Evangelical Anglicans combined forces and in 1877 established a theological college, Wycliffe Hall, named after John Wycliffe, the medieval reformer. It was designed to fulfil three purposes. Firstly, against the progress of secularisation and rationalism in the University, they felt that there was a need to set up a theological college for ordained ministry of the Anglican communion. Secondly, the standard of clerical education required raising intellectually and spiritually, as the University’s secularisation meant its degree was no longer sufficient for ministerial preparation. The third and final reason for the establishment of the hall was the reaction of Protestants against the growth of ritualism and Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England, which led to the successful progression of the Oxford Movement by Tractarians.166 In 1996 Wycliffe Hall became a PPH167 and ordination training remains central to the work of the Hall.168

Very much like other theological libraries in Oxford, its library collections were built upon donations by founders and evangelical supporters. Today it contains 30,000 books on theology and in support of vocational ordinand training as well as academic activities.169 Hence the library has faithfully been theological since its foundation. St Peter’s College Library

St Peter’s College in its present form began in 1929 when it was set up in memory of evangelical Bishop Francis James Chavasse (1846–1928), Bishop of Liverpool, by his son Christopher Maude Chavasse (1884–1962), later Bishop of Rochester (1940–1960). It occupied the site of two medieval halls that preceded: Trilleck’s Inn and Rose Hall.

The original aim was to provide a college in Oxford to cater for “low church men with modest means” to become Church of England ordinands. This was initially visualised by Francis Chavasse, but then achieved by his son Christopher Chavasse after his father’s death, with financial support provided by several members of the evangelical wing of the Church of England and later by Lord Nuffield.170 In 1929 the University approved it as a PPH, then in 1947 gave it the status of ‘New Foundation’, followed by the final granting of full collegiate status in 1961. Since then, the college has grown and expanded in size and teaching subjects.

St Peter’s Library, situated in Linton House (so-called in memory of a former rector of St Peter’s) now includes approximately 55,000 volumes, principally designed to support undergraduates in their studies, and collects all the subjects studied at the College. The college is now fully secular hence the library is no longer considered theological.

3.1.4 Non-Anglican Libraries

As opposed to Anglicans’ fear and concern about the University’s reform, ending the exclusiveness of the Church of England, a new religious pluralism actually created greater freedom to different Christian denominations to contribute to the Oxford theological scene:

The virtual ending of the Anglican monopoly of the university had helped to release new energy. There was a flouring school of theology … The termination of religious tests allowed the foundation of a number of new denominational societies.171

Some denominations soon set up new colleges and some moved their teaching establishments to Oxford which continue to the present day. The University became increasingly inclusive and interdenominational and many theology libraries came into being. However not all have stayed true to their founding faith to this day. Mansfield College Library

In 1886 Mansfield College opened as a small theological college to allow graduates to prepare for the work of the Congregational ministry through theological degrees and ordination in Oxford.172 It was originally founded in 1838 as Spring Hill College in Birmingham “to provide further education and theological training for nonconformist ministers.”173 It was in fact the first nonconformist college to relocate to Oxford in order “to create a Congregational Theological Faculty at Oxford.”174 Mansfield accommodated mostly Congregationalist, but also offered educational access to all dissenters.

At its theological root, the library houses about 30,000 items as well as important heritage research material for “the study of English and Welsh Nonconformity, a collection of 18th and 19th century books and a significant antiquarian collection” and the archive holds “the administrative records of Mansfield College; the archive of the former Spring Hill College in Birmingham and early Reports from the Mansfield House Settlement in the East End of London.”175

In 1955, the college was admitted as a PPH and started to deliver a wide range of degrees so its grip on Nonconformity has slowly weakened. Finally in 1995 it became a fully federated college. Until 2007 Mansfield still trained United Reformed Church ordinands but it now claims that it is no longer a religious institution.176 Therefore, neither is the library just theological in spite of strong historical holdings on Nonconformity history and its foundation. Harris Manchester Library

The Manchester Academy, founded in 1786, was the last in an illustrious line of Dissenting Academies that were established to provide an education for dissenters. The Academy, the direct successor of the Famous Warrington Academy, was founded “to provide higher education to religious non-conformists, training people for the learned professions and civil and commercial life.”177 While the Academy was established by Unitarians, a founding principle was that there would be no religious tests of any kind and the principle of free of thought is maintained to this day. The college moved several times in the early years, including spells in Manchester, York and London, although it finally settled in Oxford in 1889.178 In 1990, it became a PPH, in 1992 it was renamed as Harris Manchester, and finally in 1996 it was granted full collegiate status.

