26 April 2023

Lichfield Cathedral Library
exhibition is an insight into
the world of book collectors

The Lichfield Gospels, dating from 730, was the greatest treasure in the mediaeval library at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us were in Lichfield earlier this week, when I visited the ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition telling the story of Lichfield Cathedral Library and the Seymour Family.

The exhibition opened in the Chapter House last Saturday (22 April) and offers an insight into why Lichfield Cathedral Library is unusual – perhaps unique – among cathedral libraries and its link with the Seymour family.

The Cathedral Library, as it is today, began in 1674 with a gift of over 400 books from the private collection of William Seymour, Duke of Somerset, donated by his widow, the former Lady Frances Devereux. The books reflect the wide-ranging interests of a wealthy intellectual in the 17th century and are different from the books normally found in a cathedral library.

The mediaeval library at Lichfield Cathedral was almost totally lost during the English Civil War. A new library was established in the 1670s with the gift of more than 400 books from the widowed Duchess of Somerset.

Frances Devereux inherited her husband’s library when he died in 1660, and bequeathed the collection to Lichfield. She wrote in her will: ‘for the respect which I and my family have received from the City of Lichfield, I give the books which were my late deceased husband’s, to the Church of Lichfield to be put in the new library there.’

In this way, Lichfield Cathedral Library inherited a wide range of books associated with the library of a prominent 17th century intellectual rather than with a cathedral. The exhibition explores William Seymour’s library, illustrating the types of books he and his ancestors included in their libraries and how this reflects the culture of their time.

No catalogue survives for Lichfield Cathedral’s mediaeval library. But the exhibition includes the only three books known to have survived from the mediaeval collection and that survived the ravages of the English Civil War (1642-1648).

The Lichfield Gospels, an eighth century Gospel Book dating from 730, was the greatest treasure in the mediaeval library. It is older than the Book of Kells yet a little younger that the Lindisfarne Gospels. The opening folio contains a faded signature, Wynsige presul, which may refer to Wynsige, Bishop of Lichfield from around 963 to ca 975, and folio four refers to Leofric, Bishop of Lichfield in 1020-1026.

The book was in Lichfield Cathedral until 1646, when the cathedral was sacked during the English Civil War and the cathedral library was looted. Fortunately, one of the cathedral clergy gave it to Frances Devereux for safekeeping. She kept it in a box known as ‘The Ark’, and the book was returned to the cathedral when she died in 1674.

The Gospels have been on public display since 1982. They are used in solemn liturgical occasions on special feasts and the Bishops of Lichfield still swear allegiance on the Lichfield Gospels at their enthronement.

The ‘Decretals of Pope Gregory IX’ … saved by the chapter clerk during the English Civil War (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Another survivor from the mediaeval library is the ‘Decretals of Pope Gregory IX’, a 14th century collection of decrees from the Pope and notes on liturgy, summarising Papal decrees from the early Middle Ages on.

Additional notes in the margin show that the book was a well-used working document, and this explains why it was saved by the chapter clerk during the English Civil War. Geoffrey Glaiser, the Chapter Clerk, removed it from the Cathedral Library in 1647 to keep it safe. It was returned by a later chapter clerk, John Haworth, in 1839.

The third survivor from the mediaeval library is a book of sermons written by a Dominican friar, John Bromyard, in the 14th century.

These three books from the mediaeval library are among more than 400 from the Seymour Bequest, and thousands more have been added over the past 350 years. William Seymour (1588-1660), Duke of Somerset was a wealthy, well-educated aristocrat who loved books. He left the administration of his estates to his wife Frances and spent much of his time in reading and in study.

A book of sermons by John Bromyard, a Dominican friar, survives from the 14th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Some of William’s books had belonged to his grandfather Edward Seymour (1539-1621), Earl of Hertford, who wrote his signature in them. Some were probably inherited from other family members. As books became increasingly available in the 17th century, William bought books that reflected his own wide-ranging interests, including religion, philosophy, classics, ancient and mediaeval history, geography, genealogy, literature and more. He was also a patron, paying authors and publishers to produce books on specific topics.

