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The Chained Library

The Chained Library

There were books at Hereford Cathedral long before there was a “library” in the modern sense; it is an exceptional and fascinating gem in Britain’s rich tradition of The Chained library history.

A singular survivor is the Hereford Cathedral Chained Library.

Tourists flock to Hereford Cathedral each year to marvel at the Mappa Mundi, one of the greatest medieval masterpieces ever created. The Chained Library is a special treasure only found on this trip.

Here, 229 medieval manuscripts—including the Hereford Gospel from the eighth century and books from subsequent eras—are kept safe and secure, each chained to the library shelves as they were in the seventeenth century. Only the Hereford Chained Library remains now of the numerous libraries of this type that were formerly found throughout Europe.

Each book has a chain attached at one end, which is slotted onto a rod that runs down the bottom of each shelf. The other end of the chain is tied to the spine. According to the system, a book may be taken from a shelf and read at a desk, but it may not be taken out of a bookcase.

The books are arranged on the shelves such that their edges—which appear to us to be facing the reader rather than their spines—allow them to be lifted down and opened without having to be turned around, preventing the chain from becoming tangled.

In addition to allowing the entire library to be seen in its original configuration from 1611 to 1841, the New Library Building’s specifically constructed chamber also enables the books to be stored in regulated environmental settings by current standards of presentation.

Since the 12th century, the cathedral has housed a functioning theological library, and today, the entire collection serves the cathedral’s mission and testimony as a research hub and a popular tourist destination.

Chained Library in USA

Where did the chaining of books occur?

According to Kwakell and Cassini, chaining took place in open and semi-open spaces like cathedral libraries, indicating that the book was available to the general public. Chaining, they contend, indicates measures to promote access rather than to obstruct it.

What is The Chained Library?

A medieval library with a “Vinegar Bible” from 1717 is one of a kind in London churches. Sir Hans Sloane gave these as a gift. A chain that is long enough to allow the books to be removed from their shelves and read without removing them from the library itself is what is known as a chained library.

Why were books chained in medieval libraries?

In addition to being chained to prevent theft, books were also chained in exclusive settings where entry to the library—whether it was located in a monastery or a university—depending on one’s rank or membership in a prestigious brotherhood of academics or monastic order.

What are the best books about the evolution of the library?

United States Library Association, Chicago. A. Streeter, H. (1931). The chained library is a four-century overview of the development of the English library. Printed in London by Macmillian and Co. John Summit (2008). Early modern England’s Memory’s Library: medieval literature.

What is the largest surviving chained library in the world?

The biggest chained library still in existence is at Hereford Cathedral. Although chaining books was a common practice across Europe, not all libraries employed it. As printing rates rose and book prices dropped, the custom of chaining library books waned in popularity.

Opening times

Opening Times

Visiting Hereford Cathedral and The Chained Library

Even if facial coverings and maintaining social distance are no longer required, we nonetheless advise our guests to be aware of others who might be more vulnerable and to take the essential safety measures to respect their requirements.


MON-SATURDAY 7.30am–5pm

SUNDAY, 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.


Service hours

The weekdays are Monday through Saturday.

8:00 AM: Morning Prayer (Open from 7.30 am)

9:30 a.m. Holy Communion (8.30 am Saturdays)

5.30 p.m. is evensong

Sunday at 8:00 a.m. is Holy Communion

Cathedral Eucharist at ten o’clock

Choral Matins are at 10:30 a.m.

Evensong with the chorus at 3.30



Mappa Mundi

To learn more about go to the Mappa Mundi & Chained Library.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is a remarkable piece of medieval art and an important part of Britain’s cultural legacy because it shows how 13th-century scholars perceived the world both physically and spiritually. Richard of Haldingham or Lafford, the map’s creator, is identified on it. According to a recent study, the map was probably created around 1300.

A single sheet of vellum (calf-skin) with the measurements 64 x 52 inches (1.58 x 1.33 meters) and a rounded apex is used to draw the Mappa Mundi. With Jerusalem at its center, the map’s geographic information is contained within a 52-inch-diameter circle and reflects the views of the medieval Church.

Drawings depicting human history and natural wonders are superimposed upon continents. Around 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical scenes, 33 exotic flora, animals, and birds, 32 depictions of various peoples from around the world, and 8 motifs from classical mythology are all represented in this collection of about 500 drawings. The Mappa Mundi is without a doubt the most significant and well-known medieval map in all its forms, the most remarkable illustrated English manuscript in all its varieties, and the greatest extant thirteenth-century pictorial manuscript, according to Christopher de Hamel, a leading expert on medieval manuscripts.