The library has not only a general collection to meet student needs which is housed in the Tate Library, but also several important collections of interest. These include the Dissenting Collection which focuses on all aspects of Unitarianism and contains a unique collection on Unitarian churches of Transylvania. A donation by former principal, Joseph Estlin Carpenter (1844–1927), forms an addition collection of interest: the Carpenter Library of Comparative Religion. Other library collections include large antiquarian printing holdings – approximately 7,000 pre-1800 volumes dating back to 1474. The focus of the early books is primary on theology, philosophy, classical texts, canon law and church history and reflected the curriculums of the dissenting academies. The library also contains a large archive that covers not only College history but material relating to Unitarianism and key individuals associated with the tradition.

It was once described as “one of the two best theological libraries in Oxford” and also “one of the College’s greatest assets.”179 Currently the college library is no longer primarily a theological library but covers the range of subjects taught in the college. However, it is undeniable that its collections relating to theology, especially Unitarianism, are significant and will be of interest to researchers. Regent’s Park College Library and the Angus Library and Archive

The institution that later became Regent’s Park College was established in 1810 as a Baptist academy at Stepney Green, east London. The original vision of the college was to provide an education for Baptist ministers and to serve Baptist churches. It moved to Oxford from 1927 and in 1957 the college was given the status of a PPH of the University. While it is now a mixed community, and open to lay students for undergraduate and postgraduate study, preparing for Baptist ministry remains a central part of college life.180

The college has two libraries. The college library supports the subjects taught in the college; it holds over 30,000 books and journals reflecting the humanities focus of the college, including excellent theology, English, law, history and philosophy collections.

The second library is the Angus Library and Archive which is named after the college’s sixth principal Joseph Angus. It has world-class print and archival collections and for the study of Baptist and nonconformist history, numbering over 70,000 unique materials and other artefacts from Britain and the world, dating back to the late 15th century. It is regarded the national library for Baptist history.181

These two libraries are fundamentally theological and support teaching and research through large theological print collections and historic Baptist materials. They continue to provide significant information services in the field of theology.182

3.1.5 Libraries of Catholic Foundation

The University Tests Act of 1871 allowed Catholics back to Oxford. St Benet’s Hall

St Benet’s Hall was founded by Fr Oswald Hunter-Blair in 1897 to provide “a place for the monks of Ampleforth Abbey and other monasteries to live while they read for Oxford degrees”183 and it was recognised as a private hall in 1918.184 The halls continue to commit to their religious faiths and tradition and vision hence the libraries are theological at heart. Campion Hall Library

Campion Hall for the Society of Jesus, was set up in 1869 as Clarke’s Hall to offer Jesuits a place to study in Oxford’s educational and scholarly traditions and prepare them to serve society. It was named after St Edmund Campion, a Catholic Jesuit priest and a martyr, and became a PPH in 1918.185 Campion Hall Library house collections especially in modern Catholic theology, Catholic social and political thought, ethics, spirituality, Jesuit studies and integral ecology. As the hall is still very religious and has strong focus on its faith, the library is very much theological. Blackfriars Library

The Dominicans arrived in Oxford in 1221 and soon became a leading force of teaching and learning in the University with their own study centre which was suspended at the Reformation. Blackfriars was restored in 1921 and in 1929 began to train Dominican students for the priesthood at a new priory. It was admitted as a PPH by the University in 1994.186

