Work began on a new, bigger library at Lambeth Palace Friday, April 20, when the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby symbolically “broke ground” for the building. It is the first new building at the palace in more than 100 years. The new library will bring together what’s thought to be one of the largest historical ecclesiastical book collections outside the Vatican. There will also be easier access for the public to see these treasures.
The collection is made up of more than 5,000 volumes of manuscripts, more than 200,000 printed books and nearly 10,000 linear metres. Most of this is kept in the primarily medieval Lambeth Palace buildings, but some are also stored in the Church of England Record Centre warehouse, where they face pollution damage as well as fire concern.
When asked about the importance of the library, Archbishop Justin responded “I feel very strongly, and I know Declan [Declan Kelly, director of libraries for the Church of England] in charge of this project feels, that there’s no point in having these things if they’re never seen. Why have them? They do two things: they tell us a huge amount about the history of the nation, particularly in the pre-Reformation period, and secondly, they testify to generation after generation who were disciples and followed after Jesus Christ, and that speaks volumes about the centrality of faith in the life of the nation over its history.”
The library’s collection holds books and artefacts that tell the story of Anglicanism and its relationship to the U.K. as a nation. It includes Henry VIII’s personal and annotated copy of Invicta veritas, published by Thomas Abell, which denounced the king’s wish to divorce himself from Katherine of Aragon. Henry VIII’s annotations pointed out his disagreements with Thomas Abell’s argument, which ultimately led to the king splitting from Rome and creating the Church of England.
Welby also explained the library’s purpose in building relationships. He shared that when guests visit Lambeth Palace, he challenges the library to find something to show them. For example, a couple of years ago when a senior Nigerian minister visited Lambeth Palace, the library was able to show him the history of the Church of England’s engagement with Nigeria in the 19th century with photographs, letters and other documents. According to the archbishop, the minister was “absolutely blown over with this sense of where we’d come from and the things we had in the past.”
Welby called the project exciting, “because of the access to scholars, because of the way it will enable us to witness to Christ through what we have acquired over the centuries and to be much more open about our history and the history of the nation and the interrelation of the two.”
This new building, designed by architects Claire and Sandy Wright, will be a “zero carbon building” with humidity controls to protect the collection. Its location at the far end of the grounds against the boundary wall on Lambeth Road means that it will take up only 3% of the site’s footprint. The library is due to finish in 2020.