These two rooms are only open in the summer months. They are reached by a wooden staircase from off the cloisters, by the Refectory Tea Room.
This leads to the Medieval Library with its timber frame walls. This was built in 1422 to house the Cathedral’s collection of books, including a C10th copy of Bede’s Homilies as well as a book printed by William Caxton and hand painted atlases.
Inside it is a small room with a very dark wood ceiling with carved bosses. It still has some of the medieval reading desks which the books were securely chained to. There are display cabinets with old books.
Beyond is the Wren library, which was built over the ruined north wall of the cloisters. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, it has been described as the “most beautiful room in England”. The Dean, Michael Honeyman, built the library to house his collection of over 5000 books which he donated to the library. This is an eclectic collection of contemporary pamphlets, manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, poetry of John Donne, the study of sun dials, atlases to books written by early colonists in America as well as mathematical and scientific works.
It is a very elegant room with large picture windows over looking the cloisters. The opposite wall is lined with pale grey bookcases. round the top is a decorative frieze with small gilded faces. Thee are more display cases with old books.
Photography is not allowed in the libraries. The books in the display cases were hand written manuscripts but with no illustrations. To get the most benefit from a visit, you do need to allow time to talk to the enthusiastic volunteers who are a wealth of information. Otherwise it is a case of poking your head in for a quick look.