The library specialises in theology and philosophy of the Dominican order rather than ecclesiastical history, compromising over 35,000 volumes and nearly 350 books printed before 1700. Many of these older volumes were from smaller Dominican houses. Its strength is in Patristic literature, Scripture, and books and journals on the thoughts of St Thomas Aquinas.187 Greyfriars Franciscan Studies Library

The Franciscans, known as Greyfriars, first came to Oxford in 1224 right after Blackfriars’ arrival and founded their church and friary, although these were dissolved at the Reformation.188 The Capuchin branch of the Franciscans returned to Oxford and established a friary in 1910 which is known as St Anselm’s. They moved to the current site by building a Priory in 1930–31, renaming themselves as Greyfriars.189 The small specialised theological library house a collection, strength in Franciscan history and thoughts. It was recognised as a PPH in 1957 but in 2008 they decided to remove themselves from the University. Regent’s Park College received their students and many books.190 There remains a small library with a few hundreds of books in Franciscan thought.191

3.1.6 Recent Additions

In recent years, due to its academic excellence and international renown in research, Oxford has attracted many theological and religious libraries to make a home here. The newer libraries tend to be more towards the study of religion rather than theology but their specialism in different religions and focuses brings great value and significance in the theology scene in Oxford. Theology Faculty Library (TFL)

The TFL’s origin dates back to the 1930s, when the lending collections were one of the Bodleian Library’s ‘Special Faculty Libraries’ which was managed by Bodleian staff.192 The collection was then moved to Pusey House. The books of the senior library were “classified and shelved with those of Pusey House” up in the main library in 1953 and a lending library for undergraduates was instituted in 1961 as in a small room on ground floor.193 Their 14,000-volume collection was subsequently separated out when the TFL moved to 41, St Giles in 1989 to set up its own library. Once again, in 2012 the TFL relocated to a new centre merging with the Philosophy Faculty Library and formed the current PTFL.194 However, this is a temporary measurement until the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities is erected in 2024–2025, being absorbed into the Humanities Library with five other libraries.195

The collection reflects the University’s undergraduate courses, and also to some extent, meet research need of its faculties. Currently, it holds over 30,000 volumes, with a further 20,000 in the Bodleian’s Book Storage Facility in Swindon.196 OCMS Library

More recently the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS, 1983) was set up to support mission scholarship and research of the emerging global Christian leaders from Africa, Latin America and Asia.197 It uses the former church building of St Philip and St James, offering postgraduate programmes in partnership with Middlesex University. Its theology library sits in the middle of this beautiful church hall housing an impressive reference collection of 18,000 books, journals, and archive materials offering a unique collection on world mission in these regions written by many non-western scholars and plays a vital part in theological research of the world. Crowther Mission Studies Library

The Church Missionary Society (CMS) established a reference library in 1800, a year after its foundation, but it was not until 1891 that a circulating library was formed as an independent entity by a group of supporters.198 It moved to Oxford from London in 2007.

Three library collections have been amalgamated over the years, forming an invaluable collections on overseas mission and related fields, starting in 1906 with the former CMS library’s pre-1945 collection (called Max Warren) being joined by the United Society Partnerships in the Gospel (USPG) library holdings; and then adding in 2010 the South American Mission Society (SAMS) library with about 1,200 volumes focusing on South America.199 The Crowther Library now holds approximately 29,000 books and 250 journals, focusing on church history, biographies, social and economic concerns, history, theology with the strong collection on Islam.

As CMS has established an educational training centre offering various ministerial various programmes and the library support their teaching and learning in Oxford, there is no doubt that this is a true theological library.200 The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (OCMCH) Library

Westminster College was founded in London in 1851 as the first Wesleyan Methodist training college for teachers but moved to Oxford in 1959 merging with Oxford Brookes University in 2000. Its original Wesley and Methodist Studies Centre was renamed in 2007 as OCMCH and “promotes historic links between Brookes and the Methodist Church through archives, artworks, publications and research.”201 This centre houses the Wesley Historical Society Library which was founded in 1893. It holds the second most significant collection of Methodist published works in Britain and aims to promote the study of the Wesley family and Methodism in all its aspects. The extensive archive contains official and personal papers, photographs and memorabilia covering over 150 years of the institution’s history and heritage.202 Leopold Muller Memorial Library

