A tour of Hereford Cathedral is free. To see its Mappa Mundi and the chained library, however, costs a few pounds. The expense is well worth it. Both are singular and increasingly unique. The Mappa Mundi, which I have written about, is the largest surviving medieval world map. It’s on almost permanent display except for a few days in January when both it and the library are closed for conservation and cleaning.
The chained Library contains more than 1,500 rare books. Most of them date from the late 1400s to the early 19th century. There are reportedly 229 medieval manuscripts chained together here. They are from an era when 150 books meant a major library and theft was a real possibility. Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press until 1440. The oldest book in this library is The Hereford Gospels dating from the 8th century. The library itself was created in 1611, but after 300 years the books were put into storage. When the Mappa Mundi was put on relatively permanent display at the end of the 20th century, the chained library was reassembled. It’s now the largest surviving library with its original chains, rods, and locks in a world with fewer than 15 chained libraries left. Most of them are in England and this is the largest one.
This chained library also contains a rare copy of the 1217 Magna Carta, perhaps the world’s first Civil Rights document that established the idea that everyone, even a King, is subject to the law. There are only 4 of these left. Hereford’s copy is not on permanent display. The other 3 Magna Cartas are in Oxford. Most of the books in this chained library are about law, religion, and philosophy. Virgil and Euclid are among the classic writers represented.
Chained libraries became better known in the season 6 finale of Game of Thrones when Samwell Tarly gained access to the Citadel Library.