The medieval book lists of Rochester Priory

There are few more charming relics of the middle ages than the contemporary lists of the books owned by this abbey or that priory.  Usually written on a couple of leaves of some other volume, they give a wonderful picture of monastic libraries.  G. Becker’s Catalogi Bibliothecarum Antiqui (1885), online here, prints a great number of these.  It is quite a joy to look through the lists, looking for books.  In the process you gain a deep sense of what sort of books were commonly available.  You need almost no Latin, because the entries are formulaic: only a willingness to try.

The Benedictine Priory of Rochester, dedicated to St Andrew, has at least two surviving book lists.  The first is from 1122 and contains 93 volumes.  A second list from 1202 contains 241 volumes.  I had never come across either.  Neither is in Becker, although he does give a reference to the existence of the second one on p.286.  The priory was dissolved in 1540, the monks pensioned off, and the landed property passed briefly into the hands of King Henry VIII and, from him, and more permanently, into the hands of the landed gentry.  The books were scattered.  A good number ended up in the royal collection, now held in the British Library.

There is a research project at Rochester cathedral itself, led by Dr Christopher Monk.  A great deal of primary material from this is online at the Cathedral website.

The first list of the books of Rochester, from 1122, is preserved in the “Textus Roffensis”, a medieval manuscript belonging to Rochester Cathedral.    It seems to have no other shelfmark, curiously.  It is a miscellaneous volume of monastic papers.  The catalogue is on folios 224r-230r.  The manuscript itself is online at Manchester University here.  Unfortunately the pages are not labelled with the folio number, but it is page 457 in the online manuscript.  Rochester Cathedral has an index of the manuscript online here.

Here is the top of the first surviving page.  It is clear that other pages came before it, since it begins “Expositione eiusdem super psalterium in iii vol.” (exposition of the same on the psalms in 3 vols”.  The reference is to a work of St Augustine, as the next entry makes clear: “Librum ipsius de civitate dei in i vol.” (book of his on the City of God in 1 volume.):

Textus Roffensis, folio 224r: start of the book list of 1122, with books of St Augustine.

References online to the printed version of this are often confused.  The correct reference is:

R.P.Coates, “Catalogue of the Library of the Priory of St. Andrew, Rochester, from the Textus Roffensis,” in: Archaeologia Cantiana 6 (1866), pp.120-128.

This ought to be online.  The Kent Archaeological Society have much of the Archaeologia Cantiana material online and downloadable.  Unfortunately their website is going through some sort of migration.  In the meantime a PDF of the Coates article can be found in the Wayback When Machine at here.

The Coates article also identifies surviving volumes preserved in the British Museum Catalogue (BMC), now the British Library, indicating the catalogue number.  The “nempe…manu” is just about visible in the picture above.  Coates states that the blank area at the top of the leaf shows traces that it was rubricated – written in red ink -, and the ink has disappeared thanks to damp.

A transcription and translation of this is at the Rochester Cathedral website here, or should be!  If not, an archived copy is here.

The collection is a straightforward Norman collection: the four big fathers, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory, and then various other books.  It’s no older than the conquest, clearly.  The real interest is finding stray volumes like “Egesippus in 1 vol.”, i.e. the Latin translation of Josephus, a translation of Chrysostom into Latin, thankfully listing the works included.

The second list of books dates from 1202.  It is preserved in British Library Ms. Royal 5 B XII, on folios 2 and 3.  Some details of the manuscript are here.  The attack on the BL last year took its manuscripts offline, and strangely they are still unavailable.  But a low resolution (alas) image of the first page of the catalogue is online on a blog post here.

The printed text can be found in W. B. Rye, “Catalogue of the Library of the Priory of St. Andrew, Rochester, A.D. 1202,” in Archaeologia Cantiana 3 (1860), p.47-64.  This volume is online here.  The catalogue is on p.54 (p.127 of that PDF).  Here’s the beginning:

Further on (p.59), we find grammatical, rhetorical and arithmetical works, and then Priscian, Boethius, Virgil, Sallust, Terence, Arator, Persius, Lucan and other ancient authors.  A bit further on is Statius, then Suetonius and Ovid, belonging to “Master Hamon”.

These curious survivals are worth a look.  As we read the list, we seem to see in our imagination the volumes themselves, many long vanished, lying flat on the wooden shelves in the damp medieval library, illuminated by candles.

Thus was the knowledge of antiquity transmitted to us.


One thought on “The medieval book lists of Rochester Priory

  1. Maybe just maybe, Egesippus in 1 vol might really have been Hegesippus.
    “Theodor Zahn has shown that the work of Hegesippus may still have been extant in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in three Eastern libraries, saying: “We must lament the loss of other portions of the Memoirs which were known to exist in the seventeenth century.””(from Wikipedia
    Oh, well….

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