The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies was established in 1972, moved to Yarnton Manor in 1973–74, and found a library with the Kressel Library (25,000 items) and his archives (5,000 items). The library – renamed as Leopold Muller Memorial in 1992 – is now part of the Bodleian Libraries, and moved to Oxford in 2014. It has grown considerably housing a unique repository of over 13 distinct book collections (90,000 items) and eight archives of historic significance (900,000 items), mostly Anglo-Jewish and European Jewish, focusing on Jewish life and scholarship of the last 400 years.203 The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies Library

The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies was founded in 1985 as a recognised independent centre of the University, “to the study, from a multi-disciplinary perspective, of all aspects of Islamic culture and civilisation and of contemporary Muslim societies.”204 The library holds a substantial collection of materials on a comprehensive range of topics relating to Islam and the Islamic world. The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies Library

The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS) is an academy for the study of Hindu cultures, societies, philosophies, religions, and languages. It was founded in 1997 to preserve and promote India’s cultural heritage. The library is named after Harish I.K. Patel who used to be one of the Board of Governors. The library currently holds approximately 25,000 titles, mostly in the fields of Hindu intellectual history, Puranas, Sanskrit poetry, and comparative theology.205 The Oxford Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies Library

The Oxford Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies (CMCS) is an independent Christian-based study centre which opened in 2008 to promote the clarity, integrity and capacity in order to build their understanding of the broad field of Muslim-Christian studies through teaching, research and public education. It has a reference-only library specialises in material concerning the Muslim-Christian interface; including material published in South Asia and Africa.206 The Lanier Theological Library

One of the most exciting pieces of news for the Oxford theological scene today is the development of a new theological library in Yarnton Manor. The Lanier Foundation has just bought the site once occupied by the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (as noted above, it moved to central Oxford in 2014). The library is planned to open in 2022–23 to support theological researchers in order to “extend its biblical research and training mission into the United Kingdom”207 in addition to the one in the United States.

The Lanier Theological Library in the US was founded as a research library in October 2010 by Mark Lanier, an American trial lawyer and founder of the Lanier Law Firm. He has said that he designed the library “by combining his favourite architectural feature from the libraries in and around the University of Oxford.”208 It is located in the Northwest sector of Houston and hold 105,000 volumes that cover many theological and biblical discipline such as archaeology, Egyptology, Greek, Hebrew, history, biblical studies and background, church history, theology and practical theology.

Their current plan for the Yarnton Manor site is that they will have about 5,000 square feet of library space and hope to house about 25,000 books to support researchers. As postgraduate teaching and research activities of Wycliffe Hall will take place in their centre, the library will be closely linked to Wycliffe Hall to promote academic education.

4 Conclusion

Before discussing the factors impacting theological libraries in Oxford, one fundamental question has to be addressed regarding the characteristic of libraries in early periods. What were the medieval libraries and post-Protestant Reformation libraries regarded as? How are they to be classified from a modern perspective?

This question is debatable for the following reasons: during this period, libraries did not particularly brand themselves as theological libraries although the majority of books they housed were overwhelmingly theological. The libraries were regarded as academic libraries to cater for scholars, covering the full range of contemporary human knowledge at the time and mirroring the trend and tendency of their institutional academic interest. Their acquisitions relied mainly upon the generosity of donors and benefactors so their holdings expanded organically.