William and Frances had family connections with the highest levels of English society. His great-grandfather, Edward Seymour (1500-1552), was a brother of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, and Lord Protector of Edward VI, making William’s grandfather, Edward Seymour (1539-1621), 1st Earl of Hertford, a first cousin of Edward VI. His grandmother, Lady Katherine Grey (1540-1568), was a sister of Lady Jane Grey, the ‘Nine Days Queen.’

William and Frances supported the Royalists during the English Civil War, although Frances was related to a Parliamentarian general. William was a trusted advisor of Charles I, who in 1640 appointed him to supervise the household of the Prince of Wales, the future Charles II. The royal instructions to William still survive, with each ‘order’ signed by the King. Charles II rewarded William for his loyalty, making him Duke of Somerset when the monarchy was restored in 1660.

The Duchess of Somerset’s catalogue of her husband’s collection of books (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Frances Devereux (1599-1674), Duchess of Somerset, was the daughter of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, a former favourite of Elizabeth I, who was executed for treason in 1601. Through her father’s family she had links with Lichfield, Tamworth and Drayton Bassett, and lived in Drayton Bassett for extended periods.

I was writing yesterday of her friendship with Colonel William Comberford of Comberford Hall and the Moat House, Tamworth, who fought at the Siege of Lichfield during the Civil War, and who left her a bequest one of one of the books in the Lichfield Cathedral Library collection.

William Seymour’s books were listed in 1671 in the ‘Catalogue of Her Grace ye Dutchesse of Somersett’s Great Library.’ This document lists over 1,400 books and manuscripts, and more than 400 of them are now in the Cathedral Library. The catalogue was made a year after he died and lists the books in his library when his widow inherited them. The manuscript is in two sections, with the second part a revision of the first, and the last pages were used as a borrower’s register.

King Charles I gave his orders to William Seymour as guardian of the future Charles II (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The exhibition includes ‘Orders for the Household of Charles, Prince of Wales’ (ca 1640), in which King Charles I gave his orders to William Seymour as guardian of his son, the future Charles II. Separate sets of instructions apply to the various departments of the household. One page describes the frequency of services in the Prince’s chapel and how they should be conducted. Each set of orders is signed by Charles I at the beginning and initialled by him (CR) at the end.

Classical works by ancient Greek or Roman writers were important in 17th century education. William commissioned John Ogilby (1600-1676) to produce an English translation of works by Virgil with coloured and gilded illustrations. Ogilby also translated Aesop’s fables.

William owned a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a copy of Of the advancement and proficiencie of learning by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who developed a methodical system of learning in which subjects are divided into smaller topics.

A Greek New Testament published in Paris in 1569 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

An interest in the text of the Bible developed at the time of the Reformation, with a particular interest in Greek versions of the New Testament. Seymour’s library included a 1569 edition of the New Testament in Greek, originally published in Paris by Robert Estienne (1503-1559).

As a Royalist, it is not surprising that William Seymour owned books by Henry Hammond, a chaplain to the royal household, and the royalist poet George Sandys.

William’s interest in heraldry and genealogy is reflected in ‘The booke of all the Knightes of the most noble order of the Garter’ ( 1580). The page on display shows the full heraldic achievement of King Edward VI (1547-1553). This book includes the arms of the other Tudor monarchs along with those of the Garter knights in each reign. Another copy of this rare manuscript is at Windsor Castle.

A book showing the arms of Edward VI (top right) and the Knights of the Garter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

His interest in architecture is reflected in the collection too. He owned books by Vitruvius, an influential Roman architect who wrote that all buildings should have strength, utility and beauty. His interest in the world beyond Europe is reflected in his collection of early printed map-books. The earliest of his map-books is ‘A description of the world’ by Sebastian Münster (1488-1552).

Jean Froissart’s history of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) is still regarded by historians as an important source of information. William’s copy contains the signature of his grandfather, dated 1572.

This exhibition invites visitors to reflect on what books we choose to have in our homes these days and whether books are still relevant in a digital age.

• The ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral opened on Saturday (22 April) and remains open during visitor opening hours until Sunday 3 September 2023.