The cathedral shop offers an exclusive selection of Mappa Mundi prints, cards, books, and gifts.

What is the mappa mundi?

Discover Hereford’s remarkable medieval treasures including the world-famous Mappa Mundi. The Hereford Mappa Mundi, a priceless medieval artifact, can be found at Hereford Cathedral. The map’s dimensions are 1.59 by 1.34 meters (5’2″ by 4’4″), and it is made of vellum (calf skin).

What is the size of a Mappa Mundi?

The biggest one is 11 feet, 6 inches, or 3.5 meters, in diameter. Size-wise, the basic one was 25 mm or an inch long. The Latin word used in medieval times is the source of the word “Mappa Mundi.” Mappa refers to a chart or piece of cloth.

What is the most famous Mappa Mundi?

The most well-known Mappa Mundi is the “complicated” or “great” globe map. They are significantly more detailed than their smaller T-O counterparts, even though the majority use a modified T-O scheme. These maps display information about the coastline, mountains, rivers, cities, and provinces. Some of them feature characters and tales from the Bible, classical mythology, and historical events.

The definition of transitional Mappa Mundi?

The fifth kind of Mappa Mundi, also known as transitional Mappa Mundi, combines classic Mappa Mundi traits with additional map components. The fifth form was represented, for instance, by Portolan charts and Ptolemy’s Geography.

What is the Hereford Mappa Mundi?

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is a masterpiece of medieval and an amazing piece of British history that shows how scholars of the 13th century perceived the world both geographically and spiritually. Richard of Haldingham or Lafford, the map’s creator, is named on it (Holdingham and Sleaford in Lincolnshire).

How many Mappa Mundi has been kept alive?

1,100 fragments of the Mappa Mundi were still alive. They were all produced in the Middle Ages. Of the 1,100 pieces, the Mappa Mundi, which included illustrative writings, is present in at least 900 of them. The remaining ones took the form of paperwork.

Mappa Mundi and The Chained Library exhibition

Mappa Mundi and Chained Library exhibition

Open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, is the hours for the Mappa Mundi & The Chained Library Exhibition (the last admission is 4.30 pm)

               Discover how scholars saw the world more than 700 years ago by exploring Hereford’s famous medieval map, which is on the show with 229 illuminated manuscripts and more than 1,200 early printed books. We advise our guests to be aware of others who may be more vulnerable and take the necessary care to respect their needs, even though it is no longer legally required to conceal one’s face or keep social distance. If necessary, face masks and hand sanitizer are supplied within the Cathedral.

Sundays, Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day are all holidays when the exhibition is closed.


Adult:                                                                                           £6

Senior: (students only)                                                                  £5

Big family up to 3 children and two adults                                   £14

the average family of two or three children and one adult is £10

Per small family for 1 adult and 1 child.                                        £8

Archives & Historical Collections in Library

Archbishop Stephen Langton’s 1226 indulgence to those who contributed to the construction and upkeep of St. Ethelbert’s Hospital, HCA 898

The Dean and a Chapter’s records, which constitute the foundation of the cathedral, record the history of the building and its extensive property, primarily in Herefordshire, from the 12th century to the present. Title deeds, manorial and ecclesiastical court documents, minutes, accounts, maps, plans, architectural designs, and a few personal files are all included in the collection. The first Chapter of Acts was written in 1512. We also have records from the cathedral’s two almshouses, St Ethelbert’s Hospital in Oxford and St Katherine’s Hospital in Ledbury, as well as the Hereford College of Vicars Choral (from 1575 until its dissolution in 1937) and St John’s Parish (dissolved in 2012), whose altar was in the cathedral.

The Chained Library : Reading Room and Lending Library

Please be aware that starting on December 23 through January 24 of 2023, the Reading Room will be closed. Any books borrowed before the closure must be returned on January 24.

It is possible to read books and documents from our historical collections in the Reading Room, which is located on the top floor of the New Library Building. The lending collection consists of volumes on philosophy, ethics, biblical studies, theology, spirituality, pastoral care and teaching, church history, interfaith studies, ecology, and the climate problem, as well as British history, literature, and biographies. Books for Advent and Lent are in plentiful supply. For a total of eight weeks at a time, members of the lending library can borrow up to ten books for free. Stock is continually being supplemented with new books.

A wide collection of local history is included in the reference books. Along with these topics, there are volumes on bibliographies, book history, illuminated manuscripts, church history, biblical study, church architecture, ecclesiastical arts and crafts, sacred music, and the history of maps. In addition to a run of Crockford’s Clerical Directory from 1890 to the present, there is a print version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography available.




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