This argument is based on the fact that the status of theology was seen as an ‘architectonic science’ or ‘necessary knowledge’, framing the whole of the University education, and education at that time was happened to be mainly theological. This concept of theology as a separate specialised discipline in its own right was only formalised in England in the 19th century.209 Therefore libraries had, in fact, no immediate purpose and intention to solely devote their service to theology with subject specific focus. Furthermore, the development of the term ‘special library’ dated back only to the late 19th-century referring to ‘subject-specific collections’ and in the “early 20th century focused on proactive service to a defined clientele.”210 However, the absence of theology being regarded as a distinct academic subject and the categorisation of special libraries does not mean that defining the characteristics of these early libraries by modern metrics is something to be avoided. On the contrary, it is our contemporary terminology which reinforces the impression of an absence of such distinctions. Identifying the character of these libraries, in conjunction with secularisation, provides a better understanding of their role in the explosion of new specialised theological libraries in Oxford from the 19th century. Indeed:

Mid nineteenth-century England thought of itself as a religious society. The intellectual atmosphere of the period cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing this … One third of all books published were religious in content. Religion was an important force in politics, shaping attitudes to secular and ecclesiastical reform.211

Likewise, from the foundation of the University and colleges until the University’s 19th century reform they had basically been an ecclesiastical body.212 Even the terminology of its early statutes and legal procedures is of canon law and not of the state. Most members were clergy and in religious orders with the syllabus being predominately theological for many centuries.213

As these libraries’ physical size and holdings were much smaller, the symmetry between syllabus and collection composition was more apparent. In respect of the nature of the University, their foundational purpose, scholarly interest, predominant teaching syllabus, composition of library holding and the main clientele, it is not such a generalisation that they were to be considered as theological libraries. For that reason, when secularisation reformed the University, a fear of losing theological resources in Oxford led to the opening of Pusey House Library.

The main question of this chapter is what impacted the course of development of theological libraries in Oxford. From Catholic Administration to the exclusiveness of Church of England and finally to an inclusive national organisation, the rise and fall of organised religion has carved out the fate of the University, colleges and libraries. The transition of governing power over the University has shaped the teaching and research syllabus and in turn the library.

The birth of medieval libraries was strongly rooted in Roman Catholic foundations and their scholastic tradition was deeply reflected in the composition of library holdings. The introduction of Protestant Anglicanism in the University in the 16th century turned the library world upside-down by determining the dissolution of libraries in religious dwellings. Where many monasteries and convent libraries were left empty, new college libraries and the surviving libraries’ expansion filled the void. By secularisation and anti-clericalism, when University and colleges transformed themselves from Anglican seminaries to national higher education institutions these libraries also transformed to multidisciplinary academic libraries. They preserved their medieval manuscripts and western incunabula, forming the founding stock to transform into modern libraries by diversifying their collections. Proportionally the size of the theology holdings shrank significantly whereas other disciplines grew substantially. Nevertheless, the theological collection is treasured as a rare, extraordinary heritage with historical significance.

Another unexpected impact which was brought in by the secularisation of the University was the appearance of specialised theological libraries. It released the freedom to many nonconformist denominations to set up or move their theological libraries to Oxford. Even Anglicans made the best of the situation and found new specialised theological libraries in the later 19th century.

Furthermore, as many new subjects were introduced in the teaching syllabus, the numerous special libraries in departments, faculties, schools and museums in the University were opened, such as History in 1908 and English in 1914. Likewise, the Faculty of Theology library in 1989 and Leopold Muller Memorial Library in 1973–74.214

It is important to recognise the contribution being made by secularisation of the University on the theological library scene in Oxford, whether intentional or unintentional. The contemporary post-Christian, multi-cultural and multi-religious society of Oxford became much more inclusive and welcomed the multiplication of religious societies and their libraries.

What of the future? As the University of Oxford has been the most renowned centre of scholarship in research and teaching in the world, it is still attracting new openings and the relocation of historically important theology libraries, and so the future of theology libraries looks promising.

With the new digital era, which has been accelerated by COVID-19, the Bodleian Libraries are committed to providing digitisation of many special collections via a single portal, Digital Bodleian, in partnership with a number of college libraries. Theology libraries continue to play a vital part in Oxford with their archival and historical materials. To return to the author quoted at the beginning of this chapter:

For Oxford is built upon books – books being read, books being written, books being published, books in the dozen bookshops of the city, books littered through a labyrinth of libraries.215

The theology libraries in Oxford are still going to be built upon books, but in this day and age those books may be virtual as well as physical.



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Theological Libraries and Library Associations in Europe

A Festschrift on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of BETH


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