Next to the tiny cathedral in Leicester is a very, very old guild hall (1390 for the oldest part!), which contains the third oldest public library in Great Britain. Obviously bound by hand, the books are stored in glass-fronted cupboards in unlocked rooms.
I stuck a fingernail in between some of the doors, but nope, none had been left accidentally unlocked. Tantalizingly, I am sure there must have been handwritten manuscripts among those books. I read afterwards that the library owns a rare 15th century New Testament in Greek. I don’t think the library now is as public as it once was – there was no staff, no circulation desk and no indication of how to gain access to the books. I just hope they have a conservationist to make sure the books are well preserved!
They say William Shakespeare appeared at the Guildhall as an actor. In fact, legend has it that this is where Shakespeare came across the story of King “Leir” (maybe he found it in the library?) and it gave him the idea for his play King Lear.
Narrowly escaping being torn down in the 1920’s, the Guildhall today is part museum, and partly used for special occasions, such as the wedding that was planned on the day we were there.
After we parted ways with our friends, Barry and I went on a search for the New Walk Museum, where King Richard III’s book of hours (a book for personal devotions) was on display, a loan from Lambeth Palace Library, which now owns it. It contains some beautiful pages in full colour, and also a page where Richard entered his date of birth in his own handwriting, which we didn’t get to see as I was not allowed to flip through the pages. I know. And yes, the glass case surrounding it also passed the fingernail test, in case you were wondering.
Instead, the book was opened to “King Richard’s Prayer,” which a scribe had added in the top margin, at Richard’s request.
What is the prayer of a king? “Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free my, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed…hear me, in the name of all your goodness, for which I give thanks, and for all the gifts granted to me, because you made me from nothing and redeemed me out of your bounteous love and pity from eternal damnation to promising eternal life.”
I like that he reminded God of his title, King, even in his private devotional book. Just in case anyone had a different idea.
Which, of course, they did.