November 2012 | Nate Pedersen

20,000 Rare Books at Benburb Priory

benburbpostcard.jpgIn proof that hidden libraries and forgotten cellars are not merely fodder for Gothic novels, the abbot at the Benburb Priory in Northern Ireland discovered a treasure trove of rare books stashed away deep inside his priory's cellars earlier this year. Father Chris O'Brien, of the Servite Priory, has since applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a significant funding source for British cultural projects, to conduct preservation on the library and re-house it in a modern building.  The library was originally culled from a variety of monastic Servite libraries throughout Europe in the middle 19th century on the heels of a wave of anti-clerical sentiment.  The Benburb Priory, following a rich Irish tradition, (see: How the Irish Saved Civilization) retrieved the books from its brother monasteries around Europe in order to safely house them during a time of political upheaval.  The library was then forgotten about sometime in the next century, gathering dust for years in a dark cellar behind a locked door.
The library, which is currently closed to public access, contains a variety of medieval treatises and is particularly rich on Christian writing from the early Renaissance era.  It also contains a strong Irish literature collection and some odds and ends such as original Dickens novels bound in parts. It total in contains approximately 20,000 books and manuscripts.
The Heritage Lottery Fund announced last week that the library had gained its initial support in its request for almost £773,000 for restoration work and to build and develop a new library at the priory to house the collection, which would be open to public access.  If the funding is finally allocated toward the Priory library, a significant new archive of rare books will be open to the public in Northern Ireland.
Let this serve as a reminder for everyone to go ahead and break through that locked door in your cellar.  You never know what you might find inside.

(Images from Wikimedia)