The Duchess of Somerset’s bequest is at the ‘Library and Legacy’ exhibition at Lichfield Cathedral Library

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (18) 26 April 2023

Saint Salvator Church is a landmark in Prague, marking the entrance from the Charles Bridge into the Old Town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are still in the season of Easter, and this is the Third Week of Easter.

Following our visit to Prague earlier this month, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a church in Prague;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A large banner across the façade of Saint Salvator Church demands: ‘Hands off Ukraine, Putin!’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint Salvator Church, Prague:

In the square in front of the Charles Bridge in Prague, tourists facing east towards the Old Town face a large banner across the façade of Saint Salvator Church demanding: ‘Hands off Ukraine, Putin!’

Saint Salvator Church is a city landmark, marking the entrance from the Charles Bridge into the Old Town, and is one the best examples of early Baroque architecture in Prague. It is part of the former Jesuit College of Saint Clement or Klementinum, a large and historic complex of buildings in the Old Town. Today, this is the church of the academic parish in Prague.

The church was built on the foundations of the Gothic Church of Saint Clement, which was attached to the Dominican Order. The Jesuits under Giovanni Paolo Campana began building a new church in the Renaissance style with a chancel and transepts, in 1578-1601. The work was started by Marco Fontana di Brusata.

The church was renovated in the Baroque style by the Italian architect Carlo Lurago in 1649-1654, when the nave was built and a marble portal and portico were added at the west end. Lurago was inspired in his design by Il Gesu, the main Jesuit church in Rome, a model for many churches in the Baroque era.

The statues on the façade and the portico were designed by Jan Jiří Bendl. The main figures represent Christ the Saviour, flanked by the four evangelists. The niche in the gable holds a statue of the Virgin Mary. At the opposite ends of the façade are statues of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of Jesuits, and Saint Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary. There are statues of the Church Fathers on the balustrade.

The church towers were modified and raised in 1714 by architect František Maximilián Kaňka. At the end of the 1740s, a dome was hung above the sanctuary, decorated with stucco from the workshop of Johann Georg Bendl. The stucco decoration later had to be removed because of its weight and replaced.

Inside, the church is deceptively large, with rich stucco decorations. There are three aisles with galleries, and the high central aisle leads to a dome painted with frescos.

The altarpiece painted by Jiří Hering in 1632 is modelled on ‘The Transfiguration of Christ’ by Raphael in the Vatican. The ceiling fresco symbolises the four continents known at the time. There are statues of Saint Wenceslas and Saint Adalbert in the aisles.

In the middle of the left aisle is a rococo altarpiece of Saint Aloysius, and an altar with a statue of Saint Ignatius flanked by statues of Saint Paul and Saint Peter.

In the middle of the right aisle is a rococo altarpiece of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, with a baroque altarpiece of Saint Francis Xavier, flanked by statues representing India and Asia.

An 18th-century rococo pulpit has a statue of Moses at the summit and statues of Church Fathers below, and with statues of the four evangelists at the top of the canopy.

The twelve confessionals, carved between 1660 and 1670 by Bendl, have statues of 12 apostles. A 17th-century grille separates the nave from the antechamber, where there are two marble fonts dating from the 1600s.

The church hides a paradox that tells one chapter in the work of the Jesuits in Bohemia: Father Koniáš, the ‘destroyer of Czech books,’ and Bohuslav Balbín, known as the ‘defender of the Czech language,’ are both buried in the crypt.

Saint Salvator Church has two magnificent organs, both played at Mass and during classical music concerts in the church, which has a long tradition of organ concerts. The recently restored 18th century organ was played by many Jesuit composers who worked in the church and by 18th century composers including Jan Dismas Zelenka and Jakub Jan Ryba.

Today, Saint Salvator Church offers a place for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and is open to spiritual seekers and non-active Christians.

Inside, Saint Salvator Church is deceptively large, with rich stucco decorations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 6: 35-40 (NRSVA):

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’

The north aisle in Saint Salvator Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, Poland, the Revd David Brown, who reflected on peace in the light of Monday’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (26 April 2023):

Let us pray for the people of Ukraine. May they bear one another’s burdens, know fortitude in the face of exhaustion and be upheld by the prayers of those seeking peace and justice.


Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread:
open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Looking out onto the Charles Bridge from Saint Salvator Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org